Sports Reference Blog
Unique Scores in Pro Football Games
Posted by Mike on October 21, 2013
As Chase notes on Twitter:
Indianapolis-Denver is the first game in the 94 year history of the NFL to finish 39-33.
— Chase Stuart (@fbgchase) October 21, 2013
Since for some reason these always fascinate me, I found myself wondering just how often a unique score occurs. Obviously by definition, the number of them should decrease over the years as there are fewer unique scores to have, and the chart of scores per year (including the NFL, AAFC, and AFL since 1920) mostly bears that out (the blue line is the number of unique scores per year, the red line is the percentage of games resulting in a unique score in a given year):
1920 is the first year of the NFL so of course it has the highest number of unique scores at 46 (out of 90 total games played). There are spikes at 1946 and 1960 correlating to the starts of the AAFC and AFL, respectively, owing mostly to the much larger number of games. That spike you see after 1980 is the introduction of the two-point conversion in 1994, making possible a lot of scores that weren't seen previously. For example, there have been 167 times since 1940 that a game has ended with one team scoring 15 points.. and 101 of those have come since 1994.
What missing game scores are we unlikely to see any time soon? Well, according to our summary of all scores, we've only seen a team score 4 points one time ever, so it seems that it'll be a while before we remove any more X-4 scores from the list. Even a final score of 5 has been achieved a whopping 13 times since 1940, including this very unlikely 8-5 final score. Still, at nearly 15,000 games and counting, it's pretty impressive that every week brings the possibility of seeing something unique.
Superstition has it that if a score of 28-2 ever occurs, the winning team will then win at least its next 6 games, and the losing team will then lose at least its next 6. Yes, we had another unique score this year. I am a longtime regular on your baseball site, but somehow I found this blog entry and your all-time list of scores.
In 2007, when the Texas Rangers beat the Baltimore Orioles 30-3, the Philadelphia Daily News wrote in a headline that the Rangers scored four touchdowns and a safety. While that Kansas City and Jacksonville combined to score 30 points in exactly that fashion in week one this year, my theory is that exactly 30 points in a game most likely happens as follows:
3 kicked extra points
3 field goals
And I think the next most likely combination is:
3 kicked extra points
1 field goal
That touchdown without the extra point is not necessarily a bad thing. It's how the Giants ended up with a 30-24 win over the Eagles in, I think, 2006. The fact that the score was 30-24 should be a clue - New York's fourth TD came in overtime, where no extra point attempt was made. I wouldn't be surprised if there were more 30-24 overtime wins over the years. (31 is probably a lot more common point total than 30 because of all of the games in which there are 4 touchdowns, 4 kicked conversions, and 1 field goal.)
Now, when I feel like wasting some time, I'm going to analyze some of those 30-point games and see if I'm right.
We have our first 49-9 score today - NYJ @ CIN