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Last Week: 8-8. My Entire Life: 53-49-3.

Hallelujah, all rejoice, for the 2013-14 NFL Playoffs have arrived at last! A quick note: I will be writing another bonus post, featuring all of my thoughts, emotions, and spiritual beliefs about the 49rs-Packers game on Sunday (which I will be attending, thanks to the profound kindness of some Packers fans friends). This game is just too much everything for me right now, and there’s no way I could not devote an entire post to it. The over-under on the word length for my entire experience is about 4,000 words right now; let me know if you’d like to place bets.

Anyway, here are the rest of my predictions (against the spread, naturally) for the upcoming Wildcard Round. As always, lines from Sportsbook.com; home team in CAPS.

The Kansas City Football Team (+1.5) over COLTS

I actually think Indy might be a little better, and have a higher ceiling. They did beat the Seahawks, Broncos, 49ers, and… oh, right, Kansas City! In Kansas City, no less. At that point, Kansas City didn’t have a whole lot to play for, but still. But then there’s the Kansas City defense.

Saints (+2.5) over EAGLES

I dunno…. taking another road team? I just… yeah. The Eagles defense is bad. The Saints defense is better. Drew Brees… Sean Peyton… greater than Nick Foles, Chip Kelly, right? Maybe? The Eagles do have a good offensive line… I’m going to be pretty upset if the Saints lose this game by three points, is what I’m saying.

BENGALS (-7) over Chargers

They’ve won big a few times… Philip Rivers is having a great season… Time for Andy Dalton to show off on national television? San Diego’s defense is the defense to do it against? I would feel a lot better if Geno Atkins and Leon Hall hadn’t gone out for the season. But the Bengals are due for a postseason win right? Maybe? Or they’re just good, not elite, and Marvin Lewis will be another good coach that gets fired because his team keeps losing in the playoffs?

Alright, that’s how I’m feeling right now, so far as the first three games. As I said, I’ll be back tomorrow with most likely a mega-post (perhaps a meta-post?) detailing all the things I’ve already gone through regarding this 49ers-Packers game, including a picture of me holding all twelve hand-warmers I bought today! Stay tuned.

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Last time I checked the temperature in Vegas was December 26th, last Thursday. Five whole days ago! I remember thinking throwing some money at Green Bay and/or Carolina might not be a bad idea. Rodgers was probably coming back (week 8 of a typically 4-6 week injury), and the playoff odds report from Football Outsiders suggested that New England might have good value (which I ignored due to their injury plague), as well as Carolina (which I didn’t, with encouraging signs from Steve Smith). Here’s a little doohickey of how the early Super Bowl bets looked back then (and here’s everything I wrote last time):

Super Bowl XLVIII Odds- 12/26/2013

Team American Odds Odds To One Break Even FO Chance Expected Payout Rank
NE 1000 10 9.09% 14.2% 5.11% 1
CAR 850 8.5 10.53% 15.2% 4.67% 2
PHI 3000 30 3.23% 4% 0.77% 3
CIN 1800 18 5.26% 5.9% 0.64% 4
NO 2500 25 3.85% 4% 0.15% 5
KC 3500 35 2.78% 2.9% 0.12% 6
PIT 20000 200 0.50% 0.1% -0.40% 7
ARI 9000 90 1.10% 0.6% -0.50% 8
DAL 10000 100 0.99% 0.2% -0.79% 9
MIA 9000 90 1.10% 0.3% -0.80% 10
BAL 10000 100 0.99% 0.1% -0.89% 11
SD 10000 100 0.99% 0.1% -0.89% 11
CHI 6000 60 1.64% 0.7% -0.94% 13
IND 3500 35 2.78% 1.1% -1.68% 14
GB 4000 40 2.44% 0.2% -2.24% 15
DEN 300 3 25.00% 20.3% -4.70% 16
SF 750 7.5 11.76% 5.7% -6.06% 17
SEA 220 2.2 31.25% 24.3% -6.95% 18

As always, the odds are from Sportsbook.com. Break Even informs how often the bet needs to cash for you to break even at those odds; Football Outsiders provides estimates of how often the bet will actually cash; and the long run Expected Payout is the difference. Those Football Outsiders’ numbers use their core DVOA metric, weighted towards the end of the season, and also attempt to account for home-field advantage. I don’t believe they are exactly the true probabilities of each team winning the Super Bowl, but they are (“probably”) close. Are they closer than Vegas’ probabilities? Well, here are the updated Super Bowl odds, as of this afternoon:

