GameChangers Week 6 (10/14/13)

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. 
Patriots vs. Saints

With 2:50 left in the 4th, trailing 24-23, New England went for a fourth-and-6 from their own 24-yard line. Was this the right decision? When the Patriots failed to get the first down their win percentage dropped from 40.7% to 14.9%.  Had they successfully converted the attempt their win percentage increases to 52.6%. It seems like a big risk considering the Patriots could have punted and then had two timeouts and the two-minute warning to stop the Saints and force a punt.
A punt by New England, assuming they get their net average of 43.8 yards per punt, would give the Saints the ball on approximately their own 32-yard line. The Patriots win percentage would have decreased from 40.7% to 30.2%. So if you get the first down you increase your win percentage by 12%, fail and you lower it by nearly 26%, and a punt lowers it by 10%. The numbers would suggest that going for it was the wrong decision.
Things change quickly in the NFL
New England’s win percentage was just 11.2% after Tom Brady’s interception with 2:16 left in the 4th.
When the Saints punted the ball back to the Patriots with 1:13 left in the 4th, New England had better than a one in three chance of winning (36.3%).
New England, still trailing 27-23, became the projected winner with 0:10 left in the 4th following Austin Collie’s first down reception. 

Jets vs. Steelers

Late in the 1st quarter, facing a fourth-and-1 from the Steelers’ 2-yard line, the Jets opt for a chip-shot field goal to get the first points of the game. One could hypothesis that Rex Ryan wanted to kick the field goal after watching Bilal Powell get stuffed on third-and-1 the previous play. However, on a similar play on second down, Powell was able to produce a five-yard run up the middle. Whatever the reason, the Jets actually lowered their winning percentage when they took the easy points. Prior to the field goal attempt New York was 71.1% likely to win, after they were 68.4%.
Had New York been more aggressive and went for it on fourth down and converted, the Jets winning percentage increases to 80.9%. Failing on fourth-down the Jets’ defense would have been in great position with the Steelers backed up to their own goal line. As such, the Jets win percentage only lowers to 64.5%. In almost every situation it is advantageous for the offensive team to go for on fourth-and-1 near the goal line, especially early in a 0-0 game.

Broncos vs. Jaguars

Who fake punts from their own 26-yard line on the first possession of the game? A team favored to lose by 28 points. Jacksonville’s odds of winning were so slim that failing to convert on their fake punt and giving Denver great field position had nearly no impact on the expected win percentage. The Jags went from 3.9% likely to win to 3.7%. Had the fake worked the Jaguars expected win percentage would have increased to 4.3%. Gus Bradley’s decision helped set the tone for a game that was closer than most expected.
Seahawks vs. Titans

Trailing 20-10 with 2:20 left in the 4th quarter, Tennessee kicks a field goal on fourth-and-3 from the Seattle 8-yard line. The Titans’ win percentage increases from 1% to 2%. The small increase is not surprising considering the Titans would need to force a three-and-out from Seattle and then march down the field for a game tying touchdown all with just over two minutes remaining. The more prudent decision would have been to go for it on fourth down.
A first down would have increased Tennessee’s expected win percentage to 3.3%. Not great but it does set them up with four more attempts to score a touchdown, which would impact their odds of winning. From the 8-yard line it would not have been surprising for the Titans to score a touchdown had they went for it on fourth down. A Tennessee touchdown, either on the fourth down or after picking up the first down, makes them 18.6% likely to win.
In a game where yards (only 223 yards of total offense) and points were hard to come by for Tennessee, the Titans should have recognized that they had a better chance of scoring a touchdown by going for it instead of hoping to stop Seattle and then march down the field.