Tuesday, January 8 at 11:45 PM ET
For this week's football blog, I am stealing a page from our weekly football podcasts (while also preparing for said podcasts) and ripping off the weekly GameChanger article (put together by newly appointed Director of Research and Analytics, John Ewing - I am not stealing from you, I am just trying to bring more attention to some really interesting info while adding some of my notes as well) featuring our Live ScoreCaster feature (free for every NFL playoff game) to review some pivotal plays from the games of Wild Card weekend.
Wild Card Round:
Bengals @ Texans
Game Changer: With 9:08 left in the 4th quarter and Cincinnati trailing Houston 19-10, the Bengals opt to kick a 47-yard field goal on 4th and 2. After successfully converting the field goal we projected the Bengals chances of winning at 10.4% and a projected final score of 22-16, Bengals fail to cover. However, had Cincinnati went for it on 4th and 2, they averaged 5 yards per rush during the game, and converted; their chances of winning only increase to 12.1% but the projected final score becomes 22-20 for a Bengals cover.
Additional Notes: The Bengals were only the projected winners for one play. After that play, a notable, hidden play propelled Houston to the victory. Up 7-6 in the second quarter and having knocked Arian Foster out of bounds for a four yard loss, the Bengals became 51.2% favorites to win the game. Houston was facing a 2nd and 14 from its own 16 yard line. Then, Arian Foster picked up 13 yards on a run. Even though that did not give the Texans the first down, Houston regained the likely win (51.1%) and ultimately converted that drive into a field goal that gave the team the lead for the rest of the game.
Live Chart: http://predictionmachine.com/Live/IndividualGame.aspx?lgid=1065
Vikings vs. Packers
Game Changer (more like Cover Changer in this case): With 6:28 left in the 1st, the Vikings have the ball 3rd and 2 at the Green Bay 48; offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave, calls for Joe Webb to throw the ball instead of handing it off to Adrian Peterson. Webb throws an incomplete pass (he finished 11 of 30) while Peterson averaged 4.5 yards per carry for the game. On the ensuing punt, Green Bay becomes the projected favorite to win the game and never looks back. Had Peterson rushed for a first down, Minnesota becomes a 52% favorite to win with a projected final score of 24-23.
Additional Notes: So yeah, in what I will forever remember as the "Joe Webb Game," Minnesota actually out-gained Green Bay on a per-play basis for the third consecutive game. That does not mean it should have been close. The Vikings could not convert in the passing game when necessary (or really at all) and turned the ball over three times. Yet, somehow, Minnesota ended the game 15 yards away from what would have certainly been the biggest garbage touchdown miracle cover/bad beat that I would have ever witnessed. I totally acknowledged it when it happened, but the events of the day Saturday reiterated just how difficult it is and how lucky one needs to be to go 11-0 ATS in the NFL Playoffs. Being on the right side of the line is just part of it. Thankfully, there was Sunday.
Live Chart: http://predictionmachine.com/Live/IndividualGame.aspx?lgid=1066
Seahawks @ Redskins
Game Changer: Washington is leading 14-3 with 7:25 left in the 2nd; Seattle has the ball on their 45-yard line when Russell Wilson fumbles (Washington’s projected win percentage prior to the fumble – 67%). As we have stated many times, fumble recovery in the NFL is a random event. Marshawn Lynch not only recovers the ball for Seattle but rushes for 20 yards and a first down (Washington’s projected win percentage after the fumble – 62%). Seattle goes on to score a touchdown as part of 24 unanswered points. Had Washington recovered the fumble they become a 79.1% favorite to win the game with a projected score of 32-21.
Additional Notes: Also, while we projected Seattle to win straight-up (and cover) before the game assuming RGIII was at full strength, had Kirk Cousins started instead, we would have projected Seattle to win 62% of the time (with a projected score of 27-21). Had Cousins come in after the Redskins' second TD (around the time that RGIII's injury seemed to noticeably worsen), we would have projected Washington to win 72.3% (just lower than the 76.7% we gave them assuming RGIII was 100%). And, at 14-13, our projection would have been 28-23 coming out of halftime with Seattle winning 59% if Cousins had started the second half.
Live Chart: http://predictionmachine.com/Live/IndividualGame.aspx?lgid=1064
Colts vs. Ravens
Notes: Indianapolis made this a game until the fourth quarter, but Baltimore ultimately, rightfully took control and pulled away. The Colts were out-gained by 3.1 yards-per-play in the game. The stat that resonated with me throughout the preparation for this game was that Indianapolis was out-gained by 0.8 yards-per-play. That may not sound like a huge differential, but only Kansas City and Arizona were worse throughout the course of the season - despite Indianapolis playing the easiest schedule that I have evaluated over the last nine years. Andrew Luck certainly shows promise (the completion percentage does not bother me - seeing as, for much of the season, there was actually an inverse relationship between completion percentage and scoring points in the league) and the rookie offensive starters should continue to improve, but there are some major holes on this team. And, while it was part of the narrative, Ray Lewis had little to do with the Baltimore win (and cover). The Ravens would have been that much better with or without Lewis on the field. Still, he was not only consistently beaten in the passing game, it often appeared as though the Colts were targeting the middle of the field in the passing game to exploit Lewis. Having already lost Jameel McClain for the year and with Dannell Ellerbe ailing right now, the Ravens do not have better options. It's just likely that Lewis has just one game left in his career - and it may (partially) be his fault (or at least the fault of a banged-up Ravens' defense).
Live Chart: http://predictionmachine.com/Live/IndividualGame.aspx?lgid=1063
BCS National Championship
Also, from about halfway through the first quarter on in the BCS National Championship game, our projected score was essentially 42-14, so I'm pretty happy about the way that the game unfolded (and Alabama -9/OVER 42). Check out this chart from the Alabama vs. Notre Dame (unless you are a Notre Dame fan).
Live ScoreCaster is totally free online at LiveScoreCaster.com (which redirects to the Live ScoreCaster section above) and in iTunes. Like with the BCS National Championship game, every NFL playoff game is broken down after each play totally for free to all. We are also live tweeting each of the NFL Playoff games @LiveScoreCaster.