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Mike Mularkey went for it on 4th and 10 in overtime

With 2:36 remaining in overtime, the Jacksonville Jaguars were at the Houston 47-yard line. It was 4th-and-10, following two short incomplete passes that were sandwiched around a run for no gain. Surprisingly, Mike Mularkey kept his offense on the field. The only similar example I can find of such an aggressive move in this situation came in 2009, when Carson Palmer and the Bengals convinced Marvin Lewis to go for it with 1:04 left in overtime, facing 4th and 11 at the Cleveland 41. Suffice it to say, this was something you don’t see everyday.

Despite being an unorthodox decision, most fans approved of the move. I do as well. Against arguably the best team in the league and your division rival, on the road, why not take the gamble? Is 1-8-1 that much better than 1-9, because punting in that situation is clearly playing for the tie. However, I think it’s important to make a clear distinction here, because stats guys are always recommending teams to go for it more frequently on fourth down.

This was *not* one of those cases. The numbers say this was a bad move. That’s exactly why this decision should be characterized as a a gamble. It’s okay to be risky for riskiness’ sake, but it’s important to recognize that that’s the reason. You’re playing for the variance here, not for the expected value. According to Brian Burke, Jacksonville would have needed a 55% chance of converting to make going for it the smart play. Over time, 4th and 10 plays are converted at roughly a 35% rate, and I don’t think that’s going to be higher when it’s Chad Henne against one of the best defenses in the league, regardless of how the rest of the game unfolded.

An incomplete pass, and your win probably decreases to 30% (never mind what happens on a sack or potential interception return). Give Houston the ball at say, their 14 following a punt, and you have a 60% chance of winning (this counts a tie as half a win). If you convert, you have a 76% chance of winning. Assuming a 35% rate, your win probably if you go for it is just 46% compared to 60% if you punt.

So the numbers don’t say going for it was the smart play. This was a gamble in every sense of the word. When statistical analysts argue that teams should go for it more often on 4th and 1, we’re not advocating risky moves; we’re advocating smart ones. This was risk for risk’s sake — which, given the situation, was probably appropriate.

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The Jacksonville Jaguars faced an uphill battle on Sunday: they were 15-point underdogs against the Packers in Lambeau Field. Trailing 14-6 in the final seconds of the first half, Blaine Gabbert threw a one-yard touchdown pass to tackle Guy Whimper. At that point, Mike Mularkey decided to go for two in an attempt to tie the game before the teams went into the locker room. The two-point conversion attempt failed, and Jacksonville ultimately lost, 24-15. So, did Mularkey make the right call?

In a lot of ways, this is similar to the decision Chan Gailey faced against the Titans in week seven. Essentially, Mularkey would need to calculate:

— (A) Jacksonville’s win probability in a 14-12 game
— (B) Jacksonville’s win probability in a 14-13 game; and
— (C) Jacksonville’s win probability in a 14-14 game

If we assume a 50% conversion rate on the 2-point attempt — more on this in a minute — then the question is a simple one. We just need to determine whether the difference between (A) and (B) is greater than or less than the difference between (B) and (C). Green Bay was set to receive the ball at the start of the second half, so according to Brian Burke, the values for (A), (B), and (C) are and 41%, 45%, and 48%.

I also looked at all games since 2000 where the team was set to kick to start the second half and was tied, trailing by 1, or trailing by 2 at halftime. In 275 tie games, the team kicking off to start the second half won 52% of the time. There were 70 instances where the team was trailing by 1, but they won just 39% of the time. And in 32 situations where a team was trailing by 2, the trailing team won 41% of the time. The sample sizes here are not large, and the set is of course biased; teams kicking off at halftime obviously had the ball in the first half, so if they trailed at halftime, that’s a signal that they were the inferior team.

So Burke’s model tells us that it’s a very close call; a small sample of results indicates a strong preference for being in a tie game. We can also look at Football Commentary, which theorizes that a team needs only a 36% chance to convert to make going for 2 the right call. So as you can see, the results are a somewhat over the map here.

My thoughts? It’s very close. It’s similar to the Gailey decision, but the uncertainty is magnified here with 30 minutes remaining instead of fifteen. There are a lot of ways for the game to unfold that make me think the difference between (A) and (B) is pretty close to the difference between (B) and (C). Still, my gut does tell me that — assuming a 50% conversion rate — it probably *is* better to go for two, but it’s certainly not obvious or a slam dunk. If I was a Packers fan, I would have preferred to see the Jaguars kick the extra point.

