GameChangers Wild Card (01/04/15)

By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @johnewing
To highlight the Live ScoreCaster, we will take our in-game technology, Live ScoreCaster, to the next level to review the game-changing plays from the NFL and what the game would have looked like if the plays had turned out differently.



Click the header for each game to view the Game Breakdown for each matchup.

Panthers vs. Cardinals


The Carolina defense forced three turnovers and held Arizona to 78 total yards of offense, an NFL postseason record, in the franchise's first postseason victory in nine years. The Panthers beat the Cardinals 27-16 after trailing at the half. Carolina took control of the game with two scores in less than two minutes in the third.

A poor Arizona punt set up a 39-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Fozzy Whittaker with 5:36 to play in the third. Arizona returner Ted Ginn Jr. fumbled the ensuing kickoff, Carolina recovered at the Cardinals three-yard line and four plays later Newton found Mike Tolbert for a one-yard score. The Panthers expected win probability increased from 57 percent to 96 percent after scoring two touchdowns in one minute and 32 seconds.

Ryan Lindley will rightfully take a lot of blame for the Cardinals loss. The third string quarterback completed less than 60 percent of his passes and threw two interceptions. According to ESPN Stats & Info, 25 percent of Lindley's passes were off target, worse than the NFL average.

Lindley did have a chance to be a hero, trailing 27-14, Arizona had an opportunity to get back into the game after recovering a Newton fumble at the Carolina eight-yard line early in the fourth. Bruce Arians dialed up a Lindley pass, in which Luke Kuechly picked the ball off all but sealing the game for Carolina.

The Cardinals expected win probability decreased from seven percent to one percent after the interception. Had Arizona scored on that possession instead of turning the ball over, the Cardinals would have had a 25 percent chance of winning trailing 27-21.

For additional GameChanging notes from this game click here.

Ravens vs. Steelers


Joe Flacco threw two second half touchdowns as Baltimore leveled Pittsburgh 30-17 to win the Wild Card matchup at Heinz Field. The Ravens now have ten roads wins in the playoffs, tied with the Packers for the most in NFL history.

Ben Roethlisberger attempted to rally Pittsburgh in the fourth with the Steelers trailing 23-15 but Big Ben was intercepted by Terrell Suggs deep in Pittsburgh territory with eight minutes remaining. Joe Flacco threw a touchdown pass on the next play. Baltimore became 99 percent likely to win.

The turnover was devastating but it was still unlikely that Pittsburgh would have won the game even if the Steelers managed to score a touchdown on that drive.

Wipe the interception off the board; give Pittsburgh a touchdown and a two-point conversion. In a tied game with possession, Baltimore is still 55 percent likely to win.

For additional GameChanging notes from this game click here.



Cowboys vs. Lions


The Dallas Cowboys rallied from a 20-7 second half deficit (just a 13% chance to win) to beat Detroit 24-20 on Wild Card Sunday. Tony Romo threw the gaming winning touchdown with just over two minutes remaining.

Tony Romo and the Cowboys won their first playoff game in five years, but this game will be remembered for a reversed pass interference penalty.

With 8:25 to play, Detroit leading 20-17, Matthew Stafford attempted a pass to Brandon Pettigrew on third-and-one from the Dallas 46-yard line. The pass was incomplete but defensive pass interference was called. The head official made the announcement only for the flag to be waved off moments later. The Lions took a delay of game and then punted (horribly, net gain of ten yards) the ball away. Despite the unfortunate turn of events, Detroit still had a 55 percent chance to win.

Had the officials stuck with the original call, pass interference, Detroit's expected win probability increases to 86% with a fresh set of downs inside Cowboys territory.

If you are a Lions fan, you are rightfully upset with the officials for picking up the flag. You should also be upset with Head Coach Jim Caldwell for not going for it on 4th-and-1 following the flag being picked up.

Had Detroit been aggressive and picked up the first down, the Lions become 82 percent likely to win. Failing to convert on the fourth down makes Detroit 53 percent likely to win, not much of a difference compared to the shanked punt.

For additional GameChanging notes from this game click here.

Colts vs. Bengals


Andrew Luck and the Colts dominated the Bengals winning 26-10 in the AFC Wild Card game Sunday. Cincinnati is the first team in NFL history to lose four consecutive opening round playoff games.

Indianapolis never trailed, the Colts were the projected winner for the entire game. Indy spent nearly 40 percent of the game being greater than 90 percent likely to win.

The biggest swing play of the game was a ridiculous 36-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Luck to Donte Moncrief as the quarterback was falling to the turf in the third quarter. The touchdown gave Indianapolis a 20-10 lead, the Colts expected win probability increased more than ten percent to become 89 percent likely to win.

There was not one play, drive or missed possession that Cincinnati can look back on as a potential gamechanger. The Bengals first five drives in the second half ended in a punt, the sixth was aborted when Andy Dalton was sacked and fumbled.

Indy ruled in the Wild Card game but the Colts have already been instilled as 7.5 point underdogs next week in Denver.

For additional GameChanging notes from this game click here.