Monday, February 4 at 6:30 PM ET
For this week's football blog, on a day that I have not experienced since January 26, 1998 (i.e. the day after a straight-up and against-the-spread loss from the team for which I was picking and rooting), I am again stealing a page from our weekly football podcasts and ripping off the weekly GameChanger article from Director of Research and Analytics, John Ewing, that features our Live ScoreCaster to review some interesting notes from Super Bowl XLVII.
First of all, be sure to check out the chart that tells the story of Super Bowl XLVII: http://predictionmachine.com/Live/IndividualGame.aspx?lgid=1213
Super Bowl XLVII:
Game Changer: Jim Harbaugh criticized the officiating after the game. The San Francisco 49er’s head coach was upset that pass interference or defensive holding was not called on cornerback Jimmy Smith during the 49ers fourth-and-goal play at the end of the game that targeted wide receiver Michael Crabtree. Prior to the play, San Francisco’s win probability was 26.6%. Had a penalty been called, the 49ers get a new set of downs. With the extra attempts to score the 49ers win probability jumps to 69.5% with a projected final score of 35-34.
Additional Notes: John appropriately starts at the end with his analysis on the game because that is both what we remember most from the on-field elements of this game and the most critical sequence in the entire game. What intrigues me the most is not that the officials swallowed their whistles at an inopportune time for the 49ers, but that San Francisco had so many opportunities to take the lead before that.
According to the Live ScoreCaster, here is how the final five offensive plays, while San Francisco was losing 34-29, for the 49ers transpired:
1st and 10 at BAL 40: Frank Gore rushes for 33 yards to the Baltimore seven yard line to set up first-and-goal. Before this play, San Francisco was just 27.2% likely to win the game. After the play, San Francisco becomes 54.2% likely to win. Gore's 33 yard run added +27% to the 49ers' win odds.
1st and Goal at BAL 7: LaMichael James carries the ball for two yards to the Baltimore five yard line to set up second-and-goal. After the play, San Francisco becomes just 48% likely to win. James' two yard run removes -6.2% from the 49ers' win odds and shifted them from likely winners to likely losers.
2nd and Goal at BAL 5: After the two minute warning, Colin Kaepernick throws an incomplete pass in the direction of Michael Crabtree. After the play, San Francisco remains just 41.1% likely to win. Kaepernick's incomplete pass subtracts -6.9% from the 49ers' win odds.
3rd and Goal at BAL 5: Colin Kaepernick throws another incomplete pass in the direction of Michael Crabtree. After the play, with likely one last play to gain five yards, San Francisco is now just 26.6% likely to win. Kaepernick's second consecutive incomplete pass subtracts -14.5% from the 49ers' win odds.
4th and Goal at BAL 5: Though controversial for its no-call, Colin Kaepernick yet again throws an incomplete pass in the direction of Michael Crabtree. After the play, as Baltimore takes over on the five yard line with 1:46 and one 49ers' timeout remaining, San Francisco is now just 9.8% likely to win (a number 49ers' fans probably would have taken at the time). Kaepernick's rushed incomplete pass to the sideline subtracts -16.8% from 49ers' win odds.
Interestingly, four plays later, Ravens' punter Sam Koch takes what ultimately looks like a brilliant safety. By whittling the clock down from twelve seconds remaining to four seconds remaining and setting up a free kick from the Baltimore 20 yard line (is anyone talking about the 61 yard free kick/punt than Koch then was able to get off to finish the game?), the safety increased the Ravens' chances to win the game by 10.7%. That is to say that, with 12 seconds remaining and fielding a rushed punt coming out of the Baltimore end zone, San Francisco still had about a one-in-ten chance of scoring a touchdown.
And, for what it's worth, as my friend and Cleveland radio host Dustin Fox, a former NFL cornerback, noted, that was the "definition of defensive holding." While that sentiment obviously does not change anything or make anyone feel better, it should have been called.
Game Changer: Early in the 2nd quarter the 49ers are driving down the field. They trail the Ravens 7-3, but they have the ball at the Baltimore 24-yard line. LaMichael James rushes around the right end and, in an effort to gain extra yards, is striped of the ball. For the final time this year, fumble recovery in the NFL is random. Baltimore pounces on the ball and ten plays later scores a touchdown. After the fumble, San Francisco’s win probability was 53.1%, with a projected final score of 21-20. Prior to the fumble San Francisco’s win probability was 67.7% with a projected final score of 26-20 - good for a 49ers cover at -3.5 (or even at -4.5 where it closed).
