We are sports data scientists with a deeper, faster, more accurate analysis of the game’s most critical decisions. Our EdjFootball model assesses a team’s Game Winning Chance (GWC) or win probability at any moment of the game. Each week we analyze the NFL games and bring you the most interesting scenarios, including play execution and coaching decisions and how they affect a team’s GWC.  Here are our most notable plays for NFL Week 8.

Los Angeles Rams vs. Green Bay

PLAY 1

The Situation: LA trailing 10-0, 8:29 remaining in the 2nd quarter, 4th and 3 from the LA 45 – Rams fake the punt and throw for 12 yards and a first down

This well-executed trick play came at a much-needed time as the Rams were trailing by ten points, halfway through the second quarter. Despite the disguise, there were some clues that may have alerted the Packers to this fake punt. Sean McVay is known for being an aggressive play caller on fourth downs. The situation was 4th and 3 from midfield, well within the wheelhouse of the elite Rams offense. In fact, had the Rams actually punted, it would have been the largest play call error of the week across the NFL, a hypothetical error of 8.9 percent GWC (Game-Winning Chance). The Packers may also have been tipped off to this fake punt through film study; the Rams ran a fake punt pass play back in Week 4 against the Vikings. That call was made on 4th and 10 but from the opponent’s 36-yard line, an area of the field that favors the decision to go for it. Future opponents of the Rams would be wise to pay attention to game circumstances when the Rams bring out their special teams punt unit.

PLAY 2

The Situation: LA leading 27-29, 1:05 remaining in the 4th quarter, 3rd and 10 from the GB 21 – Todd Gurley takes the handoff and runs for 17 yards and a first down; going down to the ground intentionally 4 yards from the end zone

This play clinched the game for the Rams. With ten yards to go on fourth down, it appeared that Aaron Rodgers and the Packers would get one last chance to mount a comeback drive. The Rams were in easy field goal range at the time and the Packers still had one timeout remaining. With one more defensive stop on third down, the Packers could stop the clock with their last timeout. The Rams would likely convert the subsequent field goal attempt, and the Packers would be left with about one minute to drive and score a touchdown. Todd Gurley and the Rams’ offense denied the Packers this opportunity by unexpectedly breaking loose for 17 yards. Another interesting aspect of this play was Gurley’s choice to forego a push for the end zone. Instead, he chose to fall intentionally to the ground in bounds, allowing his team to run out the clock safely with a fresh set of downs. This likely burned many fantasy football players. It’s also worth noting that this decision likely had a great deal of impact on sports bettors. The pregame over/under and point spread closed around 56 points and Rams -8 respectively. Despite the elevated interest of this play, our model shows no detectable GWC (Game-Winning Chance) difference between Gurley’s choice and a run ending in a touchdown.

Pittsburgh vs. Cleveland

The Situation: Steelers lead Browns 6-7, 0:15 remaining in the 2nd quarter, 4th and 1 at CLE 4-yard line

Normally 4th and 1 decisions in the red zone clearly favor going for it over the field goal. This instance, however, is a bit more complicated because of the clock and the lack of residual value if the Steelers fail. Although a failed attempt would result in the Browns being backed up to the goal, there is little opportunity to exploit it. To understand this decision better, we must first assess the effect of a field goal attempt.

  • Steelers kick the field goal successfully: 78.7% GWC
  • Steelers kick the field goal unsuccessfully: 68.6% GWC
  • Steelers successfully score a touchdown with PAT: 87.9% GWC

Using a success rate of about 94% on the field goal gives the Steelers 78.1% GWC (Game-Winning Chance), on average, to start the 2nd half with this approach.

If we make the simple assumption that the Steelers get one crack at the end zone before the end of the half, we can determine the success rate required for the TD attempt to be the better choice. A field goal attempt improves GWC by 10.1% while a successful TD improves GWC 19.3%. Under that scenario, The TD must be successful 9.5 ÷ 19.3, or 49.2%, to be the optimal choice. In reality, the Steelers can get a first down and still call a timeout, which should improve the merits of going for it. However, when we consider an average NFL team converts a two-point conversion about 47% and this attempt is two yards longer, the field goal attempt emerges as the clear choice by 2.9% GWC, representing a difference between 78.1% for the field goal attempt and 75.2% for a short pass attempt.

Kansas City vs. Denver

The Situation: Scoreless game, 13:43 in the first quarter, 4th and 2 on their own 33-yard line

In this seemingly routine situation, we discovered some hidden value for the Broncos with a very counterintuitive approach. According to our customized simulation, the Broncos would win 6.0% more games by attempting a fourth down rushing play (31.7% GWC) instead of a punt (25.7% GWC). Although we rate the Broncos as a substantial underdog in this game, the Edj Power Indices show the Broncos to have a very favorable rushing match-up against the Chiefs. Even at this early stage of a game, a choice with higher risk and variance can prove favorable, especially when it represents an opportunity to retain possession against a highly favored opponent.