On The Line: Watching Football Through A Win Probability Graph

Win Probability is football's killer stat, but what's probable isn't always what happens. That's what makes the game, and Win Probability Graphs, so great.
Share |

The Broncos are up 35-28 with 1:09 left, but that doesn’t tell you much. The Broncos are up 35-28 with 1:09 left and the Ravens have the ball with no timeouts on their own 23. Still some room for improvement.

The Broncos have a win probability of 98%.  Now that, there: that is something.

Sports live in the improbable. Sometimes, the improbable happens when an individual with unimaginable athletic ability commits a series of movements that results in something like perfection: think of Peyton Manning at the end of the first quarter against the Ravens, throwing an oblong projectile to the one-and-only location Brandon Stokley can catch said pigskin. Think of Colin Kaepernick—a man who can throw a football faster than most people can throw a baseball—outrunning the entire Green Bay secondary. Think of Adrian Peterson as a human being, and not as the hybrid unicorn/man-bear he revealed himself to be this season.

Sometimes the improbable is the absence of those perfections, such as the case of Rahim Moore, waving desperately at Joe Flacco’s pass in an ill-timed leap after severely misjudging the path of the ball. Despite Dan Dierdorf’s I-have-to-use-the-word-analysis-despite-its-obvious-inapplicability-here analysis, Moore was in decent position, backpedaling as if he was ready to make a lazy interception. But then, for reasons unknown, he jumps, despite the ball still being a fair distance away. Moore erred in a very human way, and for a human to make an error is perhaps the likeliest event of all, on or off a football field. Of course, the actual result of the play was quite improbable; a 70-yard touchdown with 30 seconds left to send into overtime a game that Denver would have statistically won 98 times out of 100 in regulation. 

The Broncos have a win probability of 54%.

In the unlikely event you watched the Ravens-Broncos game with Advanced NFL Stats' live win probability graph showing simultaneously—which takes historical data of the exact same score, possession, down, distance and time remaining to determine how likely each team is to win the game—you knew before the Rahim Moore Hand-Waving Incident (dibs on that band name) that this was one crazy football game. Usually, win probability graphs do not look like the EKG of a heart attack patient superimposed over a Californian seismic activity chart. With the game potentially decided on each possession in overtime, the needle shakes. 

The Broncos are still slight favorites, with the ball in overtime on their own 38. Manning looks hesitant to throw, the Broncos are calling more runs than many think is warranted against the Baltimore run defense. But they have the ball in overtime.

The Broncos have a win probability of 62%.

Manning uncharacteristically rolls to his right. Manning does something Sanchez-like and throws a skeet-shooting pigeon across his body, which is easily intercepted. The best quarterback in the NFL this season—and one of the best ever—has made a huge mistake.

The Broncos have a win probability of 27%.

“Ultimately, at the end of the graph, a team’s win probability will either be 1 for a win or 0 for a loss,” Brian Burke, founder of Advanced NFL Stats and proprietor of the NFL’s live win probability graphs, told me via email. “The graphs ignore misleading stats like yards, completion percentage, or fantasy-centric stats and illustrate what really matters—winning.”

For the first time since Manning’s pick-six in the first quarter, the Broncos are in danger, and this time it is much grimmer. Baltimore is on the Denver 45, needing only a field goal to advance to the AFC Championship game in one of the most improbable victories imaginable. A few Ray Rice runs gets the ball into field goal range, and the spectacle is complete.

The Broncos have a win probability of 0%.


Win probability graphs are often relatively stable. In fact, they usually look more like this:

That is to say, one team plays better than the other team because one team is better than the other team. Then the game ends, and we are all upset we didn’t drink more beer during said game. Usually, that game pictured above doesn’t have an ending that produces a graph like the one at right.

This is a visual representation of the team that we all thought was going to go home and fire their coach instead making a fierce comeback, having the game in hand, then somehow giving it away in the final seconds, restoring the sanity under which the game operated for 45 of its 60 minutes. That is to say: the Seattle-Atlanta game.

On the first drive of the second half, Russell Wilson and company marched down the field and scored in just over five minutes, ending the shutout. At this point, the score was 20-7. Due to a combination of the Falcons’ reputation, the Seahawks history of sudden offensive spurts and crushing defensive stands, it seemed only a matter of time before Seattle started playing like a mid-oughts USC squad and finished off the Falcons. That time had seemingly come. Yet, there it is, clear as day:

Atlanta has a win probability of 92%.

