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    GameChangers Super Bowl (2/3/14)

    John Ewing, Director of Research and Analytics, @johnewing
    By John Ewing
    GameChangers, a look at plays that impacted the outcomes of Super Bowl XLVIII. If you have a suggestion for a GameChanger please direct all ideas via twitter to @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 Super Bowl XLVIII and what the game would have looked like if the plays had turned out differently. 
     
    Seahawks vs. Broncos
     
    The Seahawks are Super Bowl champions for the first time in franchise history. What was billed as a matchup between an unstoppable offense and an immovable defense quickly dissolved into a rout. Seattle forced four turnovers and soundly defeated the Broncos 43-8.
     
    Denver was never better than 45% likely to win over Seattle and that occurred with 14:53 left in the 1st quarter following the opening kickoff from Steven Hauschka.
     
    The Broncos could have won if…
     
    To reiterate, Seattle was always our projected winner and never less than 55% likely to win Super Bowl XLVIII. The Seahawks also spent more than 26 minutes (almost a half) of game time being 99% likely to win.
     
    Late in the second quarter, trailing 15-0, Denver was in Seattle territory and desperate to score. Facing a 3rd and 13 from the Seahawks 35-yard line, Manning under pressure had his arm hit while throwing. The resulting duck flew into Malcolm Smith’s arms and the Super Bowl MVP returned the interception for a 69-yard pick-six.
     
    That play gave Seattle a 22-0 lead and made the Seahawks 95% likely to win.
     
    Had that pass been incomplete instead of intercepted, Denver most likely attempts a field goal on 4th down. A successful Matt Prater field goal makes it 15-3, the Broncos expected win probability would have been 13%.
     
    Dream scenario for Broncos’ fans, Manning’s pass is not intercepted; instead his target, Knowshon Moreno, catches the ball and picks up enough yards to entice Head Coach John Fox to go for it on 4th down. Manning and the Broncos are able to convert and with a fresh set of downs they eventually score a touchdown to make it 15-7. Had this sequence of events occurred, Denver would still only have had a 23% chance of winning, not great considering the 14-point swing. 
     
    Coaching decision

    After Malcolm Smith’s pick-six, Denver quickly moved the ball into Seattle territory. With a minute remaining in the half, the Broncos faced a 4th and 2 at the Seattle 19-yard line. Some might have expected Denver to kick the field goal but the difference between going into the half trailing 22-0 (3% likely to win) or 22-3 (4% likely to win) is just 1% in expected win probability. John Fox made the correct decision to go for it on 4th down. As Bill Barnwell said:


     
    Trailing by more than three touchdowns it is no time to be conservative, unfortunately for Denver, the Broncos did not execute their 4th down play. Seattle went into half with a 97% chance of winning the game.
     
    Had Denver converted the 4th down and then scored a touchdown before Bruno Mars’ halftime show, the Broncos would have had a 10% chance to win trailing 22-7.
     
    Additional Game Notes

    Denver made numerous mistakes: a safety, two interceptions, two fumbles, two turnovers on downs, and a kick return for a touchdown. Combined these errors resulted in a 30% swing in Denver’s expected win probability.
     
     
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