Super Bowl XLVIII Odds- 12/31/2013

Team American Odds Odds To One Break Even FO Chance Expected Payout Rank
CAR 1100 11 8.33% 14.5% 6.17% 1
NE 850 8.5 10.53% 14.7% 4.17% 2
PHI 2000 20 4.76% 6.5% 1.74% 3
KC 3200 32 3.03% 3.4% 0.37% 4
SD 5000 50 1.96% 1.8% -0.16% 5
CIN 1800 18 5.26% 4.7% -0.56% 6
NO 2500 25 3.85% 2.8% -1.05% 7
IND 3000 30 3.23% 0.6% -2.63% 8
SEA 260 2.6 27.78% 24.9% -2.88% 9
GB 1800 18 5.26% 2.3% -2.96% 10
DEN 300 3 25.00% 20.2% -4.80% 11
SF 750 7.5 11.76% 3.5% -8.26% 12

Six teams have been eliminated, defrosting the picture a little. Remember five days ago when Green Bay was 40-to-1? And then remember this? Green Bay’s price in the betting world has more than doubled since then, now at 18-to-1. With Rodgers’ return, Football Outsiders made their projections using only data from games in which Rodgers played the majority of snaps. Given that they’ve got the Packers as winning it all only 2.3% of the time with Rodgers, and that Clay Matthews keeps getting surgery, 18-1 is too high a price for me now. But stranger things have happened.

What hasn’t happened is a similar shortening of the odds for the Carolina Panthers. In fact, their odds are longer! So let me get this straight: Carolina beat the 49ers in San Francisco by one point in a game in which the 49ers couldn’t score a touchdown (albeit without Michael Crabtree), secured a first-round bye (and time for Steve Smith to heal), will quite possibly host the Eagles for their first playoff game1, and the 49ers, down in the fifth seed, heading to Lambeau Field to face Aaron Rodgers, are more favored? Oh, I guess it’s because Carolina looked a little shaky last Sunday on the road against the 4-12 Atlanta Falcons, before sneaking out the win. OH WAIT the 49ers did the Exact. Same. Thing. Eight days ago. Remember this? Well I guess it’s because Carolina doesn’t have as good a defense… oh, right. Well, as good a young, mobile quarterback, then… oh, right. What the hell is going on here? This is Drew Brees’ face. And this is his face when he plays the Carolina Panthers. What else do you need?

As I’ve mentioned before, I think the reason Carolina is so low is because they haven’t been here before. Just a couple of months ago they were 1-3, and people were writing articles like this, agreeing when Rodney Harrison said in Week 5 that the Panthers should bench Cam Newton. Well, you don’t lose close games forever. The Panthers are legit. Yes, they could lose the Super Bowl, or in Seattle, or even their home divisional match-up next week. Every bet has risks. But at 11-to-1 (!!!), the Panthers are a risk worth taking.

That’s the Super Bowl odds. But you can also foolishly gamble on the conference champions! Here’s the same table for the conference champions:

2013-2014 NFL Conference Champions’ Odds- 12/31/2013

Team American Odds Odds To One Break Even FO Chance Expected Payout Rank
CAR 500 5 16.67% 27.5% 10.83% 1
NE 350 3.5 22.22% 31.9% 9.68% 2
PHI 1000 10 9.09% 12.3% 3.21% 3
KC 1600 16 5.88% 8.2% 2.32% 4
SD 2400 24 4.00% 4.4% 0.40% 5
CIN 650 6.5 13.33% 11% -2.33% 7
NO 1500 15 6.25% 5.4% -0.85% 6
IND 1200 12 7.69% 2.5% -5.19% 9
SEA 90.9 0.9 52.38% 42.1% -10.28% 10
GB 950 9.5 9.52% 5.6% -3.92% 8
DEN 66.7 0.67 60.00% 42% -18.00% 12
SF 400 4 20.00% 7% -13.00% 11

Again, I like Carolina, and while I don’t really like Philly to take the NFC, I might like them at that price. As for being overvalued, certainly my 49ers seem to be (because of the last two years I guess, or possibly all the Pro Bowlers we don’t deserve?), and I’m guessing the Broncos are because people forget the enormous impact of Von Miller? Who the hell knows.2 Anyway, that’s my gambling outlook at the moment, once again courtesy of Sportsbook.com and the insightful people at Football Outsiders. Check back after Round One for an update. Salaam.


