GameChangers Week 17 (12/29/13)

By John Ewing
GameChangers, a look at plays that impacted the outcomes of games around the league. If you have a suggestion for a GameChanger please direct all ideas via twitter to @johnewing.

To highlight the Live ScoreCaster, we will take our in-game technology, Live ScoreCaster, to the next level to review three of the game-changing plays from the NFL and what the game would have looked like if the plays had turned out differently. 
Packers vs. Bears
Facing a 4th and 8 with 0:46 left in the 4th, Aaron Rodgers connected with Randall Cobb on a 48-yard touchdown. The game winning play clinched the NFC North for Green Bay. Before that play the Packers had just a 35% chance of winning.
Green Bay may not have been in position to win their third straight division title if it was not for a bizarre play late in the first half.

Green Bay had a first down at the Chicago 17-yard line when the Bears sacked and stripped Rodgers. Jarrett Boykin ran across the field, picked up the loose ball and play on the field stopped (momentarily). Yet, the whistle never blew. With encouragement from Rodgers, Boykin turned and ran 15 yards to the end zone. The play was ruled a touchdown, and after a review, it stood. The touchdown gave Green Bay a 10-7 lead and made them 58% likely to win.
Had Chicago recovered the fumble the Bears would have been 62% likely to win.
Eagles vs. Cowboys
Philadelphia beat Dallas 24-22 in a win-or-go-home game for the NFC East title. The Eagles intercepted Kyle Orton with less than two minutes remaining to guarantee a playoff trip but there were a number of GameChangers leading up to that play.
With 0:31 left in the 3rd, Philadelphia facing a 4th and 1 at the Dallas 1-yard line, Nick Foles was stopped for no gain on a quarterback sneak. The Eagles odds of winning decreased from 77% to 67%.
Had the Eagles scored on the Nick Foles sneak, Philadelphia would have been 88% likely to win leading 24-16.
After stopping the Eagles on downs the Cowboys were able to move the ball into Philadelphia territory before facing their own 4th and 1. Like the Eagles, Dallas went for it and failed. The Cowboys odds of winning declined from 33% to 23% when they turned the ball over on downs.
Had Dallas picked up the first down they would have become our projected winner with a 56% chance of making the playoffs.

Additional Game Notes
  • With the Eagles leading 24-16 and the Cowboys facing a 4th and 9 from the Philadelphia 32-yard line, Dallas had just a 4% chance of winning before Dez Bryant caught a pass, broke a tackle, and ran it into the end zone for a touchdown.
  • After the failed 2-point conversion, Dallas only had a 26% chance of winning. Had the Boys tied the game they would have had a 38% chance of winning.
  • Before Orton’s interception with less than two minutes remaining, the Cowboys had a 41% chance of winning needing just a field goal to reach the playoffs. 
Chargers vs. Chiefs
Before this game started, Miami and Baltimore both lost meaning San Diego just had to win in order to reach the postseason. With the Chiefs resting 20 of 22 starters the Chargers were heavy favorites (closed at 14.5 points) to win.
Despite playing a team of backups, San Diego had just a 14% chance of winning trailing by 10 points heading into the 4th quarter. The Bolts managed to rally and force overtime, it helped that Ryan Succup missed a 41-yard field goal (KC was 67% likely to win before that miss). In OT, San Diego’s game winning drive was kept alive by a fake punt on 4th and 2 from the Chargers 28-yard line. The successful fake made the Chargers 67% likely to win.
Had San Diego’s fake punt failed, Kansas City would have been 95% likely to win.
49ers vs. Cardinals
San Francisco raced out to an early 17-0 lead in the 1st quarter and was greater than 90% likely to win for much of the game. However, Arizona recovered from the early deficit to tie the game with 0:29 left. With the game seemingly headed for overtime, LaMichael James returned the ensuing kickoff 41 yards. The big kick return made San Francisco 70% likely to win.
Had James opted to not return the kick, San Francisco 1st and 10 at the 20-yard line, the 49ers would have been 57% likely to win. The additional yardage, with San Francisco needing a field goal, picked up on the return was worth 13% to the 49ers expected win probability. 

Panthers vs. Falcons
Carolina rallied from down 10-0 and an expected win probability of 38% to beat the Falcons to earn their first trip to the playoffs since 2008. The Panthers won in part because of a curious string of plays in the 2nd quarter.
Facing a 3rd and 4, trailing by 10 points, Cam Newton completed a pass to DeAngelo Williams who ran 56 yards to the Atlanta 18-yard line for a huge first down. However, Williams fumbled at the end of the play and the Falcons recovered becoming 63% likely to win. Had Williams not fumbled Carolina would have been 54% likely to win. Two plays later Carolina’s defense intercepted Matt Ryan and returned the pick for a score. Carolina then became 57% likely to win trailing 10-7.
For bettors who took the Falcons plus a touchdown (line closed at Panthers -5.5), the cover came into question at the end of the game.
With Atlanta trailing 21-20 and two minutes to go, the Falcons faced a 4th and 18 from their own 12-yard line. In a meaningless game for Atlanta it would not have been a surprise if they went for it in an attempt to win the game. Instead the Falcons punted, when they did the Panthers became 95% likely to win with a projected final score of 24.8-20.6. The final projected score implies that Carolina on average would score at least a field goal given the field position (1st and 10 from at the CAR 48) and the time remaining.
Had Atlanta went for it on 4th down and failed, Carolina would have taken over on the Falcons’ 12-yard line. The Panthers projected win probability would have been 99.9% with a projected final score of 28.5-20.5. The projected final score would have resulted in a cover for the Panthers and a bad beat for anyone who took Atlanta.