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    Top Playoff Moments (01/25/16)

    By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @johnewing
    The top moments and players from the NFL Playoffs.

    Denver and Carolina are headed to Super Bowl 50. With the big game just around the corner, here are the top straight-up and against-the-spread plays as well as the top performances so far in the NFL Playoffs.

    Straight-Up: How the game was won

    Seahawks vs. Vikings – Wild Card

    Russell Wilson rallied Seattle from a 9-0 (13 percent chance to win) fourth quarter deficit to defeat the Minnesota Vikings 10-9 on Wild Card Weekend. Of course the Seahawks needed a missed 27-yard field goal by Blair Walsh with 26 seconds to play to win the game.

    Minnesota was 76 percent likely to win before the field goal attempt.

    Steelers vs. Bengals – Wild Card

    This game will be remembered for a pair of personal fouls, one by Vontaze Burfict for a hit on Antonio Brown and the other by Adam Jones following the rough hit.

    The penalties made the game winning field goal a chip shot (as long as you're not Blair Walsh). What won't be remembered is a critical 12-yard catch (on 4th-and-3) by Brown, one play before the Burfict hit, that gave the Steelers a first down in Cincinnati territory. The fourth down conversion increased Pittsburgh's chance of winning by 43 and made the Steelers 77 percent likely to win.

    Cardinals vs. Packers – Divisional Round

    After Green Bay forced overtime with a Hail Mary, Larry Fitzgerald essentially won the game on the first play of the extra session.

    A broken play turned into a 75-yard catch-and-run by Fitz that increased Arizona's expected win probability by 28 percent (96 percent likely to win). The Cardinals scored the game-winning touchdown two plays later.

    Broncos vs. Steelers – Divisional Round

    With Pittsburgh leading 13-12 with less than ten minutes to play, running back Fitzgerald Toussaint had the ball punched out of his hands by Denver corner Bradley Roby. DeMarcus Ware recovered the loose ball.

    The fumble was the biggest play in the game. The Broncos expected win probability increased by 27 percent and Denver became 62 percent likely to win.

    Broncos vs. Patriots – AFC Championship

    New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski might take the blame for missing an extra point in the first quarter of the Patriots 20-18 loss to the Denver Broncos. At the time, the missed extra point cost New England one percent in expected win probability but ultimately it forced the Patriots to go for a two-point conversion with 12 seconds remaining that failed.

    No one would be talking about the missed extra point if it wasn't for a great catch by Rob Gronkowski on fourth down that created the potential for extending the game.

    Gronk's catch increased the Patriots chance of winning by 34 percent. New England had a 36 percent chance to win the game prior to the two-point conversion attempt.

    Against-the-Spread: How tickets were cashed

    Kansas City vs. Houston – Wild Card

    The Chiefs rolled the Texans 30-0 to kick off the NFL Playoffs. KC forced four first half turnovers including a pick of Brian Hoyer at the goal line as Houston threatened to make it a one possession game late in the first half. The interception increased Kansas City's chance of covering the spread from 68 percent to 83 percent.

    Packers vs. Cardinals – Divisional Round

    4th-and-20 from his own four yard line, Aaron Rodgers connects with Jeff Janis for a 61-yard gain.

    The improbable fourth down conversion put Green Bay on Arizona's side of the field and increased the Packers chance of covering the spread from 0.1 percent to 87.1 percent.

    Steelers vs. Broncos – Divisional Round

    Trailing 23-13 with less than a minute to play, Roethlisberger found Martavis Bryant for a 22-yard gain (chance of covering increased from 18 percent to 50 percent) that put Pittsburgh into field goal range. The Steelers successfully converted the attempt to make it a one-possession game. More importantly, the extra three points covered the spread for those that had Pittsburgh +7.5.

    Panthers vs. Cardinals – NFC Championship

    Leading 10-0 late in the first quarter, Cam Newton found Philly Brown for an 86-yard catch and run.

    The long touchdown gave Carolina a three score lead and increased the Panthers chance of covering the spread to 82 percent (19 percent increase).

    Broncos vs. Patriots – AFC Championship

    Von Miller and the Denver defense hounded Tom Brady all day. When Miller wasn't hitting the quarterback he was intercepting his passes.

    Miller's pick of Brady made the Broncos 71 percent likely to cover the spread with a 7-6 lead and possession in the red zone.

    Top Player Performances

    Ben Roethlisberger – Wild Card

    Big Ben's numbers weren't epic (18 of 31 for 229 yards and a touchdown) but he returned from a shoulder injury to lead Pittsburgh on the game-winning drive. Roethlisberger was worth 59.9 percent in net win probability to the Steelers.

    Aaron Rodgers – Wild Card

    After a slow start (1-of-8 passing in 1st quarter) Aaron Rodgers played like a two-time MVP. Rodgers finished with 210 passing yards and two touchdowns. The Packers quarterback was worth 36.9 percent toward Green Bay's 35-18 win over Washington.

    Jordan Reed – Wild Card

    Washington might have lost but anyone who rostered Reed on their daily fantasy team was a big winner. The tight end caught nine balls for 120 yards and a touchdown. Reed scored 30 fantasy points (the most of any player in Wild Card Weekend) and did his part to try and help Washington win (+23.8 percent in expected win probability).

    Carson Palmer – Divisional Round

    In his first playoff win, Palmer lit up the scoreboard throwing for 349 yards and three touchdowns. The Cardinals quarterback was worth 62.5 percent in net value in Arizona's 26-20 overtime victory.

    Tom Brady – Divisional Round

    With the help of Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, Tom Brady had himself a day. The four-time Super Bowl champion completed 67 percent of his passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns. Brady was the most valuable player on the field (+41.8 percent in win probability) in a 27-20 win over Kansas City.

    Jeff Janis – Divisional Round

    When you make plays like this…

    You deserve a shout out. In a losing effort, Janis hauled in seven catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns. The rookie receiver made the most of his opportunity and added 22.9 percent of value to the Packers.

    Rob Gronkowski – AFC Championship

    Gronk was nearly unstoppable in the Patriots loss in Denver. The star tight end caught eight balls for 144 yards and a touchdown. Gronk had two key catches on New England last drive: a 40-yard catch-and-run on fourth down with less than a minute to play and then a touchdown on another fourth down that gave the Pats hope of tying the game. In all, Gronk's net value was 39.5 percent to New England in the loss.

    Cam Newton – NFC Championship

    Newton finished with 335 yards passing and 47 rushing yards as well as four total touchdowns. Superman added 10 percent in expected win probability, which doesn't sound like much until you realize Carolina was greater than 80 percent likely to win in the first quarter and the Panthers eventually routed the Cardinals 49-15.

    Peyton Manning – AFC Championship

    The Denver defense was fantastic hitting Brady at will and forcing two turnovers. Yet, it was Manning, the game-manager, that was the most valuable player for the Broncos. Manning worth 15.1 percent in net value to Denver after throwing two first half touchdowns and no interceptions (he had 17 in the regular season).

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