Clutch Encounters: Week 17/Season Review

Clutch Encounters: Week 17/Season Review
Clutch Encounters: Week 17/Season Review
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

In a season that could have used a few more dramatic finishes, Week 17 at least delivered on that front, even if all of the games didn't matter as much as we would like them to. There were 10 games in all with a comeback opportunity this week. Atlanta's ability to hold off Carolina in a dull game made it moot that the Buccaneers shocked the Saints in the final seconds and that Seattle couldn't pull out a late win at home against Arizona.

The playoff race in the AFC was especially dramatic, with four teams finishing with 9-7 records, but only two were able to get into the tournament. I feel like something is wrong in the tie-breaker hierarchy when the teams with scoring differentials of -22 (Titans) and -57 (Bills) were able to get in while the teams who were +92 (Ravens) and +83 (Chargers) were left out. The favoritism for conference games is a bit odd, but I have always been someone who wants to see every game and every score count for as much as possible.

Maybe a stipulation that a team must have outscored its opponents to make the playoffs should be used -- but then, the 2011 Giants did win the Super Bowl after being outscored 400 to 394 in the regular season. However, the Giants still won their division with a 9-7 record that year. For breaking a tie for a wild card, perhaps that's when the scoring margin needs to come into play. It is, after all, a good predictor of future success, and we would like to see the best playoff matchups possible. I don't think that will be the case in the AFC this year, but we'll see.

This is also the regular-season review edition of Clutch Encounters, so we'll look at the summary of how every team fared in close games this year at the end.

Game of the Week

Cincinnati Bengals 31 at Baltimore Ravens 27

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 3 (27-24)
Game Winning Chance Before: 10.5 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 91.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 80.5 percent
Head Coach: Marvin Lewis (33-71-2 at 4QC and 44-73-3 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Andy Dalton (15-27-2 at 4QC and 20-29-2 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The Bengals may never win a playoff game in the Marvin Lewis/Andy Dalton era, but they kept the 2017 Ravens out of the tournament, and helped the Buffalo Bills get in as the No. 6 seed. This was a shocking result given that the Ravens seemed like such a safe bet for a No. 5 seed with a 10-6 finish. In the John Harbaugh/Joe Flacco era, the Ravens were 23-2 straight up when favored by at least eight points like they were on Sunday.

Truth be told, the Bengals deserved this win. They led 17-3 just before halftime before giving up a long kick return to Chris Moore that led to a 6-yard touchdown drive. After getting a fortunate pick-six to take a 24-10 lead in the third quarter, the Bengals seemed to botch another second half as they have several times this year. We also saw a reminder that despite many of the struggles with the Baltimore offense, there was enough talent and experience on this team to give the top powers in the AFC a fight in the postseason.

But we won't see that this year. After the Ravens took a 27-24 lead, the offense was unable to run out the clock. Dalton got the ball back with 2:43 and a timeout left at his own 10. He engineered one of the best drives of his career, though it was not pretty by any means. Dalton spun out of a sack and overcame an interception after Marlon Humphrey was flagged for holding for pulling down A.J. Green on the route. The drive was in critical condition again when the Bengals faced a fourth-and-12 at midfield. That's when Dalton found Tyler Boyd open down the seam for a stunning 49-yard touchdown.

The Ravens should have been able to tackle Boyd inside the 20 at least. Maurice Canady, who got away with some interference against T.Y. Hilton late in Week 16, had a bad angle on the play and wasn't able to make the tackle. Boyd was a total bust this season until Week 17. He had 91 of his 225 yards on the season on Sunday, but none bigger than the final 49 yards that knocked Baltimore out of the playoffs.

Baltimore had all three timeouts left, but driving 73 yards in 38 seconds is a tall order for even the league's best offense, let alone the Ravens. Carlos Dunlap got a sack that led to a fourth-and-14, and in the most fitting way possible to end Baltimore's season, Flacco threw short of the sticks to Ben Watson for a 13-yard gain. Dalton became the 11th quarterback in NFL history with at least 20 game-winning drives in his first seven seasons, but none may be more memorable than this one.

