‘Analytics’ Wins: A Look at Historical Trends from Fourth Tries | NFL News, Rankings & Stats
the 2021 NFL Season was not like the others. As fans and league watchers, we experience a lot of things we’re not used to, including (but not limited to) Patrick Mahomes struggling for a long game streak, the Tennessee Titans playing a number record number of NFL players (and still leads the AFC South) and the addition of the league’s 17th game (with seventh place in the playoffs a year ago).
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Another thing that changed: TTeams are making fourth downs more often – so often that people are starting to notice and get angry. The Los Angeles Chargers have been the most prominent of those teams, and on Thursday night they missed three critical fourth downs on Kansas City Chiefs territory in an important division game. This led many people to question the decision not to “take the points” in a game they ultimately lost in overtime. Some of those critics were high profile, including failed Cleveland general manager Mike Lombardi:
A near playoff game and you decide to deny points because something called analysis says it’s smart. You deserved to lose last night – further proof that every game is different and every situation stands on its own. No painting or a kid in a basement playing Madden can help.
— Michael Lombardi (@mlombardiNFL) December 17, 2021
These screeds are misguided for several reasons, the most obvious of which is:
1) For a person to forfeit the opportunity for a kicker (Chargers, mind you) to throw a field goal is to deny the three-point opportunity.
For another person, attempting a field goal is tantamount to denying a opportunity for Justin Herbert to score seven points with a touchdown. It is why it’s important to know how each side of the decision affects a team’s chances of winning.
2) Every game is different, and so is every situation, that’s why every win probability model worth anything takes into consideration down, distance, yards to go, time left in clock, score , the number of timeouts, etc. including Ben Baldwin’s fourth bot, ESPN’s Win Probability Model, Deck Prism live odds (which power sportsbooks like Pinnacle) and PFF’s probability of win models, which are used on NBC’s Sunday Night Football as well as other shows, also include strengths at the team level. So the idea that these models don’t take into account the difference between Lamar Jackson and Tyler Huntley, for example, is wrong. To insinuate anything different is to act in bad faith.
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3) Lombardi, a disciple of Bill Belichick, said nothing when his mentor chose to throw a field goal while leading by 13 against the Colts on Saturday, a game in which New England ended up losing because they was never within three points of Indianapolis (but would have eventually led at some point with a converted fourth down in said situation).
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