February 6, 2017


A Blackjack Superstar Explains the Odds of the Historic Patriots Win (Jeff Ma, Feb. 5th, 2017, Wired)

Up 28-10 with two minutes left, the Falcons had a 99 percent chance to win the game. That probability comes from readily-available calculators--which run Monte Carlo simulations, taking into account the four variables of possession, down, distance, and score. But then the Falcons made a series of errors in basic strategy.

The first mistake that quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons made was not letting the clock run down to fewer than 10 seconds on every play. Every second that they waste is a second that the Patriots don't have to advance. Simple.

But in play after play, the Falcons snapped the ball when they didn't need to. Sometimes with more than 20 seconds left to go. In blackjack, this is the same as standing a soft 17: an ace and six. Normally, a hand that adds up to 17 is a losing hand--but the beauty of the ace is you can play it as an 11 or a one. If you get dealt a 10, you can play the ace as a one and you still have 17. There is no risk to taking one more card. And there is no risk in letting the clock run down under 10 seconds.

The second basic strategy mistake the Falcons made was not rushing the football when they had a comfortable lead. Over the course of the game, the Falcons were gaining an above-average 5.8 yards per rush (the league average is around 4.3 yards per play). Very little good could come from a pass at this point in the game--an incomplete pass is bad, a sack is bad, and a holding penalty is bad--especially when you're already averaging 5.8 yards per rush. Again, this basic strategy would have carried little risk.

All night, the Falcons had played aggressively--and it worked. With 4:40 left, they had the ball at the Patriot's 22-yard line with an eight-point lead. Again, that's a stunning 99 percent chance to win based on the score, along with the fact that the Falcons had the ball with almost a sure field goal. Any simulation going forward would tell you the Falcons just needed to run. They could have taken a knee three times in a row and kicked a field goal. But instead they decided to pass. And pass. And pass.

How the Falcons Threw Away the Super Bowl (Danny Kelly, Feb. 6th, 2017, The Ringer)

While it took more than two plays to allow New England to erase its 25-point second-half deficit, a pair of play calls in the fourth quarter will replay in Shanahan's mind all offseason long -- and beyond.

The first: Following two Coleman runs to open a drive (the second of which sent him to the bench with an ankle injury), Atlanta faced a third-and-1 from its own 36-yard line with 8:31 left. At this point, the Falcons owned a 99.6 percent win probability. In other words: The Patriots didn't even have a full percentage-point chance of winning, based on models indexing every play from every game in the recent history of the NFL. But instead of playing it safe and just sending Freeman up the gut on a dive or pitching it outside to him to make a first-down in space, Shanahan dialed up a pass ... and Atlanta's perfect turnover record went up in smoke.

The Patriots recovered at the Falcons' 25-yard line. Five plays and a two-point conversion later, they cut the lead to eight. Yet Atlanta's win probability was 92.1 at this point. Some of the unthinkable had happened, but not close to all of it.

Now for the second play call that Shanahan will never forget: On the next Atlanta drive, two big plays -- a 39-yard gain on a quick dump-off to Freeman and a miraculous catch by Jones -- set the Falcons up at New England's 22-yard line with 4:40 remaining, pushing their win percentage to 98.1. Why? All they had to do here was run into the backs of their linemen two more times, run the clock (or force New England to use its timeouts), then ask Pro Bowler Matt Bryant to kick a field goal to push the lead back to 11.

Instead, Shanahan called up another pass and kept his foot on the pedal. And Ryan did exactly what he couldn't afford to do in that situation: He took a sack. It pushed Atlanta out of field goal range and set up a third-and-23. A holding call on the next play negated a 9-yard completion to Mohamed Sanu, and the pass on third-and-33 fell incomplete. Despite finding themselves with a first-and-10 from the Patriots 22-yard line, the Falcons came up empty-handed and, worse still, used up very little clock.

One of Belichick's greatest, largely unacknowledged, gifts is that his reputation makes other coaches stupid.  They alternately play in fear or try to look brilliant against him.  Predictably, one coach who has avoided this trap is Tom Coughlin, who worked with him under Bill Parcells and simply considers him another peer.
Posted by at February 6, 2017 6:03 AM