  1. I think the Eagles are the least scary of the NFC teams playing this weekend: 49ers, Packers, Saints, Eagles. It’s just my opinion. 
  2. That was not a question. I’m telling you, who the hell knows. Nobody, that’s who. 

Yesterday I was conflicted. The 49ers-Cardinals and Packers-Bears games were simultaneously going down to the wire. I sat there, enthralled watching both games, with pretty much no idea what I was rooting for. I have both Packers’ and Bears’ fans as friends, and liked the potential Rodgers’ story line, but also enjoyed the completely unrecognizable Bears under new head coach Mark Tresman. Meanwhile I wanted the 49ers, who’d already clinched a playoff spot, to get the most favorable postseason match-up possible. At that point the 49ers would be either the 5th seed (if we won or tied) or 6th (if we lost). Losing meant playing Philadelphia/Chicago/Dallas (in event of PHI win/CHI win + DAL win/GB win + DAL win, respectively), while winning meant playing Green Bay/Chicago/Dallas (GB win/CHI win + PHI win/CHI win + DAL win). With no evidence, I felt that going to Lambeau Field offered the smallest chance of winning (albeit still a non-zero one), and that’s what would happen if both the Packers and 49ers won, and that’s exactly what did happen.1

The 49ers had just pulled off a game winning field goal with no time left, on the road against an Arizona Cardinals team that had just beaten the Seahawks in Seattle, and we’re getting rewarded by going to Lambeau next week and facing a freshly-returned-from-seven-weeks-healing-his-broken-collarbone Aaron Rodgers? Hmph. My mother, ever optimistic, offered the following consoling words:

[It’s] always better going to the playoffs off a win, right?

To which I replied:

I believe [that’s a] playoff myth.

Well, today I investigated that belief, my belief that winning the final game of the regular season has nothing to do with playoff success. The theoretical thinking here is that teams have pretty-well defined themselves by the of the regular season, and don’t get significantly better or worse between then and the playoffs. They’ve got a certain probability of winning their playoff games, advancing to the Super Bowl, etc, and these outcomes are independent of the final game of the regular season. I recalled that just last year, the Ravens lost their final game before winning out through the playoffs and Super Bowl.[^2] But that’s an anecdote. What does the data suggest?

I didn’t take this question too seriously, at least at first, because I don’t think the findings will reveal too much. A lot of things go into winning football games, so even if I were to find that Week 17 results had enormous predictive power of playoff results, it’s the underlying probabilities that drive them both: good teams are more likely to win in general, as well as in the playoffs. But I pulled a few basic numbers anyway. These figures go back to 2002, the first season after the NFL’s realignment into its current format. That’s 132 observations, 12 teams in the playoffs each season through 11 seasons.

Of the 132 teams, 68% had won their final game of the season. Not surprising; teams that make the playoffs usually win more than they lose, in any given week of the season. Of the 68% (90/132) of playoff teams that did win in Week 17, 58% (52/90) won their first playoff game. Of the 32% (42/132) that lost in Week 17, 52% (22/42) won their first playoff game. And playoff teams that won their final regular season game went on to win the Super Bowl 9% (8/90) of the time; playoff losers of final regular season games won the Super Bowl 7% (3/42) of the time. So there’s a difference, right? The playoff teams who win in Week 17 are a little more successful? Well, maybe.

A statistical test called the “Student’s t-test“[^3] is used to determine if the averages of two different samples are statistically different. Applied here, it answers the question:

What are the chances that playoff teams who won in Week 17 actually go on to win their first playoff game (or the Super Bowl) more than playoff teams who lost in Week 17, given that we’ve observed the above numbers?

<

p>I ran this test on both a team’s chances of winning its first playoff game, and ultimately winning the Super Bowl. The results? These numbers suggest there is a 63% chance that playoff winners in Week 17 actually have a better shot at winning their first playoff game than playoff losers in Week 17 do. For the Super Bowl, the odds that Week 17 winners have a better chance of winning it all are also 63%. That may sound like a lot, but it really, really isn’t. There’s a 37% chance these numbers don’t tell us anything about the true probabilities. In academic circles, the rule of thumb for statistically significant findings is when there’s a 5% chance or less that the results are due to randomness. We’re nowhere close.

