Lambeau Madness & Twitter Outcries

With a little over five minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter, down 17-14 to the Steelers, the Packers had their field goal blocked only to have chaos unleashed at Lambeau. I won't go into the details, but essentially it was ruled that the Steelers never had full possession (when they did and should have been determined down by contact) and then due to an illegal batting out of bounds, the Packers got the ball back with a fresh set of downs, 1st-and-Goal from the 2-yard line.

Twitter erupted. Everyone was outraged at the blasphemous call. And even more, everyone was outraged that possession was an unchallengeable call. All over the place, people were comparing it to the Seattle/Green Bay replacement ref debacle from last season.

Let's get something straight: It was not even close to the replacement ref debacle. To show this, let's look at the playoff implications of the call. That call last season cost the Packers close to 14% to make the playoffs (as it guaranteed a victory for the Seahawks).

After this call, the Steelers had a 37% to win the game (remember there were still over 20 minutes remaining in the game). If the play had been called correctly, the Steelers would have had a 63% chance to win the game. Yes, a 26% swing is enormous for a single game, but who did the play affect the most?

To do this, I'm simply going to use expectation for each team:

P(Steelers win | Penalty) * P(Make Playoffs) + P(Steelers Lose | Penalty) * P(Make Playoffs)

and compare that to:

P(Steelers win | No Penalty) * P(Make Playoffs) + P(Steelers Lose | No Penalty) * P(Make Playoffs)

This table shows the teams that were most negatively affected by the call. From left to right it shows the team's playoff probability with a Steelers win, Packers win, with the batting penalty, and without the batting penalty:
The call most benefited the Packers (obviously), increasing their chances of making the playoffs by 3.75% and helped the Ravens as well (since it hurt the Steelers). The call most hurt the Chicago Bears, decreasing their playoff chances by 3.75%.

Yes, it was a bad call and yes it had a marginal effect on playoff chances. But, was it worth the outrage and hyperbole? I don't think so. Will the league allow reviews of possession plays like that next year as a result of this play? Most likely.

And while you cannot justify the argument with hindsight bias, the Steelers did end up winning the game.

Also, the Steelers made a huge mistake at the end of the game. They had the ball on the 1-yard line, tied 31-31, could run the clock out and kick an extra point for the win. They did not do this and scored a touchdown instead, giving the Packers the ball back with over a minute remaining and only needing a score to tie the game. So, as far as coaches knowing they should kneel down at the one... it's definitely not universal. I won't go into the specific win probability (Brian does a great job in the link above), but this situation was extremely clear cut (again, Twitter blew up about this and the Steelers almost lost the game due to Tomlin's error).

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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5 Responses to “Lambeau Madness & Twitter Outcries”

  1. Anonymous says:

    The egregious and blatantly obvious nature of the call is what makes it so horrendous. not the playoff implications - that is just randomness based upon what game it occurred in. They are ruining this game of ours.

  2. Anonymous says:

    ITYM "kicked a field goal from closer than an extra point spot".

  3. Anonymous says:

    People have a tendency for hyperbole when they see something absurd enough. Obviously this probably doesn't affect the playoff picture at all. That's not why it's got everyone up in arms. It's because the call had a major effect on that one game, and because the call was so obviously wrong.

  4. Steven says:

    I thought the call was obviously wrong after I saw the replay from the right angle, but I don't think it necessarily indicates incompetence -- I don't think it was necessarily obvious during the run of play, though I'm not sure where the refs were. I think "judgment calls" should be reviewable, but with the understanding that the "indisputable evidence" standard holds -- if any reasonable observer could think, for example, that a pass interference call should be upheld, the call gets upheld, even if many people watching the replay would consider it uncatchable or too minor an offense.

    On that replay, I didn't actually notice that the guy was down before he lost the ball, but he did clearly establish possession, and there was a consensus among those I watched the game with, all of us Packers' fans. I don't think it could have been considered disputable.

  5. Anonymous says:

    From my vantage point of watching it on TV, I thought the play was pretty obvious in the first viewing. I was watching it at a bar with the sound off, and for the life of me I couldn't understand what the delay was about.

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