Additional Notes: Since we still projected the 49ers as more likely than not to win the game after this play, the LaMichael James fumble was not a decisive play in the straight-up outcome of this game. However, as John correctly notes, 12:04 remaining in the second quarter was the last projection in which we had San Francisco winning by more than the spread. One could build an argument that hundreds of millions of dollars nationwide exchanged hands on that play (especially considering it also affected props associated with turnovers and with James). Aside from returning kickoffs, James did not/was not allowed to touch the ball from that point until there were two minutes remaining in the game - which begs many questions about why he got the ball (and not others) on one of San Francisco's most critical plays of the game late in the fourth quarter.
In the controllable areas of the game that are most directly related to winning in football - per play and situational efficiency - San Francisco actually dominated this game. The 49ers out-gained the Ravens by 1.9 yards-per-pass, 3.6 yards-per-rush and a total of 2.6 yards-per-play. San Francisco ended up with 101 more yards of total offense on ten fewer plays. But the 49ers were destroyed in every area that is not as evident in 50,000 simulations of a game, yet can be deadly to lose in one game. They lost the turnover battle, committed costly penalties, burned important timeouts, missed coverages at poor times and, for a team that is seemingly in control most of the game, they rushed throws without any opportunities to find ways to make plays on their two most important offensive plays of the game - the failed two-point conversion and their final fourth down. We covered the fourth down above, but the two point conversion miss was also big as it turned a projected 49ers victory (51.3% of the time) into a projected Ravens victory (52.2% of the time).
While I humbly acknowledge the end of my Super Bowl against-the-spread streak correctly picking outcomes one win before it could reach double-digits, Baltimore did exactly what we continuously said that they needed to do hit the Ravens' 33% chance of winning and 40% chance of covering the spread. The lone slam dunk mismatch of the game for Super Bowl XLVII came in special teams. In each interview that I did on this game, I noted that, if Jacoby Jones made a big play in this game, it could very easily provide the difference in a Ravens' victory (insinuating, in most cases, that it was almost necessary for Baltimore to win in the return game to win the game).
Jacoby Jones made two big plays - one of which came on a kickoff return to open the second half. Officially considered a 108 yard touchdown return, Jones' "big play" extended Baltimore's lead from 21-6 to 28-6 and turned a likely 80% winner into a 92% winner. Ultimately, Baltimore needed that play (or at least the six points that came with it).
It is certainly rare to see any good NFL team make so many mistakes and lose the penalty, special teams, red zone and turnover battles, yet, as we noted in our Super Bowl analysis, these were not great strengths of the 49ers during the season (aside from special teams, they were not great strengths of Baltimore either). As much credit as I want to give Baltimore for doing what it needed to win this game, as the superior team that dominated per play, but made almost every type of costly mistake that it could, it seems more apparent to me that San Francisco lost this game more than Baltimore won it.
Critical Coaching Decisions
Game Changer: With 3:12 left in the 2nd quarter, the Ravens are leading the 49ers 14-3. On fourth-and-nine, Baltimore lines up for a 31-yard field goal attempt. The Ravens run a trick play, place kicker Justin Tucker scrambles around the left end but is pushed out of bounds just short of the first down. The 49ers take over possession and at this point Baltimore’s win probability is 70.3% with a projected final score of 24-17. Prior to the play, the Raven’s win probability was 76.7% with a projected final score of 27-17. Had the Raven’s successfully converted the fake field goal and picked up the first down, their win probability increases to 80.7% with a projected score of 30-19. If the Ravens attempt the field goal and convert, their win probability becomes 77.3% with a projected final score of 29-19. This is a play that probably will not be remembered given the power outage that caused a 34-minute delay and the 49ers furious comeback that came up short. Nevertheless, had San Francisco scored a touchdown at the end of the game, the 49ers would have taken a one-point lead and most likely would have attempted a two-point conversion to go up by three points. At this point, the announcers would have reminded everyone of how John Harbaugh passed on an easy field goal at the end of the first half.