Even if we were– let’s say we were 99% certain winners in Week 17 had a higher probability of playoff success– the substantive findings would still be very slight. Week 17 winners might be more successful, but probably to the tune of two or three percent, the difference of winning one or two more games more every several seasons. It may be something to hope for, but not something to pin your hopes on. In reality, Week 17 results tell us very, very little about what will happen in the playoffs. I’m just guessing, but I’d bet quite a lot that all the regular season results, and measures of play that go beyond wins and losses, such as DVOA or Pythagorean Winning Percentage, are far, far more telling than whether a playoff team won or lost its last regular season game.

So if your team is in the playoffs, great! If they won yesterday, that’s cool. And if they didn’t (actually, that’s just you, Kansas City fans), don’t fret. It’s how your team plays the next game that matters. And how they played yesterday has very little to do with that.


  1. As it turns out, my Packers’ fan friends are taking me to the freaking game (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) so I think everything worked out pretty well. Of course I also figure this means the 49ers are sure to lose. But then I also figure I can use this insider knowledge to my advantage and put some moolah on the Packers, and OH DID YOU KNOW THEY WERE GETTING THREE POINTS? It’s all falling into place. 

Did you say Super Bowl odds? Like how did we get to Super Bowl odds all of a sudden? Well, we’re heading into Week 17, and 20 of the NFL’s 32 teams will see their seasons end this Sunday. (tear, sniffle) At the moment though, 18 may still cling to their dreams of winning the Super Bowl this February. As they were months ago, Seattle and Denver seem to be the heavyweights, but then, so did the 2007 Patriots six years ago. Seattle and Denver are in fact the favorites in Las Vegas, at +220 (2.2 to 1) and +300 (3 to 1)1 respectively to come out on top in the Big Apple,2 while the Steelers, who need to win and three other teams to lose just to get into the playoffs,3 are currently +20,000 to win it all on Sportsbook.com. Whoo! Football Outsiders has also posted their updated playoff odds report, which factors DVOA (weighted to favor more recent games) and likely home field advantage into a simulation run 50,000 times. They posit that Seattle has a 24.3% chance of winning the Super Bowl, and Denver a 20.3% chance. (Pittsburgh 0.1%.) What’s it all mean?

When gambling, I like to take the same approach I take to poker: I get a little drunk and after losing a while look for ways to steal my opponents’ chips, cheat, or childishly point out their other shortcomings which is to say for every hand (or money line, or spread), I examine the payout and determine how often I’ll have to win for a bet to be profitable in the long run. By doing this correctly, I’m not really gambling anymore, I’m just making money/playing a sound strategy/etc, because in the long run, there is no risk. If my odds of winning are better than the odds of how much money I have to risk relative to the reward, this is a good bet in the long run! (Whoo!)

There are differences between poker and, say, betting on a Super Bowl champion before Week 17. This season is only played once, these games are only played once. It’s not an infinite game, it’s more like a one-shot game. But, if you had complete faith that Football Outsiders’ playoff probabilities were 100% correct,4 and perfectly reflected the true odds, what would that mean?

So you want to bet on the Broncos. They’re +300, or 3 to 1. To break even, this bet needs to come through 25% of the time.5 But Football Outsiders has them winning Super Bowl [Inserting Roman Numeral…] XLVIII only 20.3% of the time. The expected payout of this gamble is negative (-4.7%, in fact). Bummer. Here’s that same breakdown for all 18 teams still currently in the race, sorted high to low by expected payout (aka best bets):

Team Odds To One Chance to Break Even FO Chance Expected Payout Rank
NE 10 9.09% 14.20% 5.11% 1
CAR 8.5 10.53% 15.20% 4.67% 2
PHI 30 3.23% 4.00% 0.77% 3
CIN 18 5.26% 5.90% 0.64% 4
NO 25 3.85% 4.00% 0.15% 5
KC 35 2.78% 2.90% 0.12% 6
PIT 200 0.50% 0.10% -0.40% 7
ARI 90 1.10% 0.60% -0.50% 8
DAL 100 0.99% 0.20% -0.79% 9
MIA 90 1.10% 0.30% -0.80% 10
BAL 100 0.99% 0.10% -0.89% 11
SD 100 0.99% 0.10% -0.89% 12
CHI 60 1.64% 0.70% -0.94% 13
IND 35 2.78% 1.10% -1.68% 14
GB 40 2.44% 0.20% -2.24% 15
DEN 3 25.00% 20.30% -4.70% 16
SF 7.5 11.76% 5.70% -6.06% 17
SEA 2.2 31.25% 24.30% -6.95% 18

