Last year, I wrote a post on the plays that had the biggest impact on the eventual Super Bowl champion. These were the plays that affected the Super Bowl win probability by the biggest amount among teams that did not win the title. At the time, the Buffalo Bills were on the short end of the most influential play in the Super Bowl era. When Frank Reich put the ball down for Scott Norwood, I estimated that the Bills had a 45% chance on winning the Super Bowl.1 After the kick went wide right, the Bills’ win probability fell to zero. The 45 percentage point fall was the biggest change for a non-champion of any play in the Super Bowl era. Over 48 years, a bunch of plays fell in that range, but no team could point to a single play as having lowered its championship chances by so large an amount.
A couple weeks ago, that long-held record got broken kind of like Michael Johnson broke the 200-meter record in the Atlanta Olympics. Malcolm Butler’s pick obliterated the old mark. My estimate has the Butler interception as increasing the Patriots’ chances of winning by 0.87. There is no doubt that what some have called the Immaculate Interception is on an island by itself as the most influential play in NFL history.
To get that change in win probability from Butler’s play, I am going to assume that the Seahawks would have run on third and fourth down. I am going to give a run from the one a 60% chance of working. That might seem high, but the Patriots were the worst team in football in stuffing the run in important short-yardage situations either on third or fourth down, or down by the goal line. And their limited success mostly came against terrible running teams. It is not a huge sample, but against teams outside the worst quarter of rushing teams by DVOA, the Patriots had allowed opponents to convert 16 of 17 times with two yards or less to go for a first down or touchdown. If we add the playoffs, they actually had three more stops against good running teams (Baltimore and Seattle), albeit in games where the opponent had a good amount of success on the ground.2 With Seattle being the best rushing team in football by a mile and the Patriots being at best not great in run defense in that situation, it seems hard to think that Seattle had anything less than a 0.60 chance of scoring on a run. [click to continue…]
- Recent research by Chase suggests something similar. [↩]
- Note that the stop against Baltimore should not even count. In an otherwise great game for Gary Kubiak, he called for a reverse to Michael Campanaro on third-and-1 in the second quarter. The run was stopped for a loss. The Patriots basically could not stop Justin Forsett, making the reverse call very unnecessary. [↩]