“The most important thing the graphs can convey is that the sport can be approached analytically,” Burke told me. “Football is insanely complex compared to other sports. There are literally billions of combinations of score, time, down, etc… But win probability is the ‘killer’ stat in any sport. It’s what an economist would call a linear utility function, which lets analysts use some relatively simple math to learn some very deep insights about the sport and its strategy. A sound win probability model is like decoding the genome of a sport.”

In practical terms, this means that win probability can be used to determine if it was a good decision for John Fox to pack it in at the end of regulation as Burke did, or to find the very pulse of the game in creating the Excitement Index and Comeback Factor. Win Probability is the killer stat because it is a storyboard, history lesson and analytical tool rolled into one bright, real-time line.

With just over 17 minutes left in the game, Matt Ryan finds a wide open Jason Snelling to put the Falcons up by 20. A quick Seattle reply brings it back to a two-score game, but barely registers on the graph. If a team is two-scores better after 47 minutes, they are usually better after 60 minutes as well.

Atlanta has a win probability of 96%.

Some might say this whole win probability business misses the point of the game. Can anyone really enjoy the brilliance of a Peyton Manning pass through a probabilistic lens? How can you embrace the emotional swings of the game if you’re grounded in a plausible reality? Moreover, who gives a shit what’s probable? This isn’t baseball, after all. The only sample size that matters, particularly in the playoffs, is a sample size of one.

A Russell Wilson touchdown with 9:19 remaining makes things interesting, a quick Atlanta punt doubly so. Now Seattle is driving, down 6 with under 3 minutes left. A deep pass to Zach Miller falls incomplete with 49 seconds left. Seattle is calm and confident sitting on Atlanta’s 27 yard line, but the win probability model says this will only work out in Seattle’s favor 1 out of every 4 times. The odds are against them. But then Marshawn Lynch receives a short pass, slips into beast mode, and rumbles down to the 3 yard line. That play alone is worth 56% in win probability. It’s first and goal on the three yard line with 44 seconds remaining. Lynch makes the touchdown a formality, and Seattle is now winning. Atlanta has 34 seconds to kick a field goal.

Atlanta has a win probability of 8%.

This criticism of win probability is to miss the point entirely. The graphs unfold in a magical sense, revealing snapshots from every game that has ever been played. It’s augmenting the reality of the contest in front of you with all of the past, everything the human memory is too flawed to incorporate. It gives you a greater appreciation of the improbable when it does happen. A 20-7 lead is not a 20-7 lead, it is a 92%-8% lead. When that 92%-8% lead becomes precisely inverted with 25 seconds left, you realize the score was never, ever 20-7. Each play in the game is a tiny addition to the puzzle, allowing us to add one more data point to the approximation of which team will win this game—which is, after all, what matters—but until the game is over, it is only an approximation. There were always 25 minutes left to play, or 25 seconds left to play, and the score with 25-whatevers left to play is but one small part of a puzzle with a dizzying number of pieces.

Several well-executed plays later, Atlanta enters field goal range, and a 49-yard field goal—which is converted about half the time—is attempted.

Atlanta has a win probability of 53%.

These graphs aren’t exciting in themselves—this is also true every other graph on the planet—because a graph is a series of lines or bars that are meaningless without context. They aren’t a disconnected story from the game they represent. They are what is likely to happen; we can only hope something entirely different will unfold, because that is what we anticipate every time we sit down to watch a game. The expected happens every single day, and we call it our lives, and we feel different things about it on a day-to-day basis, but that is not what sports are for. This is the place for something else, and the only way to know what’s unexpected is to know what is likely, and then watch the exact opposite slap you across the face and steal your nachos before you have a chance to get your pants on.

The warm-up/icing-of-the-kicker kick goes wide right, but the real attempt is as good as soul. After some squib-kick silliness and a Hail Mary that couldn’t happen with pensioned officials, the approximations are over.

Atlanta has a win probability of 100%.

Anyone can look at the final score and see who won, which most people will tell you is all that matters. But if you watched either of these games, you know that isn’t true. As Burke told me before the games kicked off, “The story is about how they got there.”

