Vikings Open & Cardinals Close

On a crazy Sunday with upsets out the wazoo, the most surprising win had to be Christian Ponder and his lowly Vikings taking down the San Francisco 49ers. Minnesota outplayed the Niners from the very start of the game; their opening drive lasted 7 minutes and 40 seconds and went 82 yards over 16 plays for the first score of the game.

The Cardinals dominated the Eagles all game long, but after back-to-back field goals to bring the game within 18 points (why do teams still kick field goals down 21 in the third or fourth quarter?), Arizona needed to seal the win. They did so with a 13-play, six-and-a-half minute drive (including two Eagles timeouts), which resulted in a field goal.

Using our Markov model, let's look at these two game-changing drives.

The biggest play of the drive was play 12, an 11-yard completion to tight end Kyle Rudolph (TD probability increases by about 40%). Adrian Peterson ran the ball eight times on the drive, with not a single rush exceeding five yards. The highlight, however, was Minnesota going for it on 4th-and-Goal from the 1-yard line. That is clearly the correct decision, but even more so as a significant underdog. Over the course of that very first drive, the Vikings win probability increased to 72%. It would not fall below 60% for the remainder of the game.

Arizona was likely to win (97% win probability) entering the drive, but in order to end the game they needed to take some time off the clock - and take some time off the clock they did. Ryan Williams ran all over the Eagles, converting two separate 3rd downs (play 6 and play 10). The most crushing blow was play 6, on 3rd-and-17 from their own 32-yard line. At that point, teams punt over 80% of the time. Only 6% of all drives containing that situation result in touchdowns, and only 3.9% end in field goals (less than the probability of an interception). The Cardinals do what anyone would expect them to do in a situation where they want to play it safe and run down the clock, they run a draw play. Williams takes it for 25 yards before DeMeco Ryans forces him out of bounds.

One other note on the day is that the Saints had an opportunity to go for it on 4th-and-2 at the end of the first quarter/start of the second quarter. As I mentioned previously, Aaron Kromer does not exactly follow the Sean Payton rulebook on 4th down decisions. Rather than go for it, which is statistically the better option (although not dramatically: +2.28 EP going for it vs +1.66 EP field goal), Kromer has Brees play possum until the end of the quarter and then brings on Garrett Hartley for the chip shot. Especially at 0-3, the Saints are going to have to make gutsier play-calls if they want any chance at salvaging their season. That and a complete overhaul on the defensive side of the ball.

Keith Goldner is the creator of Drive-By Football, and Chief Analyst at - The leading fantasy sports analytics platform.  Follow him on twitter @drivebyfootball or check out numberFire on Facebook

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8 Responses to “Vikings Open & Cardinals Close”

  1. Dale says:

    Teams go for FG's down 21 because it obviously gives the team more momentum. And as we all know, momentum wins games. DUH.

  2. X says:

    I'm pretty sure they go for the FG because if you score points, they give you a nice "Certificate of Participation" for the football game, which your mom can put up on the refrigerator when you get home.

  3. Mike says:

    And as we all know, being down 3 possessions and then scoring three points to remain down by 3 possessions is a huge momentum shift.

  4. Mike says:

    Another 8 drives worth of field goals and they would have had the Cards just where they wanted them

  5. Brian Burke says:

    You guys are cracking me up.

  6. MattieShoes says:

    49ers had 4th and 1 on the 11 yard line with about 12 minutes left in the 2nd quarter, and kicked a field goal. I assume that was a terrible call stats-wise, but how bad was it? Quantify for me! :-)

  7. Michael Beuoy says:

    Mattie - Behold the 4thdownulator. It's like a Brian Burke robot you can order around.

    I believe SF was down by 7 at the time. Kicking the field goal had an EPA of 2.20 points and an expected Win Probability for SF of 34%. Going for it had an EPA of 3.55 points and an expected Win Probability of 40%. So, yes, kicking the field goal was a terrible call stats-wise.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Brian Burke, in your humble opinion how bad are coaches in the NFL at 3rd/4th down decisions?

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