Even the briefest of glances reveals that Football Outsiders’ odds are not perfect; they are not adjusted for injures. The Patriots’ projection is weighted towards the recent past, but still includes data from when Rob Gronkowski (and Wilfork, and Vollmer, and the 600 other players the Patriots had go on IR this season) were on the field. It’s possible their true odds are still better than Vegas thinks. I probably wouldn’t bet on them, even at 10 to 1. Green Bay, meanwhile, looks like a terrible bet, but almost half of the data is without Aaron Rodgers. Though his collarbone’s status is still unknown, I would at least consider throwing a little money on Green Bay right now. Or maybe I would, if Clay Matthews weren’t injured as well. But then, there’s the Carolina Panthers. Mm-mm! That’s a leap I find most intriguing. I might be similarly intrigued by Cincinnati if Geno Atkins hadn’t gone out for the year, and I also am of the purely speculative opinion that New Orleans is too low, although Brees would have to bail out his offensive line for that to happen. Back to the Panthers, though.

The last reason I like the Panthers on these odds is because, despite beating the 49ers and their last-second, home win against the Saints last week, I just kinda feel they still may be a little underappreciated. There’s been a lot of coverage on the Panthers’ inability to close out games, how Cam Newton often choked his first two years, etc. Surely people will doubt his ability to “win the big one”. We love to apply narratives to outcomes, to explain things (in fact, I’m doing that right now to supplant my justification of Carolina), but many times it may not depend on Newton’s mental psyche so much as, well, sh*t happens.

Consider elite quarterbacks John Elway and Tom Brady. Elway lost his first four (!) Super Bowls, before winning consecutive championships his final two seasons. Brady won hist first three (starting when he was 24!), before losing two to the Giants. Elway constantly heard about how he couldn’t win “the big one”, but no one said that about Brady after his losses, what with his three rings and all. It’s nonsense. Football, more so than any other professional sport, is a team effort.6 The quarterback is the most important position, not the only important position. There are 11 guys on offense, 11 guys on defense, and still others on sub-packages and special teams. Ironically, in close contests when a quarterback “chokes”, the quality of his teammates matters even more, as the margin between defeat and victory shrinks.

The numbers suggest the Panthers’ odds in Vegas are too long. The above is why I think that might be. Newton’s Panthers have never made the playoffs, and have known only losing seasons. Newton just isn’t a winner yet. Well, no quarterback is, until he wins. Forget the narratives. Elway was a great quarterback for many seasons; that he won championships in his final two might have a little to due with additional experience and wisdom, but more to do with having Terrell Davis, or more favorable match-ups, the technological advancements in scouting your opponents, etc. If a quarterback is good enough to get to the Super Bowl, he’s good enough to win it. Many factors beyond a quarterback’s control come into play, and that we may overlook them does not make such factors any less significant. And hey, sometimes… sh*t happens.


  1. For +###(##) American odds, just divide by 100 to get the fractional odds. The + means how much you win (profit, net, etc) on a $100 bet. 
  2. Well, New Jersey, technically… lame. 
  3. The Steelers need to beat Cleveland at home, have New York (Jets, duh) win in Miami, have Baltimore lose in Cincinnati, and have Kansas City win in San Diego. 
  4. I do not endorse such faith. But they are “probably” pretty close. (Heyyy-eyyyy!) 
  5. 1/(1+3); Every time you win you triple your money, so you can lose three times for every time you win (betting the same amount), so that’s 0.25 = 25%. 
  6. I haven’t looked at this scientifically, but you’ve got around 25-30 guys who see significant time on a football team (47-man active roster). Hockey’s at 19-20 (20), baseball 18-22 or so (but pitchers make it weird, anyway 25 guys on the active roster), soccer 11-13 (18), and basketball’s down about 7-10 (13). 

It’s been a couple of weeks since I checked my notes on silly things announcers say during games, and I thought I’d get back to it. Let’s go!

At home in Week 13, the Texans force a Patriots’ punt and get the ball back just before halftime.

CBS play-by-play veteran Greg Gumbel:

And with 28 seconds on the clock, the Texans will have the ball at their own 20 yard line, and unless something really, really strange happens they’re going to go the locker room with the lead.

