Play of the Year

Both conference championships were remarkable games. And despite very different styles of play, both games followed the same plot line. One team seemingly dominated the entire game, only to see the underdog within striking distance of the upset with only a few minutes to play. Arizona fought off an unprecedented 2nd half comeback while Pittsburgh won in dramatic fashion late in the 4th quarter.

The Eagles trailed by 18 points late until scoring their first touchdown late in the 3rd quarter, making the score 24-13. Shortly before the score, they had a near-zero probability of winning. Just to tie, they would need 11 points while hoping to keep Arizona off the scoreboard for the rest of the game. Two more TDs later, and Philly miraculously had the lead 25-24. For a brief second, they actually broke above 0.50 WP before Arizona was able to score the last TD of the game, securing their first trip to the Super Bowl.

The AFC championship game's graph looks very similar. A see-saw battle in the first quarter gives way to a clear advantage for the home team. A comeback effort peaks midway through the 4th quarter but falls short.

Down by 2 points with about 7 minutes remaining, Baltimore forced a punt and gained possession on their own 40. But a boneheaded personal foul during the punt puts the ball back at the 14. Flacco's deep throw to Todd Heap gave the Ravens a 1st and 10 at their 32. With just 30 yards to go to get into Matt Stover's field goal range and a ticket to the Super Bowl, the Ravens had somehow battled back to a 0.45 WP. You might think that's high given the Steelers' phenomenal defense, and you might be right. But don't tell that to Tennessee fans.

Three plays later Steelers safety Troy Polamalu intercepted a Flacco pass and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown, making the score 23-14 and putting the game out of reach. In terms of pure leverage in getting to the Super Bowl, no other single play comes close. This was unquestionably the play of the year (so far).

Congratulations Steelers and Cardinals fans.

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5 Responses to “Play of the Year”

  1. Brian Burke says:

    In case anyone was wondering, you'll notice two "cliffs" on the graph of the AFC game. The first was the broken coverage 65-yd TD pass to make the score 10-0. The second cliff is the Polamalu interception to seal the game. Although the TD pass looks almost as big, it's really not. The subsequent kickoff gave Baltimore poor field position, which contributes to the sharp decline in WP.

    A huge play, no doubt, but it wasn't as big as the interception.

  2. j-mo says:

    You want unprecedented? I still have nightmares about this one: I wonder what that wp graph would look like.

  3. Brian Burke says:

    Your prayers have been answered. You no longer have to wonder!

  4. Phil says:

    Was their an article in which you explained what goes into that calculator

    do you think it would be easily adaptable to a high school game?

  5. Brian Burke says:

    Phil-The model is the same as the in-game WP model I use. I describe it here.

    To adapt it for a HS game I'd need a very large play by play database for those types of games. I can say, just from testing the WP site on college games this year, the pros and college are significantly different. HS ball would be even more so.

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