Share |


Video Game Tester Did you know everyday Gaming companies pay big bucks to people like you and me just to know what we are thinking? It's true! They are desperate to understand how you think and shop and why you buy certain Games or Products because this helps their companies improve their products, and they in turn they pay YOU good money for your opinion. They Need You! Right now, I have hundreds of market research firms and game companies looking for video game tester, survey takers and beta testers. If you are looking for working full time, or want to make some extra cash, Gamingjobsonline.com is your ticket to fun, easy money. Please visit site http://fe50dekuo2tydnc3iem9jgg6di.hop.clickbank.net/?tid=PHXDAN ...

https://www.rebelmouse.com/whatmensecretlywantreview/ What Men Secretly Want: James Bauer Reveals His Highly Sought After "Respect Principle" For Making A Man Want You, Commit To You, And See You As The One Woman He Can't Live Without. Written for consumers by a consumer, this site includes a fun and informative What Men Secretly Want review and buyers guide that provides an insider's look at the program and answers frequently asked questions about James Bauer's unique and highly popular guide to understanding men. What Men Secretly Want teaches you principles and techniques to keep a guy interested, make him fall in love, and get him to commit both physically and emotionally. For more info, visit my web url: https://www.rebelmouse.com/whatmensecretlywantreview/ ...

https://www.rebelmouse.com/brainstimulatormethodreviews Brain Stimulator Method: Dr. Richard Humphrey And Professor Wilson Reveal A Weirdly Effective, Science-Backed "Brain Reprogramming Technique" For Sharpening Memory, Focus, And Concentration While Keeping Brain Related Diseases At Bay... Written for consumers by a consumer, this fan site includes a fun and informative Brain Stimulator Method review, ebook FAQ, and PDF download guide that provides an insider's look at the program and answers frequently asked questions about Dr. Richard Humphrey and Professor Wilson's unique and highly popular brain training guide. Please click here our website: https://www.rebelmouse.com/brainstimulatormethodreviews/ ...

https://youtube.com/watch?v=T9CJTsEa4ys/ Textmate2.org/michael-fiore-text-your-ex-back-2-0 What's new in Michael Fiore's Text Your Ex Back 2.0 System? The original Text Your Ex Back PDF and download has been highly successful at helping couples reunite after a breakup. The new Text Your Ex Back 2.0 system makes vast improvements on the previous version and contains many more text examples and clearer instruction on the logistics of texting your ex after a breakup. Please visit youtube url: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9CJTsEa4ys ...

Dildo Webshop grottan ⁂ i vår sexbutik online köper Du billiga sexleksaker och sexiga underkläder. I❤ GROTTAN. Besök hemsidan: https://grottanmalmo.com/ ...

Adult dating site in Uae Thank you for showing your interest in the largest Adult Sex Club .
We are pioneer in providing Male escort and Dating services since from last 2010 in all the listed Countries
We have a large database of Unsatisfied High Profile females like : Business Woman , Professionals , Celebrities, Housewives , Air hostess, Modals , Divorcee, Unmarried etc.

HIREME4SEX.COM is the #1 and leading Male escort / Gigolos / Online Adult Dating website in :
1. UAE
12. SINGAPORE and more .

We are having more than 6000 registered members in our SEX CLUB .
www.hireme4sex.com visit the website .

Meet Unsatisfied High Profile Females 4 Sexual Encounter !
For more details and joining procedure :
You can contact us 24/7 via online and offline by phone, by mail and by online live chat on our website.

ALEX - +91 9967002966


Basildon Escorts Beautiful ladies to accompany you at your home or hotel. Are you feeling lonely then book an Essex Escort to alleviate your boredom. Professional ladies and discreet service straight to your door. For more information, please visit my site http://www.essex-escorts.net/ ...

mulher pelada Young brazilian girls sex. Small tits, big tits, big ass girls and woman fuck a lot with black dudes. Mulatas, morenas e muito sexo com as brasileirinhas gostosas. Please visit my website http://brasilnovinhas.com/ ...

berkshire escorts Local escorts are discreet and professional and are more than comfortable when accompanying you to a dinner or business event. Our ladies take pride in themselves and what there work, they will put you at ease and make your time with them as comfortable as possible. If you require an escort they can meet you at your home or hotel and are available as soon as 30 minutes after the initial booking. For more information, please visit my website http://www.local-escorts.co.uk/ ...

uptu UPTU 2015 : www.uptu.ac.in is the official website of uptu. Every year UPTU (Uttar Pradesh Technical University) conducts entrance exam for different under graduation courses. Like
• B.Arch
• Hotel Management
• B.Pharma

This year also uptu is conducting uptu 2015 entrance exam which will be conducted in April 2015. More than 4 Lakhs Students from all around India participate in UPTU Engineering Entrance Exam. To know about UPTU 2015 information like UPTU 2015 application form, uptu 2015 official website, uptu 2015 eligibility, uptu 2015 exam fee, uptu 2015 admit card. You can visit http://www.uptu2.in/ ...

