Jets 'Push' Their Luck

After forcing overtime, the Jets stopped the Patriots on their first drive, reverting to the old OT format - sudden death. Geno Smith and the Jets moved downfield before being stopped for a 4th-and-7 from the New England 38. Rex Ryan had three viable options here, keeping in mind that the next score wins: Kick a low-probability (40% league-wide) 55-yard field goal, attempt to convert a low-probability (42% league-wide) 4th-and-7, or punt the ball deep and risk Tom Brady leading a game-winning drive.

The Jets elected to attempt the field goal. Nick Folk missed wide left, but in a crazy turn of events, New England was penalized 15-yards for an unsportsmanlike conduct "pushing" penalty. Before we get to the penalty, let's talk about the decision. While I almost always advocate going for it in no-man's land, in this situation, I was leaning toward the punt.

For this analysis, I used a combination of my Markov probabilities as well as Brian's overtime win probabilities.

Option 1: Field Goal
If Folk makes the field goal, ball game over, meaning 100% win probability. This is obviously the most enticing outcome to the Jets. If the Jets miss, they give the Patriots very good starting field position at the NE 45. The Patriots would have a 42.1% chance to score on that drive, and a 70.0% chance to win the ball game in that scenario:

E[WP Field Goal] = 0.40 * 1.00 + 0.60 * 0.30 = 0.58 Jets Win Probability 

Option 2: Go For It
If the Jets convert, they have a 75.1% to score on that drive (ending the game) and an 89.0% to win overall (based on expected field position). If they fail, the Patriots have a 38.9% to drive down and win the game, and a 66.0% to win overall.

E[WP Go For It] = 0.42 * 0.89 + 0.58 * 0.34 = 0.57 Jets Win Probability

Option 3: Punt
The simplest of the three to analyze, a punt results in an expected starting field position for the Patriots around their own twelve yard line. Given that starting field position, the Patriots would have a 20.7% to score on that drive and a 38.0% chance to win overall.

E[WP Punt] = 0.62 Jets Win Probability

As you can see, all three decisions are extremely close, although I would give the edge to the punt. In addition, these are league-wide rates. If Rex Ryan believes the Patriots offense is better than league-average, it would increase the value of ending the game and kicking a field goal (although the Jets had been handling Brady pretty well through 4+ quarters).

As for the penalty, it was a new rule instituted in 2013. After the game, head official Jerome Boger spoke about it: “The call was that No. 94 on the defense pushed his teammate into the formation,” Boger said. “That is a rule change for 2013 that a teammate cannot push a teammate into the opponents’ formation.” Obviously this was an enormous blow to the Patriots. Before the play, the Patriots held around a 40.0% to win. After the missed field goal, that jumped to 70.0%. After the penalty that plummeted to 14.0%.

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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8 Responses to “Jets 'Push' Their Luck”

  1. Gershon says:

    Brian: Are you factoring in the probability of a tie into your analysis? They were about halfway through overtime at that point...

  2. Andy says:

    This is one instance where the overall NFL stats tell you basically nothing. If you saw the attempted kick, you know that the dude can apparently only kick the ball about 47 yards so the field goal probably had a 1% chance. Secondly the punt option assumes you are playing against a normal offense that would get to 4th and 1 and then punt it back. but they are playing against the patriots in sudden death so the punt (along with going for it and the field goal) are all worse options than the league average. The trick to understanding the situation is that the Jets were actually not in a good situation. My guess is that they should have gone for it even accepting that they probably wouldn't get it and that if they didn't get it the patriots would have an excellent shot of winning.

  3. Anonymous says:

    "you know that the dude can apparently only kick the ball about 47 yards so the field goal probably had a 1% chance"

    Incorrect. NFL kickers can all hit from 55 easily. If not, there aren't in the NFL

  4. Anonymous says:

    Folk has hit 13/24 (54%) from 50+ yards in his career, per PFR.

  5. Mike says:

    And hit a 54 yarder last year and a 56 yarder in 2010. Prob(success) > 1%.

  6. Unknown says:

    I would like to say that there were reports that the Jets knew the Pats would commit a penalty (or at least the probability was non-zero), and told the refs that it would happen. If that is true (and all reports point to the fact that they committed the penalty vs the Saints), how do you add that to the pct? Pass is better in the NFL because of the potential interference calls...what about FG kicks?

    Aaron D

  7. Brian Burke says:

    Yes and no. Ties are implicitly treated as half a win.

  8. EpicWestern says:

    "If Rex Ryan believes the Patriots offense is better than league-average, it would increase the value of ending the game and kicking a field goal"

    It seems like he would absolutely think this, and not just the offense being better than league average in general, but being better for this particular type of situation.

    The New England Patriots only have a 20.7% chance to score when a field goal is all they need to win it? Seems very low.

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