How Risky Was Oakland's Two-Point Conversion Attempt?

Jack Del Rio went for two late in the game in Week 1 in a do-or-die situation. Should he have?

When NFL teams are down by seven points late in a game and manage to score a touchdown, the default move is to kick the extra point to tie the game and hope for overtime.

From an excitement perspective, the more interesting move would be to attempt a two-point conversion and go for the win.

But most NFL coaches are inherently risk-averse, and with the odds of not converting an extra point much lower than losing the game on a failed two-pointer, the possibility of keeping the offense on the field is rarely entertained.

Enter Jack Del Rio.

During a back-and-forth game with the New Orleans Saints in Week 1, the head coach of the Oakland Raiders decided to go for the win down by a point with 47 seconds left in the game. The Raiders converted, won the game, and sent the league and observers into a frenzy.

It was a gutsy move that worked, but with either result, the attempt itself would have been the talk of the week because conversions in those situations just aren’t attempted.

According to Pro-Football-Reference, there have been only nine other instances of a team going for two while down by one in the fourth quarter since 1995.

In that same time period, there were 410 occasions when a team kicked the extra point down by one in the fourth.

For six of the nine conversion attempts, the team going for it had little to play for and featured records of 3-10, 3-10, 0-6, and 3-7 heading into the game in question. There was one instance with a playoff-bound Houston Texans attempting to go for two in a Week 17 game against the Tennessee Titans, but this was more about avoiding overtime than trying to win the game as the Texans clinched the AFC South despite not converting.

Along with these situations being rare, they also haven’t worked very often. Of the nine previous attempts, only three were successful, but that is a small sample, and remember, many of the teams attempting these conversions were bad. But maybe it’s not too surprising that teams fail in these instances because the math doesn’t always favor being aggressive at that point in a game.

Take the percentages for the Raiders during Sunday’s game. Per numberFire Live, Oakland had a 46.08 percent chance of winning the game at the time of the touchdown.

Per our chief analyst Keith Goldner, the conversion jumped their odds to 80.46 percent, and tying it up with a field goal actually would have bumped their odds to 41.09 percent.

Failing to convert either and trailing by a point would have left them with a 4.26 percent chance to win, even with two timeouts and an onside kick chance.

In a vacuum and based on historic league averages, a team needs to convert the attempt about 47.5 percent of the time in order to break even with an assumption the extra point is successful 95 percent of the time.

Sunday’s game, though, wasn’t exactly average.

Both offenses were moving the ball at will against the opposing defense. By our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Derek Carr had the fourth-best day for a quarterback, while Drew Brees had the second-best. Both of these were factors in determining whether Oakland should go for two, and so was the fact that the Saints ranked 32nd in the NFL in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play last season. The Raiders should have felt their odds of converting against that defense were much better than those of an average team, and they were already 1-for-2 on two-point conversions during the game.

In this particular instance, then, assuming a 94 percent chance with the extra point, the break-even point was roughly 45.4 percent on the conversion, per Goldner.

If there’s a problem with the decision, it might be the play itself. Instead of running something with multiple options, the Raiders ran a fade to Michael Crabtree. Fades, especially in goal line situations, need to die a horrible death, but Crabtree was able to gain the advantage over rookie Ken Crawley.

While the Saints were able to move the ball 34 yards on five plays, which shifted the win probability again, they were stuck trying a 61-yard field goal that was unsuccessful. But even with New Orleans able to drive the ball down the field to set up an attempt, it helps show even a few more seconds or one timeout remaining for New Orleans would have been even riskier for Oakland, but those factors played into the Raiders' favor on Sunday.

Oakland became the first team to be successful in this situation since the Denver Broncos in 2008, which is also the last late-game attempt that had any type of meaning. In a Week 2 game against the San Diego Chargers, a Jay Cutler-led offense scored a touchdown on a pass to Eddie Royal with 24 seconds remaining in the game. Head coach Mike Shanahan called for a two-point try, which was the same play and same result -- a conversion to Royal. Both of those teams would finish the season 8-8, but it was the Chargers who made it to the playoffs as the AFC West winner.

The Raiders followed in the footsteps of those Broncos on Sunday, but they’ll hope the end result of the season is more in their favor. Thanks to the successful conversion, Oakland is one win closer to the goal.