NFL GameChangers: Week 17 Edition (01/02/17)

By Rob Pizzola @robpizzola

In this edition of GameChangers, we will utilize our Live ScoreCaster technology to review the game-changing plays from Week 17 in the NFL. This week featured some costly turnovers that affected both straight-up win expectancies and ATS cover expectancies.

The situation: In a must-win game for Washington, the Redskins trailed the Giants 13-10 late in the fourth quarter. With 1:27 left on the clock and the Redskins driving into Giants' territory, Kirk Cousins forced a pass down the middle of the field which was picked off by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, virtually ending Washington's season.

The impact: Despite trailing with only 1:27 remaining, Washington was still considered the favorite to win this game at 57.3% win expectancy. The Redskins still had two timeouts in their pocket, and only needed another seven yards or so to move into field goal range for kicker Dustin Hopkins (who has a long field goal of 53 yards this season). This play was the single biggest swing play in any NFL game this week, as it immediately dropped the Redskins' win expectancy to just 0.5% after the play; a 56.8% net swing. Cousins entered Sunday's game with a superb 8.1 yards per attempt through the air this season (third in the NFL), but his costly mistake in crunch time will have people second-guessing whether or not he should receive a lucrative contract in the offseason.

The situation: Tied at 21 apiece with 1:04 to go in the fourth quarter, the Browns had the ball on the Steelers five-yard line. The Steelers still had all three timeouts remaining, so Cleveland was content to keep the ball on the ground, trying to score the go-ahead touchdown or force Pittsburgh to use their remaining timeouts. Robert Griffin III handed off to Isaiah Crowell on first down, and as he was hit at the Steelers three-yard line, he fumbled the ball right into the hands of a Steelers defender.

The impact: It's no surprise that the Browns once again had a play that swung win expectancy drastically against them (this has been a recurring them this season). Cleveland had a 96.2% chance to upset the Steelers (backups) before Crowell's fumble, but that number dropped all the way down to 45.5%. In the grand scheme of things, Crowell's fumble helped the Browns' franchise as they secured the first overall pick in the NFL Draft with the eventual 27-24 OT loss, but it's still rather hysterical that Cleveland managed to blow a game that they should have won over 19 out of 20 times. Browns will be Browns, I guess.

ATS Killers:
The Dolphins trailed the Patriots 24-14 with 8:55 remaining in the fourth quarter. With a second-and-goal at the New England nine-yard line, the Dolphins would have been expected to cover the spread (+7.5) approximately 67.5% of the time. Matt Moore completed a pass to Damien Williams on the sideline, but the ball was punched loose by Devin McCourty and returned all the way to the Miami 18-yard line. Miami's cover expectancy decreased to 6.8%; a whopping 60.7% swing! Miami would go on to lose the game 35-14, never sniffing a cover again after the costly fumble.

Atlanta comfortably led New Orleans 38-13 entering the fourth quarter of their NFC South matchup. With only the final session remaining, the Falcons had a 94.3% chance to cover the early spread of -6.5 and approximately a 91.6% chance to cover the closing spread of -7.5. With 3:30 remaining in the game, their cover expectancy had increased to approximately four percentage points higher. But a series of events that saw the Saints score a touchdown, recover an onside kick, and score another touchdown within a two minute and eight second span saw New Orleans cover in back door fashion. Falcons' backers probably needed to wash that sour taste out of their mouth with a bleach cocktail (or ten).