That said, understanding the resulting win probabilities is just one part of the equation. Let’s look at some of the others.
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I don’t know why, but coach of the year is one of those awards that kind of fascinates me. That’s probably because its one of those few awards that in practice, bears little resemblance its name. There was a stretch from ’95 to ’01 — when Bill Parcells, Mike Shanahan, Mike Holmgren, Tony Dungy, and Bill Cowher were roaming the sidelines — that the award went to Ray Rhodes, Dom Capers, Jim Haslett and Dick Jauron. Coach of the Year sounds like Most Valuable Player but is more often treated like Comeback Player of the Year or Surprise of the Year. Predicting in the pre-season which coach will ultimately win the award is so difficult that Vegas doesn’t even offer odds on the event. For reference, below is a look at every coach to ever be selected by the Associated Press as NFL Head Coach of the Year:

YearTeamWinnerTenureWin %RecN-1 Win%N-1 RecImp
2012INDBruce Arians10.7509-3-00.1252-14-00.625
2011SFOJim Harbaugh10.81313-3-00.3756-10-00.438
2010NWEBill Belichick110.87514-2-00.62510-6-00.25
2009CINMarvin Lewis70.62510-6-00.2814-11-10.344
2008ATLMike Smith10.68811-5-00.254-12-00.438
2007NWEBill Belichick8116-0-00.7512-4-00.25
2006NORSean Payton10.62510-6-00.1883-13-00.438
2005CHILovie Smith20.68811-5-00.3135-11-00.375
2004SDGMarty Schottenheimer30.7512-4-00.254-12-00.5
2003NWEBill Belichick40.87514-2-00.5639-7-00.313
2002PHIAndy Reid40.7512-4-00.68811-5-00.063
2001CHIDick Jauron30.81313-3-00.3135-11-00.5
2000NORJim Haslett10.62510-6-00.1883-13-00.438
1999STLDick Vermeil30.81313-3-00.254-12-00.563
1998ATLDan Reeves20.87514-2-00.4387-9-00.438
1997NYGJim Fassel10.65610-5-10.3756-10-00.281
1996CARDom Capers20.7512-4-00.4387-9-00.313
1995PHIRay Rhodes10.62510-6-00.4387-9-00.188
1994NWEBill Parcells20.62510-6-00.3135-11-00.313
1993NYGDan Reeves10.68811-5-00.3756-10-00.313
1992PITBill Cowher10.68811-5-00.4387-9-00.25
1991DETWayne Fontes40.7512-4-00.3756-10-00.375
1990DALJimmy Johnson20.4387-9-00.0631-15-00.375
1989GNBLindy Infante20.62510-6-00.254-12-00.375
1988CHIMike Ditka70.7512-4-00.73311-4-00.017
1987NORJim Mora20.812-3-00.4387-9-00.363
1986NYGBill Parcells40.87514-2-00.62510-6-00.25
1985CHIMike Ditka40.93815-1-00.62510-6-00.313
1984SEAChuck Knox20.7512-4-00.5639-7-00.188
1983WASJoe Gibbs30.87514-2-00.8898-1-0-0.014
1982WASJoe Gibbs20.8898-1-00.58-8-00.389
1981SFOBill Walsh30.81313-3-00.3756-10-00.438
1980BUFChuck Knox30.68811-5-00.4387-9-00.25
1979WASJack Pardee20.62510-6-00.58-8-00.125
1978SEAJack Patera30.5639-7-00.3575-9-00.205
1977DENRed Miller10.85712-2-00.6439-5-00.214
1976CLEForrest Gregg20.6439-5-00.2143-11-00.429
1975BALTed Marchibroda10.71410-4-00.1432-12-00.571
1974STLDon Coryell20.71410-4-00.3214-9-10.393
1973RAMChuck Knox10.85712-2-00.4646-7-10.393
1972MIADon Shula3114-0-00.7510-3-10.25
1971WASGeorge Allen10.6799-4-10.4296-8-00.25
1970SFODick Nolan30.7510-3-10.3574-8-20.393
1969MINBud Grant30.85712-2-00.5718-6-00.286
1968BALDon Shula60.92913-1-00.85711-1-20.071
1967RAMGeorge Allen20.85711-1-20.5718-6-00.286
1967BALDon Shula50.85711-1-20.6439-5-00.214
1966DALTom Landry70.7510-3-10.57-7-00.25
1965CHIGeorge Halas80.6439-5-00.3575-9-00.286
1964BALDon Shula20.85712-2-00.5718-6-00.286
1963CHIGeorge Halas60.85711-1-20.6439-5-00.214
1962NYGAllie Sherman20.85712-2-00.7510-3-10.107
1961NYGAllie Sherman10.7510-3-10.5836-4-20.167
1960PHIBuck Shaw30.83310-2-00.5837-5-00.25
1959GNBVince Lombardi10.5837-5-00.1251-10-10.458
1958BALWeeb Ewbank50.759-3-00.5837-5-00.167
1957DETGeorge Wilson10.6678-4-00.759-3-0-0.083

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