October 21, 2009

A Brief History of Point Values in Football

Filed under: Uncategorized — wwinston @ 1:40 pm

A key to football decision-making  (as detailed in my book Mathletics) is to assign a point value to each down, yard line and yards to go for first down situation. There are nearly 10,000 of these situations. In the Wall Street Journal (September 2009) we used this idea to show how valuable Michael Vick’s rushing offense was during 2006. Here is a brief history of point values in football. Let me know if I have left anything out of importance in this chronology.


  1. Carter and Machol 1971 derived points values for first and 10 situations in their Operations Research article.
  2. Cabot, Sagarin and Winston in 1983 derived point values for each down, yards to go and yardline situation. This was submitted to Operations Research and was discussed in a September 15, 1983 Bloomington Herald -Telephone  article.  See http://www.kiva.net/~jsagarin/sports/wham_bam.pdf.

3. Pete Palmer (1989) in his excellent book Hidden Game of Football  discussed the concept of 1st down and 10 values and indicated how they might be used for football decision-making

4.   In 2003 the website Footballoutsiders.com derived their own 1st down and 10 point values and estimated values for other situations and these values were used to rate players, team offenses and team defenses.

5. In 2006 economist David Romer published in the Journal of Political Economy an article that used his point values for 1st down and 10 situations to show that teams attempt punts and field goals much more than should.

6. In September 2009 Levitt  (of Freakonomics fame) and Kovash derived values for every down, yards to go and yard line situation and used these values to analyze football decision making.


  1. I haven’t read it, but in 1998, Palmer et al. published a revised edition of Hidden Game. I’m not sure if that’s worth listing separately or not. Football Outsiders also launched in 2003, not in the late 1990s.

    Comment by Tom — October 22, 2009 @ 11:55 am

  2. Point value based models for the NFL seem to pop up every few years. In addition to the ones cited: Hal Stern updated the Carter/Machol expected points model in the football chapter of the 1998 book Statistics in Sport, edited by Jay Bennett. Ryan Early analyzed the NFL using an expected points system he created for nfltalk.com (the precursor to profootballtalk.com) around 2000 and later took his system to ESPN.com. Jeff Ma and Mark Kamal developed their Expected Scoring model in 2005 for the ProTrade web site. Most recently, Brian Burke created his own expected points system at advancednflstats.com.

    There have also been many different NFL win probability models published over the years.

    Comment by Jim A — October 22, 2009 @ 11:07 pm

  3. I have a general question about stats, academia, gambling etc…

    I’ve been studying horse racing for about 35 years. After a few years of consistent losses, then years of mixed results, I finally broke through and became a consistent winner about 15 years ago. Though statistics play a part in my methodology, I find that my profits primary come from understanding certain situations better than the general public by enough to overcome the track take. I know other consistent winners that have a similar approach and assume there are small numbers of winners among football, basketball, and baseball gamblers also.

    One thing that’s fairly common among the winning players I know is that few write books or are willing to give away their insights to the masses because it would be self destructive.

    So I am wondering just how much knowledge there is out there among the best bookmakers and professional gamblers that either hasn’t made it’s way into academic circles or books yet or that has made it recently but has been well known for a long time privately by some of those same gamblers. I assume it is also possible that many of those gamblers do not have the skills to present what they are doing to academia because it was mostly learned by trial and error, personal research, experience, feel etc… much the way I eventually became a winning horse player.

    Any insights to offer?

    Comment by Italian Stallion — October 23, 2009 @ 12:46 am

  4. Do these systems actually work for predicting outcomes?

    Comment by Cappersinfo — April 1, 2010 @ 9:54 am

  5. Thanks

    Comment by wwinston — December 1, 2010 @ 9:36 pm

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    Comment by gold and silver — February 14, 2011 @ 3:59 pm

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