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Wednesday (NFL, stats and a last look at Belichick) edition: Wha' Happened?

Posted by: Michael Rand under Professional football Updated: November 18, 2009 - 8:49 AM

We just have a brief post-script to all the Bill Belichick talk over the last few days, which we have to say we've thoroughly enjoyed. Go for it? Don't go for it? There isn't one right answer, even if we think the Patriots coach made the right decision.

The important part at this point is the discussion and the fact that it's probably opened some eyes to sites like Advanced NFL Stats. (Graph of win probability during the Vikings/49ers game pictured ... just be glad we decided against using Vikings/Cardinals from 2003).

The discussion has made people think on both sides of the equation. We're seeing far less "Belichick was crazy!" talk now that the logic has been fleshed out a little more. That said, we also have come to the conclusion that long-term probability is less useful in football than it is in baseball or even basketball (which is probably why you see a million baseball stat sites and blogs and a relative few in football). Baseball's season is 10 times as long. Averages, percentages and situational stats can have great meaning. Football's law of averages can take years to catch up (we're pretty sure the Bears are still paying for going 13-3 in 2001). It's such a fast game played in a such a confined space, and its advantages are gained almost play-by-play with subtle adjustments in coverages, offensive schemes, pump fakes, hip turns, etc. It's a little too easy, in our mind, to say Belichick should go for it on 4th-and-2 because historical trends dictate a greater win probability. The reason we liked it was because we liked the Patriots' chances, at that moment and in that game, of gaining 2 yards with Tom Brady (or possibly stopping the Colts from going 29 yards) more than we liked their chances of stopping Indy from going 70 yards with Peyton Manning. Yes, even on the road. Yes, even though Manning had thrown two picks on bad passes. The idea that such an instinct and the decisions that factor into it are backed by statistics is comforting, but not all-encompassing. In a 13-7 defensive struggle, for instance, the historical data would have been the same. And we probably would have liked to see a punt.

The bottom line is we love to see intelligent discussions about sports, and Sunday night's moment eventually yielded plenty of it. Both sides came closer to a middle ground; in that case, everybody wins.

Well, except the Patriots. Most of you would agree with Michael Scott in that case: win-win-win.

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