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 4 in the NFL.
Best Decision – BUF vs NE
With 10:50 remaining in the 4th quarter, 0 timeouts (NE had 3 timeouts), and trailing by 6, the Bills faced a 4th and goal at the NE 3-yard line. By deciding to go for it, Coach McDermott made the correct call and increased the Bills (pre-snap) win probability by +6%.
Our Edj Power Indexes (EPIs) had this as an equal matchup, with the Bills rush offense ranked among the league’s best (#6) and the Patriots rush defense ranked as the best in the league (#1). Based on our EPIs and the game state, teams that go for it, go on to win the game 25% of the time and teams that attempt a FG, go on to win the game 19% of the time.
A successful conversion would have put the Bills in a position to take the lead, by converting the extra point – in a game they faced long odds of winning. Not only would a successful FG attempt have left the Bills trailing by a score against a very good defense, it also would have failed to take advantage of a field position the Bills were unlikely to get back too. And, an unsuccessful conversion (most likely) leaves the Patriots backed up inside their own 3-yard line.
Despite the Bills failing to convert/execute on this play, Coach McDermott made the correct call because the decision gave his team the best chance to go on to win the game.
Worst Decision – DAL @ NO
In Week 4 Coach Garrett made two decisions in back-to-back series in the 4th quarter that resulted in errors costing the Cowboys a combined total of -15% in (pre-snap) win probability. Both plays were 4th and 2 situations and our Edj Power Indexes (EPIs) had the Cowboys with an advantage in this facet of the game, with the DAL rush offense ranked among the league’s best (#2) and the Saints rush defense ranked on the bottom edge of league average (#19).
In the first situation, with 11:34 remaining in the 4th quarter, 3 timeouts, and trailing by 2, the Cowboys faced a 4th and 2 at their own 42-yard line. By deciding to punt, Coach Garrett made an error that cost the Cowboys -8% in (pre-snap) win probability. Based on our EPIs and game state, teams that punt, go on to win the game 38% of the time and teams that go for it, go on to win the game 46% of the time.
Instead of opting to punt and play defense, analytics recommend going for it and playing defense. If the Cowboys fail to convert, with a successful defensive stand, (worst case scenario) DAL could limit NO to a FG attempt or (best case scenario) DAL could force NO to punt. In both cases, DAL would still have with the ability to take the lead with a TD.
On their very next possession, with 5:29 remaining in the game, the Cowboys faced another 4th and 2, this time from their own 18-yard line. By deciding to punt, Coach Garrett made another error that cost the Cowboys another -7% in (pre-snap) win probability. The Cowboys were one of the best rushing teams in the league! Based on our EPIs and the game state, teams that punt, only go on to win the game 35% of the time and teams that go for it, go on to win the game 42% of the time.
Earlier in this game, during the 2nd quarter, Coach Garrett made the correct call on a 4th and 1 from the DAL 43-yard line, by deciding to go for it. The Cowboys failed to convert/execute on that play. It’s fair to wonder if Coach Garrett let “recency bias” (i.e. the tendency to put too much weight on recent results) cloud his judgment and adversely affect his decision-making.
Use analytics to resist the urge to let past results lead to future decision-making errors. Approach each decision with an informed mindset that gives your team the best chance to win the game.
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Images via USA Today Sports.