Each week coaches around the country are faced with real-time critical calls. By evaluating how teams manage their win probability, you can learn how to optimize future decisions and give your team the best chance to win.
Let’s take a look at one of the best and worst decisions in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs.
As teams become more evenly matched in the playoffs, coaching decisions play a major role in determining who will advance.
BEST Decision – BAL vs TEN
With 10:01 remaining in the 3rd quarter, 3 timeouts, and trailing by 8, the Ravens faced a 4th and 1 at the TEN 18-yard line. Baltimore came into the game a perfect 8-for-8 on 4th & 1 conversion attempts this season, however, they failed to convert a 4th & 1 earlier in the game. Coach Harbaugh did not let this recent failure influence his thinking and stuck with the analytics, choosing to bypass the field goal for an attempt at a 1st down. This decision increased Baltimore’s (pre-snap) win probability by 7%. Our Edj Power Indexes (EPIs) had the Ravens rush offense ranked near the top of league (#2) and the Titans rush defense ranked in the top 10 (#10). Based on our EPIs and the game state, teams that go for it go on to win the game 47% of the time and teams that kick the field goal go on to win the game 40% of the time.
WORST Decision – SEA at GB
With 2:41 remaining in the 4th quarter, 3 timeouts (GB also had 3 timeouts), and trailing by 5, the Seahawks faced a 4th and 11 from the SEA 36-yard line. 4th & 11 is not a typical GO but based on the game state and the strengths and weaknesses of SEA and GB, going for it was absolutely the correct call. Unfortunately for the Seahawks, Coach Carroll chose to punt (-8% pre-snap GWC), thinking his defense could get a stop with enough time left for a game-winning drive. Our EPIs had the SEA pass offense ranked near the top of the league (#6) and the GB pass defense ranked near league average (#15). Based on our EPIs and the game state, teams that go for it go on to win the game 20% of the time and teams that punt go on to win the game 11% of the time. While they were already heavy underdogs to come back and win at this point, punting was detrimental to their chances of winning. The decision to “punt and play defense” cost SEA almost half of their GWC. Coach Carroll, seemingly underestimating the value of possession this late in the game, chose to risk never getting the ball back and that’s exactly what happened. Our EPIs had the GB rush offense in the top 5 (#4) and the SEA rush defense near the bottom of the league (#26). So, in a situation where GB will likely run the ball to burn clock and try to grind out a couple first downs, things didn’t look promising for SEA based on this choice. This decision turned out to be the worst decision of the Divisional Round from the coach who ranked 31st in 4th down decision making this season in our Head Coach Rankings. Pete Carroll’s risk aversion finally caught up to him and it cost his team a chance to play in the NFC Conference Championship game.
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Images via USA Today Sports.