Recovering an Onside Kick in the NFL has never been a high percentage play, and it's now something of an outright rarity because of new game rules in recent years.
During the 12 weeks of competition in 2019 prior to Thanksgiving Day, NFL teams had attempted 37 onside kicks, with only three successful outcomes of the kicking team recovering the ball. Those numbers boil down to a success rate of only 8 percent.
A new for 2018 rule change on kickoffs requires that eight of the 11 players on the return team must station themselves no more than 15 yards downfield from the kicker's tee. That has significantly tilted the odds of recovery against the kicking team. Based on attempts and outcomes, the success rate of onside kicks dropped precipitously with that rule change, from almost 22 percent in 2017, to just under 8 percent in 2018. There were 60 onside kick attempts in 2017, before the rule change, and 54 in 2018, the first year in which the new rule was in effect.
During the first of the three games on Thanksgiving Day, the Detroit Lions recovered an onside kick in a surprise situation, when the opposing Chicago Bears had no particular reason to anticipate it. It wasn't the conventional kind of onside kick. It was something the Lions had been practicing. Kicking the ball like a line drive in baseball, and aiming it directly at one of the eight opposing players that are no more than 15 yards downfield.https://www.detroitlions.co...e-kick-lions-recover
The last of the three games featured the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons. As the game came down to the final minutes, the Falcons scored a TD and cut the Saints' lead from 26-9 to 26-15. With 3:26 on the game clock, the situation called for an onside kick attempt by the Falcons. The Saints were anticipating. The Falcons recovered, but the play was nullified by a penalty against the Falcons. It was the conventional kind of online kick that had been tried; that is the kicker trying for a short kick that rebounds from the playing surface.
Because of the penalty, the kick had to be replayed, and the Falcons, undeterred by the odds and by already having revealed their "hand' (or should it be "foot"..?) to the Saints, went at it again, in exactly the same way. Another conventional onside kick attempt, lining up pre-kick in exactly the same formation, and kicking the ball in the same direction, towards their left hand side. The Falcons recovered, and this time there was no penalty flag--a success for the Falcons. Their odds of two recoveries in two attempts ("do the math") were only about 0.0064 or 0.6 of a percent. And that's just in a random context. It doesn't take into account the obviously heightened anticipation of the opposing Saints.https://www.atlantafalcons....after-first-is-nulli
With 1:56 on the game clock, the Falcons, after kicking a field goal, were at it again. They lined up in the same formation, and kicked the ball in exactly the same way, and for the third time in three attempts, a successful onside kick recovery. I calculate the odds of three successes in three attempts at 0.000512 or just One in Two Thousand.https://www.atlantafalcons....-onside-kick-attempt
That lines up closely with the 0.0533 of a percent that is cited in a Fox News report (below.)
"Atlanta did something with odds of 0.05 per cent vs New Orleans. They still lost."
Fox Sports with AP; November 29, 2019.https://www.foxsports.com.a...60267b854d06007df3f9
"Falcons’ three onside kick recoveries even more impressive than you thought"
Will McFadden for the Atlanta Falcons official NFL website; November 29, 2019.https://www.atlantafalcons....ive-than-you-thought
[This message has been edited by rinselberg (edited 11-30-2019).]