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 a take a look at one of the best and worst decisions from Week 3 in the NFL.
Best Decision – ARZ vs CAR
With 4:34 remaining in the 3rd quarter, 3 timeouts, and trailing by 4, the Cardinals faced a 4th and 1 at the CAR 37-yard line. By deciding to go for it, Coach Kingsbury made the correct call and increased the Cardinals (pre-snap) win probability by +6%.
Our Edj Power Indexes (EPIs) had this as an equal matchup, with the Cardinals rush offense ranked below league average (#23) and the Panthers rush defense also ranked below league average (#24). Based on our EPIs and the game state, teams that go for it, go on to win the game 41% of the time and teams that attempt the FG, go on to win the game 35% of the time.
After successfully converting the 4th and 1 attempt, four plays later the Cardinals offense faced a 4th and 5 at the CAR 30. This time ARZ attempted a FG and our model saw this decision as a coin-flip (i.e. based on the match up and game state, teams that go for it or attempt the FG, in both cases are expected to go on to win the game 37% of the time).
However, by gaining 7-yards ARZ went from facing a 54-yard FG attempt to facing a 47-yard FG attempt. Empirical data shows that the average NFL kicker converts these attempts at 64% and 76% of the time, respectively. In other words, the 7-yard gain increased the likelihood of an average NFL kicker making this FG attempt by +12%. (Note: despite this generic example, our model’s recommendations are customized based on each kicker’s ability).
So, while some may think ARZ should have attempted the FG in the first place, we use advanced analytics to evaluate the outcomes of all possible choices and recommend the option that gives a team the best chance to go on to win the game.
Worst Decisions – TB vs NYG
In Week 3 Coach Arians made two decisions in back-to-back series in the 4th quarter, that resulted in errors costing the Buccaneers a combined total of -19% in (pre-snap) win probability. Both decisions involved 4th and short situations and our Edj Power Indexes (EPIs) had this facet of the game as an equal matchup, with the Bucs rush offense ranked below league average (#25) and the Giants rush defense also ranked below league average (#26).
In the first situation, with 6:03 remaining in the 4th quarter, 1 timeout (NYG had 2 timeouts), and leading by 3, the Bucs faced a 4th and 2 at the NYG 5-yard line. By deciding to attempt a FG, Coach Arians made an error that cost the Bucs -6% in (pre-snap) win probability. Based on our EPIs and game state, teams that attempt the FG, go on to win the game 81% of the time and teams that go for it, go on to win the game 87% of the time.
A successful 4th and 2 conversion would have enabled TB to run more time off the clock, not to mention possibly scoring a TD and taking a two-score lead. A failed conversion attempt leaves the Giants backed up deep in their own territory.
On TB’s next possession, with 3:24 remaining, 1 timeout (NYG had no timeouts), and leading by 6, the Bucs faced a 4th and 1 at their own 31-yard line. By deciding to punt Coach Arians made an error that cost the Bucs -13% in (pre-snap) win probability. Teams that punt, go on to win the game 79% of the time and teams that go for it, go on to win the game 92% of the time.
An expectation to go on to win the game 79% or 92% of the time both seem great, but it also means those teams are expected to go on to lose the game 21% and 8% of the time, respectively. In other words, by deciding to punt as opposed to going for it, Coach Arians increased the Bucs chances of losing the game by 162%.
Decision-making errors like these (in a close game against a fairly evenly matched opponent) are part of the reason the Bucs went on to lose by 1 point to the Giants.
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Images via USA Today Sports.