Philbin Shows Up Phil

In a huge division game with significant playoff implications, the Dolphins trailed the Patriots 20-17 with a little over three minutes remaining and three timeouts in their back pocket. Facing a 4th-and-5 from their own 45-yard line, Jim Nantz asked Phil Simms whether he would punt in that situation, to which Simms replied "Absolutely, punt it!" The logic here is that with three timeouts remaining, the Dolphins could stop the Patriots and force a three-and-out, getting the ball back with another chance to drive down and tie or win the game.

Let's look at the baseline win probability numbers:

4th-and-5 converts just below 50% of the time and with a conversion, the Dolphins would be expected to win 37% of the time. With a failure, win probability would drop to 13%. The actual play was run with 2:41 remaining, but if the Dolphins had decided to punt, they likely would have snapped the ball much sooner. The NYT4thDownBot had the win probability after a punt at 14%. In reality, I think it is closer to 18-20% due to the time discrepancy and the fact that Miami had all three timeouts remaining.

One huge factor is that the Dolphins are playing against an efficient and aggressive offense in the Patriots. That means the Dolphins would be less likely to force a three-and-out, thus increasing the chances that Miami would never get the ball back. The baseline analysis boils down to whether or not Joe Philbin believes his team can convert better than one out of five attempts. Local factors certainly have significant effects on these probabilities, but the league-average numbers are an important place to start when it comes to optimal decision-making.

To the chagrin of Phil Simms, Ryan Tannehill completed a screen to Charles Clay who fought for the first down. Miami drove down the field and scored the game-winning touchdown with just over a minute remaining. 

Tom Brady did have several chances at the end of the game to win it for the Patriots, but ultimately came up short, giving the Dolphins a huge 24-20 win.

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

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3 Responses to “Philbin Shows Up Phil”

  1. LamKram says:

    When the Dolphins left the offense on the field, the first thing I thought was "What would say?" Although I already knew the answer. As a Pats fan, I was HOPING the Dolphins would punt. So my gut told me that going for it was the better decision.

    BTW, it looked to my biased eyes like there was a blatant offensive hold that allowed Clay to get the first down.

  2. Jared Doom says:

    I'm sure if they didn't convert Simms would have happily attributed the loss to the decision to go for it. Did he hold himself accountable for his questionable advice after Philbin's decision led them to the win?

    The self-assured-ness of these overly risk-averse announcers is nauseating.

  3. Michael Goetze says:

    Simms ALWAYS wants to punt, even on 4th and 1 from the opponent's 40.

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