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August 12, 2011 6:10 PM   Subscribe

In which quarter are the most points scored in NFL games?

A buddy and I are debating this. He insists on 4-2-3-1; I say 4-1-3-2. A google search turned up a lot about the highest scoring quarter of all time, but nothing about averages. We'd also love any additional information you have about why more points are scored in certain quarters.
posted by punchtothehead to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would be inclined to side with your friend on this one.

Right before stoppages of play (end of first half and end of game) offenses are more likely to call risky plays because there is less consequence with reduced time to capitalize on. These risks are more likely than the average play to result in scoring opportunities. Further, if out of time, an offense will kick a long field goal when they might otherwise have tried for more field position.

As for the bias toward late in the game, I think the defenses get worn down. This is particularly true for the defense that has been on the field more (probably the losing team). The losing team's offense on the other hand has less and less time to score and therefore takes more of the risks I mentioned in the first paragraph in an effort to catch up.

I am but one man however and have no real evidence to prove anything. What logic might you use to justify your stance? Presumably each of these little nuggets of strategy will manifest themselves in a pattern. The more nuggets we have the more we might be able to postulate which pieces dominate.
posted by milqman at 6:21 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Any particular timeframe (as it will change year-to-year with new rules, expansion, etc)?

This is a pretty popular question for NFL gambling forums (example), unfortunately that means a lot of places that would have the data put it behind a paywall. I found this which looks like 2010 stats but you may just have to hit the Pro Football Reference team pages and start crunching numbers from the game logs.
posted by N-stoff at 6:30 PM on August 12, 2011

Pro-Football-Reference.com has box scores. You could total them up for a season, and see what the results are.
posted by Flunkie at 6:30 PM on August 12, 2011

I'm not an expert, but I do love football and I think neither of you have it. I say 4-3-1-2.

It depends on the teams you're watching, the weather conditions, and the fans (yes, it does).

Bear in mind, 3rd quarter comes right after halftime in a football game. Say (and this happens often) you have a team that has done uncharacteristically poorly in the first half. They then have 15 minutes to A) rest and B) get yelled at and C) get motivated. They come back!

(yeah, my team does this all the time...)

Even if it's a team that often sucks and never wins, they'll often do something in the 3rd quarter due to the above. Of course we all love last-minute touchdowns and whatnot, but the truth is that those brilliant last-ditch efforts are often conceived during halftime.
posted by deep thought sunstar at 6:38 PM on August 12, 2011

Best answer: Based on N-stoff's link, 2010 was 2-4-3-1 ...
posted by milqman at 6:52 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was about to guess that the 4th Q may not be the highest scoring because in blow out games some or all of the 4th Q is garbage time. This will bring down the average, as confirmed by milqman.
posted by notme at 7:00 PM on August 12, 2011

I would definitely put the second quarter high on the list. Teams have an incentive to kick field goals near the end of the half (same logic with the fourth) that they don't have at the end of the first.
posted by Adam_S at 7:04 PM on August 12, 2011

Adam_S, good point. Essentially the 2nd and 4th quarters are longer than the 1st and 3rd because that's when the timeouts get spent, plus the 2 minute warnings. Many more opportunities to score (more plays get run in those quarters). And as notme points out, the 4th quarter is often a cakewalk, dragging the average down. So 2-4-3-1 or 2-4-1-3 seem like the most plausible options to me.

(yeah, my team does this all the time...)


posted by knave at 9:36 PM on August 12, 2011

Say (and this happens often) you have a team that has done uncharacteristically poorly in the first half. They then have 15 minutes to A) rest and B) get yelled at and C) get motivated.

Defenses get rested, yelled at and motivated, too. Any half-time effects should cancel out.
posted by patnasty at 10:21 AM on August 13, 2011

Best answer: Using the per-quarter numbers this gambling site tallied, looks like scoring in the 2010 season broke down thus:

1st quarter: 18.4%
2nd quarter: 30.8%
3rd quarter: 21.4%
4th quarter: 28.9%

That the 2nd and 4th quarters would see the most points scored makes immediate sense -- in the 1st and 3rd, teams aren't concerned about time in the quarter running out mid-drive. Possessions that begin in the 1st and 3rd quarters will have the points pushed over into the 2nd and 4th. Also, there's an additional stoppage of play for the 2:00 minute warning in the 2nd and 4th.

That the 2nd quarter would see more points scored than the 4th is less obvious, but makes total sense when you think about it: nobody's trying to run out the clock in the 2nd quarter. In the 4th quarter, a team that has a lead of 7+ points will go to a ball-control offense and let the play clock run between snaps.

The differential between the 3rd and 1st quarters is more mysterious to me. It could be due to teams that are down big starting to go hurry-up late in the 3rd, or are just more likely to try get plays off before the quarter runs out. It could be that starting out 'cold' in the 1st quarter has more of an adverse affect on offenses than defenses.
posted by patnasty at 10:52 AM on August 13, 2011

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