I guess this is the equivalent of whatever an honorable mention would be in this series. John Madden said things like this all the time. When you’re public speaking for three hours, you’ll probably end up saying something “really, really” obvious somewhere in there. I’m mostly fine with announcers saying a few things here and there just to fill in the broadcast, but I still thought this was funny.

At home in Week 13, the Panthers gain two yards on 3rd&G from the Bucs’ three yard line with 30 seconds left in the second quarter.

Fox’s play-by-play man Chris Myers:

Now let’s see if he’s going to go for it or not, remember he said he plays percentages, he’s going to let the clock run, of course you can always go for it, if you miss it you pin Tampa Bay back there with your time outs.

Color commentator Tim Ryan, former third round pick of the Chicago Bears in the 1990 NFL Draft:

I’m never chasing points early in games, Riverboat Ron or not, check the analytics, take the points.

Ugh. Tim, I’m taking your advice, and actually checking the analytics. (Although it’s really obvious going for it is the better strategy.) HEY, the analytics say that going for it provides the Panthers a 79% chance of winning and kicking the field goal results in a 74% chance of winning. Tim, if I agreed to give you $3 every day (100% of days) over four weeks, or if I agreed to give you $7 on 19 days within four weeks (68% of days), which would you prefer? The 100% chance of $3 ($3 on average each day, $84 total), or the 68% chance of $7 ($4.76 on average each day, $133 total)? Yes Tim, as the NFL average of converting 4th&1 is 68%1, the deal I’m offering is pretty much analogous to this situation. This is what checking the analytics means, Tim. What do you think?

Tim Ryan:

I think two missed opportunities to give Cam Newton the ball there on second and third down, and it looks like they’re going to be out there and they’re gonna go for it here on fourth down. I would just take the points and go up by a touchdown.

Chris Myers:

Ron Rivera chooses otherwise, if you were going to do that, maybe leave a little more time in case you stop ’em, but let’s see.

Before the play, the Bucs call timeout. Chris Myers:

So how about this call?

Tim Ryan:

I don’t ever want to chase points, especially in the first half of games, you’ve got an opportunity to kick a field goal, Ron knows way more about it than I do, he’s got obviously great trust in his football team, I would not give an opportunity for Tampa to change the momentum, if they can get a stop here.

The Panthers go for it, and Cam Newton dives over the line for a touchdown.

Eventually Ryan says:

I guess if I had that guy and I was Ron Rivera I’d be going for it too. … I don’t care what your cards say, you’re always holding a royal flush when Cam’s out there.

Way to go Tim! Way to go. Next time, maybe have an intern check the analytics for you, and you won’t have to use poker vernacular to distract your audience that you just used the phrase “chasing points” several times like it actually means something, but really you don’t know what you’re talking about.

At home against the Bears in Week 13, the Vikings get a first down at the Bears 21 with 9:03 left in overtime.

Thom Brennaman:

Well they’re going to continue to run plays here, for the time being anyway, after the penalty the ball all the way down to the 21. …

On first down, Peterson loses three yards, setting up 2nd&13 from the Bear 24.

Thom Brennaman:

Right now it would be a 43 yard field goal attempt, maybe 42 yards, and we mentioned earlier Walsh, has been lights out in his career, short albeit it. But a Pro Bowler as a rookie a season ago, and only two misses all of this year.

Brian Billick:

Can Blair Walsh make it from here? Then center it up and kick the ball. There are too many things that can go wrong.

The “Can Blair Walsh make it from here?” question is, well, disturbing coming from a former Super Bowl winning head coach, who presumably took the same logic in his own decisions. As we saw in Week 14, Matt Prater can hit a 64 yard field goal in Denver. Should the Broncos kick every time they get to their opponents’ 47 yard line? Probably not, right? You’ll notice the Broncos only kicked that field goal because there was no time left in the first half. If there was, they would have kept running plays to get closer. And that’s the thing about field goals: closer is always better. Always. Brian Burke’s research suggests that every yard closer increases field goal percentage by 1.6% (between the 10 and 35 yard lines). But anyway, Peterson gained three yards, setting up 3rd&10 from the 21. The Vikings put out their field goal unit.

Brian Billick:

And this is a good call, why do it on fourth down, do it on third down, than god forbid if there’s a bad snap, something happens, then you can fall on the ball and re- and take another kick, so this is a good move by Minnesota, by doing this on third down.

