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    GameChangers Divisional (01/18/15)

    By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @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 the NFL and what the game would have looked like if the plays had turned out differently.

    Click the header for each game to view the Game Breakdown for each matchup.

    Patriots vs. Chiefs





    Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are headed back to the AFC Championship game for a fifth straight year. The defending Super Bowl champions defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 27-20 Saturday. The Pats led the entire game but that doesn't mean KC didn't have a chance to win.

    The biggest play of the game also happened to be the only turnover. On the Chiefs' first possession of the second half, Knile Davis fumbled inside New England's territory. The turnover increased New England's expected win probability by 10 percent. The Pats became 85 percent likely to win with possession and a 14-6 lead.


    Had Davis not fumbled or had Kansas City recovered the loose ball, the Chiefs chance of winning doubles from 15 percent to 30 percent near the red zone in a one-possession game.

    New England was the better team but they also seemed to catch all the breaks. With just over a minute to play, Brady's deflected pass was nearly intercepted. Instead, it ricocheted into the waiting arms of Julian Edelman for a game-sealing first down.


    Had Kansas City managed to get the pick, the Chiefs expected win probability increases by more than 20 times. Though it would have been just a two percent chance, the Chiefs would have liked the opportunity trailing by just a touchdown.

    For additional GameChanging notes from this game click here.

    Cardinals vs. Packers





    The Arizona Cardinals upended the Green Bay Packers once again in overtime in the playoffs. The Birds survived a Hail Mary and overtime to win 26-20. A game filled with improbable plays swung wildly in the final minutes.

    With the Cardinals trailing 13-10 late in the fourth, a Carson Palmer pass intended for Larry Fitzgerald got tipped but still found its way into the hands of Michael Floyd for a nine yard score. Arizona became 88 percent likely to win leading 17-13. Had the pass been intercepted the Cardinals expected win probability drops to 22 percent.

    After stopping Green Bay on their next possession and getting a field goal to extend the lead to 20-13, it looked as if the Cardinals would coast to the win. Then Aaron Rodgers threw up a prayer and completed a 60-yard pass to Jeff Janis on 4th-and-20 from his own four yard line. Three plays later, as time expired, Janis caught Rodgers' Hail Mary for a 41-yard touchdown. Mason Crosby's extra point tied the game and the Packers chance of winning increased from 0.1 percent (before the 60 yard catch by Janis) to 44 percent heading into overtime.

    The game was then essentially decided on the first play of the extra session, when a broken play turned into a 75-yard gain by Fitzgerald. The Cardinals expected win probability increased by 28 percent and Arizona became 96 percent likely to win with the ball at the Green Bay five yard line. Two plays later a shovel pass to Fitzgerald for a touchdown ended the game.

    It was a thrilling ending to a game that almost got out of hand early. With Arizona leading 7-0 at the beginning of the second quarter, a Rodgers pass was intercepted at the goal line by Patrick Peterson and returned 100 yards for a pick-six.


    The big play was wiped off the board due to penalty. Had it stood, the Cards take a commanding 14-0 lead and Arizona becomes 92 percent likely to win. More importantly, to those who backed the Birds against-the-spread, the Cardinals would then have been projected to win by an average score of 35-15. That would have easily covered the touchdown spread.

    Additional Note:

    What is a dramatic playoff game without a coin toss controversy? Prior to the start of overtime, referee Clete Blakeman did not count the first coin flip because the coin itself never flipped in the air. Blakeman immediately tossed the coin again, the Cardinals won. This quick flip upset Aaron Rodgers as he believed he should have been given another opportunity to call the second toss: his initial “tails” call was used on the second flip. Even if Rodgers is given another opportunity to call the toss and Green Bay gets the ball to start overtime, the Cardinals would have been 52 percent likely to win.

    For additional GameChanging notes from this game click here.

    Seahawks vs. Panthers





    Carolina built a 31-0 lead (96 percent likely to win at half time) and then had to survive a valiant comeback effort by the Seahawks to advance to the NFC title game with a 31-24 win. Given how competitive the second half became, Seattle probably wishes it could replay the first two quarters or at least a few plays that ended up deciding the game.

    The biggest play of the game was a pick-six that gave Carolina a quick 14-0 lead. Luke Kuechly ran a Russell Wilson interception back just over ten yards for a touchdown to end Seattle's first possession. The pick-six (+13 percent in expected win probability) made the Panthers 78 percent likely to win.


    If Wilson was just sacked on the play instead of throwing the pick, the Seahawks expected win probability increases from 22 percent to 32 percent. And if the pass fell incomplete, Seattle has a 35 percent chance to win.

    The Seahawks were outplayed in the first half but got the better of Carolina in the last two quarters. The losing team often says that if they had just one more quarter or possession they could have won the game.

    Had Seattle recovered the onside kick with just over a minute to play trailing 31-24, the Seahawks would have had a six percent chance to win with an extra possession. One more quarter would dramatically improve Seattle's chance to win. The hard charging Seahawks would have become 22 percent likely to win with an extra 15 minutes to play.

    For additional GameChanging notes from this game click here.

    Broncos vs. Steelers





    Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos topped the Pittsburgh Steelers 23-16 to advance to the AFC Championship game. Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers led for most of the game and were the projected winner into the fourth until a turnover swung the game.

    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. Had Toussaint not fumbled, Pittsburgh's ball at roughly the Denver 30 yard line, the Steelers become 73 percent likely to win.

    For additional GameChanging notes from this game click here.


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