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Punting In Overtime Was The Incorrect Statistical Decision

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Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Statistics and The Washington Post offers his take on To Punt Or Not To Punt, a subject that has been an en vogue topic of discussion this week. I think it's a fascinating read so I'll abstain from posting it word-for-word, but here are the highlights:

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We can judge the decisions by Kubiak and Shanahan using a concept called Win Probability (WP), which is an estimate of how often teams win given a particular state of a game: down, distance, field position, score and time.

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So that tells us that attempting a 51-yard field goal in overtime gives a team about a 71 percent chance of winning. The key: Missing the field goal is not a death sentence. It's not a good thing, by any means, but it still leaves a team with more than a fighting chance.

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The 71 percent chance of winning with the field goal attempt is obviously better than the 65 percent of winning with the punt. A coach would either need to think that his kicker is drastically worse than league average or be assured that a punt would certainly end up inside the 5-yard line for the punt to be the better call.

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All anecdotal evidence behind the decision also points to it being the wrong move. Rackers had missed a 47 yarder earlier in the day, but it had plenty of leg, as had his good 47 yarder. Meanwhile, Matt Turk hasn't been a reliable punter so far this year, nor was he for much of last year. It was no sure thing that the ball was going to be hit inside the ten, let alone inside the five. About the best argument against it was "the breeze" that Kubiak talked about after the game, and that breeze was probably the chill wind up his spine of having to rely on a kicker to win the game after last year's debacles. 

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At any rate: a spade is a spade, and a terrible call is a terrible call. Controversial statement: for all the flack piled onto the Chris Brown halfback pass, that play at least showed ingenuity and a willingness to take risks. That call led to a loss, this call led to a win. The halfback pass was the better call.

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