Win Probability Forfeited 2012

by Matt Meiselman

Matt has been helping me crunch some 4th down numbers this off-season. He is a senior at the University of Maryland studying broadcast journalism. He's originally from New Jersey, but loves New York sports. Matt aspires to work in sports media and has a passion for sports statistics. -BB

Fourth down decision making is one of the most controversial aspects of coaching in the NFL. Act too aggressively and miss? You get blamed for a loss. Act too timid? The fans will be calling for your head. Most NFL coaches are operating with the mindset that whatever puts their team (and their job) at the least amount of risk is the right choice to make. This has been, and will always be, the wrong way to try to win a football game.

In last year's article on this subject, Brian talked about how coaches aren’t just saving wins if they’re more aggressive; they are simultaneously forfeiting wins by being too meek. In 2011, the average team forfeited .65 wins for the year on 4th down decisions alone. The NFL has started to become more risk-friendly instead of risk-averse, and you’d expect that with more innovative minds in the game, like Bill Belicheck and Jim Harbaugh, the league would be trending towards more optimum game management. This was not the case in 2012.

During the 2012 season, the average team forfeited .73 wins, a significant increase from the year before. The average win probability forfeited per opportunity also rose, jumping from 1.6% of a win to 1.9% of a win. Below are the calculations for each team:

TeamWP ForfeitedOpp.WP F. per Opp.

The Browns forfeited the most wins in 2012, after finishing 6th in 2011. New president Alec Scheiner has said he will take more chances, and the team could surely use the boost. Cleveland, along with Philadelphia and Oakland, were bad teams that made themselves worse as well. The Eagles actually led the league in WP forfeited per opportunity, at 2.9%. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Packers and Seahawks limited their 4th down mistakes, but they still forfeited about half of an expected win for the year.

The NFL continues to suffer from extreme market inefficiency in terms of in-game coaching strategies. The head coaches are complacent because everyone is doing it wrong, and there’s no apparent reason to make a change. Collectively, NFL teams cost themselves almost 24 wins in 2012, and fans should not expect much deviation from the norm anytime soon.

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5 Responses to “Win Probability Forfeited 2012”

  1. PD says:

    You guys should really read Romer (2005):

  2. Anonymous says:

    what are the spreads on those numbers?

    seems to me that less than win per season is below notice, especially given how wildly chaotic every single football game is.
    it is certainly not "extreme market inefficiency".

    Also, is 0.73 a "significant increase" from the year before at 0.65, or simply a measure of how much this number can vary? one could easily bootstrap an estimate of this. one could also report exactly how the ratio of 'go for it' vs 'safe' has changed year to year.

  3. Drew Vogel says:

    @PD The Romer paper is interesting, but I feel 4th down decisions are a poor proxy for profit maximization. A team facing 4th down is analogous to a corporation that's profits are approaching zero. Arguably the organizations making these decisions have already failed to maximize, so failing to maximize within the 4th down decision isn't a surprise.

    I suspect that teams who make the best decisions on 4th down do so because they've faced fewer of the truly tough 4th down decisions because they've focused their maximization on the earlier downs.

  4. Will says:

    @PD, you should really read the rest of this site.

  5. Nick Bradley says:

    you REALLY need to control this for a team's average excitement index or something.

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