Additional Notes: In other words, the Ravens needed almost exactly 68% confidence that the fake field goal would pick up a first down to justify running that play.
That being said, I filed something away during Baltimore's Week 10 win over the Oakland Raiders. Up 41-17 in the game, the Ravens lined up for a 25 yard field goal. Instead of kicking the ball to try to go up 44-17, holder/punter Sam Koch took the snap and ran it in for a touchdown to go up 47-17. While the Raiders had just talked some unnecessary trash to Anquan Boldin (to which he just pointed at the scoreboard), I noted at the time that this fake field goal was not to rub it in, but to put that play on tape so that every future team had to prepare for it. In Super Bowl XLVII, they tried to use that to their advantage. Carefully looking at the fake field goal in the Super Bowl, Koch pops up and runs toward the same gap (though on the opposite side) while the blockers all do the same thing that they did during the Oakland game. San Francisco had to defend the actual field goal and then what appeared to be a fake field goal that they had undoubtedly seen on tape before they could realize that Justin Tucker kept the ball. It was a foolish play in that situation, but the process leading up to calling it in that game makes a lot of sense.
Game Changer: With 7:14 left in the 4th quarter, Joe Flacco completes a pass to Anquan Boldin on second-and-eight that the referees rule as a first down. Jim Harbaugh challenges the ruling on the field and the play is overturned. Had the ruling on the field stood, the Ravens win probability is 68.3% with a projected score of 34-32. However, Harbaugh successfully challenges the ruling and now the Ravens have the ball third-and-one from their own 45-yard line. At this point Baltimore’s win probability is 65.1% with a projected final score of 34-32. Harbaugh challenged a play that made very little difference in the game. In order to do so he risked one of his final two timeouts. Both of these plays are classic cases of high risk, low reward.
Additional Notes: Live ScoreCaster has this as a wash and I was certainly rooting for a stuff on 3-and-1, yet, with the high likelihood that Baltimore converts in that situation, Jim Harbaugh essentially exchanged a full offensive play (or, to extend the analogy, a timeout) for his slim chance to stop the Ravens on that play. The way that the game actually unfolded, this challenge did hurt the 49ers who did not have enough time left at the end of the game to run any plays after Baltimore's free kick.
Speaking of coaching decisions by Jim Harbaugh. One mix up had me screaming at my TV...
With 3:10 left in third quarter, the 49ers were trailing 28-20 after forcing the Ravens' lone turnover of the game, San Francisco opts to kick a field goal on fourth-and-two. The 49ers had just missed a field goal on fourth-and-seven, but a running into the kicker penalty gave them a second chance. After successfully converting the field goal, the 49ers win probability is 36.6% with a projected score of 34-31 (i.e. the actual final score). Had they gone for it on fourth-and-two and converted, the 49ers' win probability goes to 46.8% with a projected score of 34.4-33.6. Failing to convert would have left the 49ers win probability at 28.5% with a projected score of 35-29.
Prior to kicking the field goal, the 49ers win probability was 36.0%. So successfully kicking the field goal did not change the projected win probability. The 49ers would have needed just 44% confidence that they could successfully pick up two yards in order to justify going for it in this situation. In normal third-and-two and fourth-and-two situations, average (San Francisco is much better than average offensively) teams pick up the first down 59% of the time. This is an example of Jim Harbaugh passing on a relatively low risk, high reward situation. Later he goes high risk, low reward on the challenge for the spot of the first down.
Props Pick'em Contest Results
Congratulations to "Chuckie" who bested "Fatjack" by five points and correctly answered 34 of the 47 props to win the $2,000 first prize in our inaugural Props Pick'em contest. The top 50 point scorers will share in the prize pool of $7,000 in site credits. See how all 1,300+ entrants did on the Props Pick'em Leaderboard.
Click here for the official rules and prize information.
Props Results (addressing results because they are not stored in the ResultsFinder, people paid for them, and yes, because we did well with them...)
The side and straight-up pick may not have hit, but we had considerable success with our props (and the over).
All Playable Props (including Cross-Sport and Player vs. Player Props): 41-30 (58% ATS) for $557.19 profit from recommendations for a $50 player.
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Alicia Keys is a self-indulgent has been
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