GameChangers Week 2 (09/16/13)

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. 

Bills vs. Panthers
 
Ron Rivera strikes again. Carolina is 2-14 in games decided by seven points or less with Rivera as the Head Coach.
 
With 1:42 left in the 4th, Carolina leading 20-17, the Panthers opted to kick a field goal on 4th and 1 from the Bills’ 21-yard line instead of going for it. The field goal gave Carolina a six-point lead making them 97% likely to win.
 
Had the Panthers converted the 4th and 1, only 38% confidence is needed in converting the attempt to justify going for it according to Advanced NFL Stats 4th down calculator, Carolina would have become 99.9% likely to win.

Since Rivera and Cam Newton have been together, the Panthers have run the ball on 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1 forty-three times converting thirty-five of those attempts (81.4%). 
 
Chiefs vs. Cowboys
 
Dan Bailey made a 53-yard field goal with 3:50 left in the 4th to pull the Cowboys within one (for the cover, which we appreciated). However, still trailing 17-16, Dallas was only 33.5% likely to win.
 
Food for thought. Had the Cowboys gone for it on 4th down, historically teams only convert about 35% of attempts given the distance and field position, and converted the attempt, they become 54.8% likely to win. If they fail on the 4th down attempt the Cowboys win percentage drops to 8.0% (assuming they do not pick up any yards on the 4th down).
 
Yes, 35% is a low probability but it does not look nearly as bad when you consider that Dallas only had a 50% chance, historically given the distance, of converting the field goal attempt. Had Dan Bailey missed the field goal, Chiefs get excellent field position, the Cowboys win percentage drops even further to 4.6%.
 
Since making the field goal was a coin flip, going for it on fourth down, however unlikely, does not seem so absurd considering the change in win percentage if you fail are actually better than if you miss the field goal.
 
Buccaneers vs. Saints
 
Let's take a moment to recognize Sean Peyton for a decision he made using a good process but resulted in a bad outcome. With 0:14 left in the 2nd, the Saints successfully converted a field goal to take a 13-7 lead, making them 68.1% likely to win. However, an offside penalty on the Buccaneers gave the Saints an opportunity to convert a 4th and 1 from the Tampa 1-yard line. Peyton rightfully goes for the jugular, he only needed 38% confidence in converting the attempt to justify nullifying the made field goal.
 
Unfortunately, the Saints failed to convert, their win percentage dropped from 68.1% to 58.4%. Had New Orleans converted the attempt and scored a touchdown, their win percentage jumps to 78.6%, most likely eliminating the drama at the end of the game.