GameChangers Wild Card (1/5/14)

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. 
Colts vs. Chiefs
A Knile Davis touchdown run gave Kansas City a 38-10 lead with 13:39 left in the 3rd quarter. The Chiefs were 93% likely to win and end a streak of seven consecutive playoff losses. Then Andrew Luck and the Colts engineered the second largest comeback in NFL playoff history.
The defining play of the comeback occurred with 10:41 left in the 4th and Indianapolis trailing 41-31. Colts running back Donald Brown fumbled at the Kansas City 2-yard line. The ball took an unforgettable bounce, ricocheting off a linemen’s head and then off the turf into Andrew Luck’s hands. Luck dove into the end zone and the Colts expected win probability increased to 36%.
Had the fumble not bounced into Luck’s hands and the Chiefs recovered the ball, Kansas City would have been 89% likely to win.
Saints vs. Eagles
The Saints won their first playoff game on the road in franchise history with Shayne Graham’s 32-yard field goal as time expired. Before that could happen there were three plays on the final drive that changed New Orleans fortune.
The first play, Darren Sproles kick return after Philadelphia took a 24-23 lead. Sproles 39-yard kick return, plus a penalty for a horse-collar tackle, set New Orleans up at the Philadelphia 48-yard line. The Saints became 63% likely to win. Had the kickoff been a touchback, the Eagles would have been 54% likely to win.
The second and third play is actually the same play ran twice: the most unstoppable play in the NFL. Facing a 3rd and 1 with 2:32 left in the 4th, Drew Brees uses a quarterback sneak to gain a first down. The quarterback sneak has worked 85.9% of the time since 2009. The Saints win probability increased from 70% to 79%.
Had Philadelphia stopped Brees and New Orleans kicked a field goal to take the lead, the Eagles would have had a 33% chance of winning, needing just a field goal.
Three plays later the Saints found themselves in a similar situation, facing a 3rd and 1 New Orleans once again utilized the quarterback sneak to pick up a first down. That conversion increased New Orleans’ odds of winning from 80% to 93%.
Had Philadelphia stopped Brees and New Orleans kicked a field goal to take the lead, the Eagles would have had a 30% chance of winning (with less than a minute remaining) needing just a field goal.
Chargers vs. Bengals
Andy Dalton will get most of the blame for Cincinnati’s 27-10 loss to San Diego, he fumbled and threw two interceptions in the 2nd half. The first interception occurred with 1:11 left in the 3rd, Bengals facing a 3rd and 8 from their own 26-yard line and trailing 17-10. Dalton’s turnover lowered Cincinnati’s odds of winning from 24% to 8%.
Dalton’s interception devastated the Bengals’ expected win probability. However, an unusual set of plays at the end of the first half really changed the trajectory of the game. With 2:00 remaining in the 1st half, Andy Dalton completed a 49-yard pass to Marvin Jones to the Chargers 16-yard line increasing the Bengals odds of winning from 16% to 76%. On the very next play Dalton completed a pass to Giovani Bernard inside San Diego’s 5-yard line only to have Bernard fumble and San Diego recover. Cincinnati’s odds of winning decreased from 76% to 58%. The Bengals expected win probability would never be that high again.
49ers vs. Packers
With 1:07 left in the 4th and the game tied 20-20, Colin Kaepernick scrambled for 11 yards to the Green Bay 27-yard line on 3rd and 8. San Francisco’s expected win probability increased from 73% to 96%.
There are a number of possible outcomes that would have helped the Packers. Had Green Bay stopped Kaepernick on 3rd down the 49ers either have to go for it or kick a field goal, it is highly unlikely they punt. If San Francisco successfully kicks a field goal, then Green Bay has a 17% chance of winning trailing 23-20. Had San Francisco went for it on 4th down and Green Bay stopped them, Packers becomes 61% likely to win.
The biggest GameChanger is a play that never happened. With 4:09 left in the 4th, Kaepernick throws an incomplete pass to Anquan Boldin. It is incomplete because Micah Hyde almost picked off the pass. Had Kaepernick thrown an interception the Green Bay Packers would have been 70% likely to win given the great field position in a tied game.