It has come to my attention in the course of preparing this feature on penalties in NFL games this season that the chart I’ve been using to track penalty frequency doesn’t quite show what it purports to show. First, here’s this week’s chart:
The important number is the one in the far-right column. That’s the number that represents penalty-flag frequency in a given season. The column label, “Avg. Flags/Play (%)” is a little bit misleading, though. A better label might be something like “Flags per 100 Plays.” Even better might be to rework it to be a rough estimate of flags/game based on an average plays per game number of 125 or so. For the moment, and probably for the rest of this season, though, I’m going to continue using the same chart because there’s only so much time I want to spend documenting the historic* level of monotony that is plaguing this NFL season. If you’ve been following this series of posts closely this season, you’ll notice that, as we’ve passed the halfway point, the flag rate appears to be settling into the low 9.2 range. Again, that’s down a little bit from the first few weeks, which were up around 9.6, but it’s still well above prior seasons.
Last week’s post discussed the league’s late-breaking attention to the head-injury issue, which, I suspect, is the reason for the large jump in flags from 2013 to 2014. The other aspect reflected in these data points likely is the NFL’s attempt to grow its audience by increasing excitement by increasing scoring, something it did by enforcing more defensive penalties, which, as we’ve seen, actually decreases excitement and probably should’ve raised a flag or two prior to implementation.
* The NFL Penalty Tracker has data going back to the 2009 season, but I’m pretty confident that we are witnessing the all-time high-water mark.
Waive that flag: People are noticing (NFL 2017 week eight penalty update)
Waive that flag: Is this still a thing? (NFL 2017 week seven penalty update)
Waive that flag: Alberto’s favorite things (NFL 2017 week three penalty update)
Waive that flag: NFL week two penalty update (2017)
Waive that flag: The NFL returns with zebras on parade