The Bills, Redskins, and Unsportsmanlike Conduct

On December 2nd, Joe Gibbs may have cost his team a playoff spot. His 15 yd unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for consecutive time outs to ice Buffalo kicker Ryan Lindell backfired. It gave Lindell a 36 yd FG attempt instead of a 51 yd attempt to win the game as time expired. The cost of Gibbs’ mistake is only now becoming clear as the playoffs picture comes into focus.

Lindell is a decent kicker and has kicked 5 out of 7 lifetime FGs from beyond 50 yds. But 7 attempts is not terribly significant statistically. Chances are he’s not too different than most starting NFL kickers. Below is a graph of NFL-wide FG probability of success vs. attempt distance. A best-fit equation yields how that 15 yd penalty changed Lindell’s chance to win the game with only seconds remaining.


Those 15 yards changed the FG probability from 0.58 to 0.88, a difference of 0.30. And although Lindell proved (as Gibbs called the first timeout) that he had the leg to make the longer kick, that is not an indication that Lindell is immune from the laws of probability.

Today the Redskins find themselves at 6-7, one game back in the race for the last wildcard spot in the NFC. Had Lindell missed from 51 yds, the Redskins would have won and they’d be tied with Minnesota at 7-6, who they will face in week 16.

The Bills, on the other hand, are now at 7-6 partially thanks to their win over Washington. They are now one game behind Cleveland for the 2nd wildcard spot in the AFC with about a 20% chance of sneaking into the playoffs.

What a difference 15 yards and one kick can make /could have made.

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1 Responses to “The Bills, Redskins, and Unsportsmanlike Conduct”

  1. jonnymo says:

    In five of their seven losses, the 'Skins were leading at halftime. Where would this team be w/ Williams as the head coach and Todd Collins behind center?

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