Stats Show Odds in Smith’s Favor

Stats Show Odds in Smith’s Favor

Jay Adams

Published November 14, 2011 at 10:00 AM

The big topic on everyone’s mind today is Mike Smith’s overtime decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 29-yard line. By this point, we all know what happened. The Falcons didn’t convert the first down, New Orleans got within chip-shot territory and won the game 26-23.

But everyone has an opinion on what Smith should or shouldn’t have done facing that fourth-and-1 situation. What if it wasn’t subject to opinion? What if the past could come ever-so-close to determining the future?

Well, that’s the case, according to S.I.’s Peter King in his Monday Morning Quarterback feature. According to King’s research, Smith’s call was the correct one based on similar situations in the previous 11 years.

Brian Burke, who runs a website called AdvancedNFLStats.com, ran the numbers after Smith’s decision and determined that the Falcons were much better off trying to convert that fourth down than punt.

“I thought it was smart,” Burke told King. “It just didn’t work.”

Here’s what Burke and King had to say about the decision:

According to Burke, judging Smith’s call by using data of all similar game situations over the past 11 years found:

  • If Atlanta punted the ball, the numbers say New Orleans would start its drive on its own 33-yard line, and the Falcons would have a 42 percent chance of winning the game. If they went for it on fourth down, they had a 47 percent chance of winning.
  • If Atlanta went for it on fourth down, they had a 74 percent chance of making it. But, as Burke pointed out, that includes all fourth-and-one calls, including fourth-and-inches and fourth-and-a-yard-and-a-half.
  • If Atlanta went for it and got the first down, they had a 57 percent chance of winning. If they went for it and failed, an 18 percent chance of winning.

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