theofficialwebsite Desire System Review: Dr. David reveals how to use emotional contagion to turn a woman on at will. But does it really work? For more info, visit my website http://theofficialwebsite.co/dr-david-desire-system-review/ ...

https://www.rebelmouse.com/sweatmiracle/ Sweat Miracle System: A 5-Step Approach To Safe, Natural, And Permanent Hyperhidrosis Treatment. This site is a leading resource for information about the Miles Dawson Sweat Miracle PDF book and sweat treatment system that teaches you unique and rare tips on how to stop sweating from all areas of your body and gain relief from hyperhidrosis symptoms in as little as 48 hours. Includes a collection of Miles Dawson Sweat Miracle reviews, PDF ebook download information, and tips for stopping and preventing sweating from around the web. Please visit site https://www.rebelmouse.com/sweatmiracle/ ...

free fun online games for teens fun online games for teens at Game Crammer - your favourite free games for teens all in the one place. Including fun games, and many more online games ! Please visit site http://www.gamecrammer.com/ ...

Option Evaluator Anyone who involved in forex market, a newbie or an expert, sooner or later will come accross to an idea of making money as an automated effort. No more fear or worry involved as it certainly exhaust your love and energy in this unpredictable market. For more info, click here my website http://cbproads.com/clickbankstorefront/v4/browse.asp?sc=182 ...

Free Adult webcams This porn video "Hot Blonde Teen Is not Shy Getting Dicked Sexcamz.chaturbate.com" was found on the website http://Sexcamz.chaturbate.com/ ...

http://www.enriqueiglesias.com/profiles/blogs/girlfriend-activation-system-review-enrique-has-a-hottie-do-you Enrique Iglesias doesn’t need help getting a girlfriend. In fact, his girlfriend of 12 years, Anna Kournikova, is considered by many men to be one of the hottest women on the planet. There to the right, you’ll see a picture of them. Yeah, what can I say? Smokin’! But what about guys like you and I? How can we get a hot girlfriend if we don’t have Enrique’s good looks, deep pockets, sexy dance moves, stage presence, and star quality talent that drives women wild? Please visit site http://www.enriqueiglesias.com/profiles/blogs/girlfriend-activation-syst... ...

https://www.rebelmouse.com/mikewaldenacnenomorereview/ Acne No More: Mike Walden Reveals His Simple, 7-Layer Process For Eliminating Acne Forever Right From Home... Written for consumers by a consumer, this fan site includes a fun and informative Acne No More review, ebook FAQ, and PDF download guide that provides an insider's look at the program and answers frequently asked questions about Mike Walden's unique and highly popular acne treatment guide. Please click here site https://www.rebelmouse.com/mikewaldenacnenomorereview/ ...

https://rebelmouse.com/lindaallenyeastinfectionnomore Yeast Infection No More: Linda Allen Reveals Her All Natural, 5-Step Holistic System For Permanently Curing All Types Of Candida Yeast Infections... Written for consumers by a consumer, this fan site includes a fun and informative Yeast Infection No More review, ebook FAQ, and PDF download guide that provides an insider's look at the program and answers frequently asked questions about Linda Allen's unique and highly popular yeast infection treatment guide. For more info, visit my website https://www.rebelmouse.com/lindaallenyeastinfectionnomore/ ...

https://www.rebelmouse.com/amandaletofibroidsmiracle/ Fibroids Miracle: Amanda Leto Reveals Her Strangely Effective, 3-Step Holistic System For Safely, Naturally, And Permanently Curing Uterine Fibroids, No Surgery Required... Written for consumers by a consumer, this fan site includes a fun and informative Fibroids Miracle review, ebook FAQ, and PDF download guide that provides an insider's look at the program and answers frequently asked questions about Amanda Leto's unique and highly popular uterine fibroid treatment guide. Please visit site https://www.rebelmouse.com/amandaletofibroidsmiracle/ ...

https://www.rebelmouse.com Online Allure: Michael Fiore Reveals His Ultra-Clever Online Tactics To Get Great Men Swarming To Your Online Profile Like Bees To Honey. Written for consumers by a consumer, this site includes a fun and informative Online Allure review and buyers guide that provides an insider's look at the program and answers frequently asked questions about Michael Fiore's unique and highly popular system for teaching women how to find great guys by mastering the nuances of online dating. Learn everything you need to know about the program so you can decide if the Online Allure is the right choice for you before you buy it. Please click here site https://www.rebelmouse.com/onlineallurereviews/ ...

if I see the graphs, I can see it was very intersting because it all goes ups and down. Actually it was awesome football game. I want essay writing service for my football team. Thanks for sharing.