First Falcons Drive & Botched Bears Field Goal

Andy Reid had never lost coming off a bye week in his head-coaching career. Matt Ryan did not care. Leading the Falcons on a 8 minute 44 second opening drive, Ryan and company marched 80 yards down the field over 18 plays before hitting Drew Davis on a 15-yard touchdown. Up 7-0, the Falcons were 72% favorites to win the game and that probability would never dip below that the rest of the day.

Here is a quick look at Matty Ice's first drive -- on which he went 6 for 7 for 62 yards -- using our Markov model:

The Falcons converted on five separate 3rd downs (plays 3, 7, 10, 13 and 18), although three of those conversions were on 3rd-and-2 or less. The biggest play of the drive was the first 3rd-down conversion on 3rd-and-8 from their own 22; Ryan hits Drew Davis for a 15-yard gain which increased their chances of scoring a TD on the drive by 12% and decreased the chances of a punt by 28%.

Botched Bears Field Goal

Down 19-7 to the Panthers, the Bears faced a 4th-and-5 from the Carolina 15 with just over 12 minutes left. Rather than go for it, the Bears elected to attempt a 33-yard field goal, which converts 88% of the time (and likely even higher than that for the consistent Robbie Gould). A field goal here, however, keeps the game a two-score affair and according to expected win probability, it's not a difficult call.


Going for it on 4th-and-5 converts league-wide at 45%. A stop on 4th-down or a missed field goal both result in only a 6% chance of winning. A made field goal means 11% win probability, but a 4th-down conversion would boost the Bears' likelihood of winning to 20% -- because of the increase in touchdown probability. Even if you consider Robbie Gould's field goal probability to be well above league-average, that still means the Bears should go for it if they believe they can convert at a rate of one in three.

Gould actually missed the field goal, but thanks to a Tim Jennings pick six, the Bears eked out a win. The fact that Gould missed the field goal (or that the Bears won) does not affect the evaluation of Lovie Smith's decision to kick a field goal. It is important to keep in mind that it is the process in decision-making that matters most.

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

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5 Responses to “First Falcons Drive & Botched Bears Field Goal”

  1. David Kravitz says:

    Does WP account for anything other than possession, down, yards remaining, time remaining, timeouts, and score? I find it very unlikely that the Falcons kicking off with 6:16 in the first quarter up "only" 7-0 had a 72% win probability unless something else was involved.

  2. Tom says:

    Thank you for breaking down the Bears FG decision. I was watching this game, highly suspicious that Lovie was making the wrong call, and then I hoped that you'd break it down.

  3. Chris says:

    Ron Rivera (foolishly, I thought) called a timeout before Gould's kick and I thought Lovie would see the light of this situation and put Cutler and the offense back on the field. Luckily he didn't, and it stayed at a touchdown-touchdown game instead of a touchdown-field goal game. At this point I felt comfortable with a W on the way and the second win of the year (and some momentum). Then the Panthers turned into the Panthers

  4. Keith Goldner says:

    David - No, those are the only variables included. But think about it: In general, teams that go up 7-0 will be the better team. Obviously not all the team, but there will be a small sample bias toward it which explains the 72% win probability. It's similar to all those skewed stats you see where a soccer team in 10-1 when scoring first, because there is a sample bias for teams up 1-0.

    And yeah, Chris, I thought (hoped) Lovie would change his mind too.

  5. bytebodger says:

    David - Keith's correct, but I think he only addressed half the issue. On one hand, if you are up 7-0, there is already a reasonable chance that you're the better team (as he stated above). But ALSO, even if we assume that you are NOT the better team, that still means that the better team now has to overcome your 7-0 advantage.

    Along those same lines, there is usually a fairly strong likelihood of winning if you are up by ANY margin at ANY point in the game.

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