With three minutes left in the game, the Cardinals got the ball on their own 15-yard line, down 16-13 to the Bills. John Skelton, in for the injured Kevin Kolb after the fourth play of the drive, leads the offense to the Buffalo 43-yard line where they stall on three straight incomplete passes. So, it's 4th-and-10 with 1:14 remaining, do you attempt the 61-yard field goal for the tie, or try to convert the 4th-and-long?
Groupthink in the NFL says attempt the field goal, but as those avid readers will certainly know, groupthink is often far too conservative. Here is the breakdown, via Brian's 4th-down calculator:
4th-and-10 is converted 35% of the time on average. A successful conversion means 40% chance of winning because a) the game-tying field goal is much more manageable and b) the Cardinals would actually have a full minute to go in for the go-ahead touchdown. A missed field goal or turnover-on-downs results in a 3-4% chance to win, just by giving the ball back to Buffalo. But, what about the field goal? 60-61 yard field goals convert around 15% of the time -- not impossible, but I wouldn't bet my savings on it. A made field goal (surprisingly) results in a 42% chance to win the game -- more than the conversion. Numbers say to go for it if you are convinced you can convert over 13% of the time.
Even if you have supreme faith in Jay Feely, the numbers still say to go for it. In fact, it only makes sense to kick the field goal if you believe your kicker can make that field goal more often than you can convert. Given our baselines, the Cardinals would need to think Feely could make it at least 35% of the time. Again, keep in mind, all these probabilities are baselines and different values apply to different situations and match-ups, but they are the necessary starting point for any decision-making.
Numbers be damned, Jay Feely banged it home confidently and left me to turn to twitter for everyone's astounded reactions. The number Gods, however, would have their vengeance.
After a quick Buffalo three-and-out, the Cardinals moved the ball to the Buffalo 20-yard line with about 0:40 remaining. Rather than running any more plays to either get closer or center the ball, Arizona waited until there were three seconds left to spike the ball for a game-winning field goal. The thought running through everyone's mind: "Jay just stuck it from 61, 38 is a guarantee." 38-yard field goals are mostly gimmes, but one out of five misses. With seven more yards, that falls to one out of 10. If you get it to the 8-yard line, kickers miss only one of 20. Obviously, with more plays you increase the chances of a mistake or turnover, but time and time again we see this same decision made. It's the "I'm in field goal range" myth -- as Brian says, "closer is always better".
|From Brian Burke's "Just For Kicks"|
Keith Goldner is the creator of Drive-By Football, and Chief Analyst at numberFire.com - The leading fantasy sports analytics platform. Follow him on twitter @drivebyfootball or check out numberFire on Facebook.