How likely is a bad snap, or a “something happens”, that lets the Vikings get another shot? (Note: a missed field goal ends the offense’s position, even if it’s not on fourth down.) Burke guesses it’s around 0.5%, or one in every two hundred. That seems fair given that of the last 500 extra point attempts, where the process for snapping and holding is exactly the same, only seven have been missed. If all seven are the result of bad snaps or holds (which they probably aren’t), that’s a bad snap/hold rate of 1.4%. But even if you really go crazy and think it’s 2%, the Vikings can increase their chances of winning by 3.2% just by gaining two yards! Adrian Peterson averaged 6 yards per carry in that game, and is around five yards per carry in his career.

As it turned out, Walsh hit the field goal, but a 15 yard penalty on the Vikings set up 3rd&25 from the Bear 36. The Vikings put their offense back out on the field.

Brian Billick:

They feel like they need to grind out a couple more yards, rather than- rather than give Blair Walsh the shot from here.

Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier decided to make the field goal easier here… only for Peterson to actually lose three yards, and see Walsh miss the ensuing 57 yarder. The Bears got the ball and got to a 2nd&7 from the Vikings 29, and sent their field goal unit out to attempt a 47 yard field goal.

Brian Billick:

You know same mentality, why risk the turnover, you’ve got a great deal of faith in your field goal kicker. You know I had a great one in Baltimore Thom in Matt Stover, and by quarter, Matt would tell me exactly where I needed to be in order to attempt these field goals. … There’s no question it’s within his range. Once you cross that 30 as a I said, you set that mark, once you get past it then that’s when you make your decision as a coach. … This is clearly his range.

Again, being incredibly generous to this thinking, we’re looking at a 2% chance of bumbling the snap/hold process, and a 1.6% improvement of making the kick for every yard the Bears continue to advance down the field. A kicker’s “range” is not static: every bit closer the odds go up, every bit farther away the odds go down. Plus, it was only second down! Even if you want to go on third down in the very unlikely event your field goal unit botches it, at least use second down! Yeah, the Bears could turn the ball over, but have the odds of that changed in the last couple plays? If you’re worried about a turnover why not just punt as soon as you get the ball? Anyway, Gould missed wide right; the Vikings eventually won on the next possession.

In Tennessee down 10-7, the Cardinals kick a field goal on 4th&2 from the Titan 7 with 7:25 left in the second quarter.

FOX color commentator Charles Davis:

I think it’s the right call this early in the game, Arizona plenty more opportunities on offense, and moving and clicking pretty well now, you don’t turn down points here, not anywhere close to a desperation move. Munchak, we saw him, head coach of the Titans, happy with his defense coming up with that third down stop and forcing a field goal attempt.

Blegh. Forget the hyperbole of momentum, turning down points, etc. Going for it gave the Cardinals a 50% chance of winning; kicking the field goal, 48%. Oh yeah, and also the Cardinals ended up with a big lead before a Titans comeback led to an eventual Cardinals’ win in overtime. Arizona could have avoided that by actually putting them away and taking the most points, instead of just taking (some of) the points.

A.J. Hawk breaks up a Tony Romo pass on 1st&10 from the Cowboy 23 with 13:23 to go in the second quarter.

Fox color guy Troy Aikman:

Hawk makes a nice play on that ball, and, and A.J. Hawk, I think he’s one of the more under appreciated guys around the league, and, I think a lot of expectations when he came into the league from Ohio State because where he was drafted, but you know he’s probably been their most consistent player defensively, he shows up every week, he used to be a first and second down guy and now he even stays in nickel situations.

Also be wary when “experts”, including former players like Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, make praising statements for being underrated and showing up. Pro Football Focus has A.J. Hawk as the sixth worst inside linebacker on the season. In my mid-season evaluation of inside linebacker contracts, I found his contract quality to be the third worst in the league. He’s been overrated, not underrated, Troy.

While no means a comprehensive list, that’s sans-49ers announcer material I had for the last three weeks. I’ll probably next return to announcers when their playoff assignments are locked down. In fact, after New Year’s Eve I may even pursue a fan suggestion for “The Search for the Best (& Worst!) Contract in Sports Television: NFL Announcers”. Stay tuned.


  1. Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David probably make the Bucs an above-average short-yardage defense, but Cam Newton and DeAngelo Williams probably make the Panthers an above-average short-yardage offense, so 68% is probably pretty close to the Panthers true 4th&1 success rate against the Bucs. 
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