Since winning Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens have only made the playoffs once in the last five years. The 2017 Ravens are the first team since the 1970 St. Louis Cardinals to pitch at least three shutouts in a season and still miss the playoffs. One of those shutouts was a 20-0 win over the Bengals in Week 1. Baltimore outscored opponents by 92 points this year, becoming the eighth team since 1990 to miss the playoffs with a scoring differential of at least plus-90.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Arizona Cardinals 26 at Seattle Seahawks 24

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (24-23)
Game Winning Chance Before: 30.8 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 69.6 percent
Win Probability Added: 38.8 percent
Head Coach: Bruce Arians (19-17 at 4QC and 27-17-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Drew Stanton (4-4 at 4QC and 4-4 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Head coach Bruce Arians announced his retirement on Monday, but his players sent him out with a nice finish on Sunday in Seattle. Including playoffs, it was the 50th win for Arians, the most wins for a head coach in franchise history. While the Seahawks are 43-10 at home in the Russell Wilson era (2012-2017), four of those losses were against Arians' Cardinals, a team that was always tough to beat in the fourth quarter. Atlanta's win over Carolina ended Seattle's playoff hopes anyway, but if that didn't happen, Arizona's upset win would have done the trick too.

But it wouldn't be a typical Wilson game if there wasn't a good rally attempt. After a brutal first half where the Seahawks had 24 yards of offense and trailed 20-7, Wilson turned things around in the second half. He threw his second touchdown of the half to Doug Baldwin, who beat Patrick Peterson, to finish with a league-high 34 touchdown passes this season. That gave Seattle a 24-23 lead with 10:24 left, but the Seahawks got away from Wilson later. Drew Stanton got a game-winning drive started for the Cardinals thanks to a roughing the passer penalty on Bobby Wagner on a third-and-7. It wasn't a malicious hit, but it was unnecessary, and it was quite costly. Phil Dawson delivered on a 42-yard field goal, but Wilson still had 2:18 left in a 26-24 game.

It only took Wilson 18 seconds to move the ball 44 yards with two completions. That was almost a curse, since the Seahawks technically could have run the ball three times (Arizona was out of timeouts) and kicked a long field goal with no time left to win the game. However, it has been a while since kicker Blair Walsh has earned any trust. He already hurt Seattle in a big way with multiple misses against Washington in a loss, and he missed a 52-yard game-tying field goal against Atlanta in Week 11 that obviously had major playoff implications. I'm not sure two runs by Mike Davis for 1 yard while you have Wilson's dual-threat option is defendable. Sure enough, Walsh was wide right on the 48-yard field goal with 32 seconds left, ending Seattle's season at 9-7 after an 8-4 start. Wilson wasn't always on point this year, and the defense had some pretty significant injuries to overcome. But this team had enough talent still left to do better than 9-7. The close games were just not going their way, and I think you can argue that Walsh potentially cost them three games.

As for Arizona, 8-8 isn't bad after David Johnson went down in Week 1 and Carson Palmer broke his arm in Week 7. Arians did fine work with this team over the years, and it's only fitting that his final game was another clutch win. Arians finishes with an incredible 27-17-1 (.611) record in game-winning drive opportunities. That's the best record I have documented so far.

New Orleans Saints 24 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31

Type: 4QC/GWD
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 4 (24-20)
Game Winning Chance Before: 8.3 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 99.4 percent
Win Probability Added: 91.1 percent
Head Coach: Dirk Koetter (3-10 at 4QC and 6-10 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Jameis Winston (5-15 at 4QC and 8-15 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Tampa Bay pushed Atlanta and Carolina in the last two weeks, but finished a disappointing 2017 on a high note by completing the upset against the Saints. Had Carolina ever held a lead in Atlanta while this game was going on, perhaps things would have played out differently in the end. That's not to say the Saints threw in the towel, but with the NFC South title in hand regardless of the outcome here, it wasn't as important as it could have been when the Buccaneers drove 95 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

The comeback started when Tommylee Lewis fumbled a punt and the Buccaneers returned the ball for a touchdown to take a 20-17 lead. As he has so often in his career, Drew Brees led the offense back in the fourth quarter and threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Zach Line with 7:07 left. Tampa Bay was able to add a field goal and get a stop when the Saints botched the four-minute offense after reaching the Tampa Bay 40.

Jameis Winston had a rough game at times with three picks, but had 1:58 left to drive from his own 5 in a 24-23 game. Tampa Bay got to the edges of field goal range, but one has to wonder if there is any real confidence in kicker Patrick Murray after the struggles Tampa Bay has had at the position for a while now. It's in Winston's nature to throw deep anyway, so it was not surprising to see him take advantage of single coverage on Chris Godwin in the final 15 seconds. Godwin dragged Ken Crawley into the end zone for a 39-yard touchdown with nine seconds left. Mike Evans caught a two-point conversion for a 31-24 final. Brees hit one more pass, but only for 7 yards. It did allow him to finish the season with a 72.0 completion percentage, a new single-season record.

The loss also marks the 14th time that Brees has thrown a go-ahead touchdown pass in the fourth quarter in a game his team lost. The next closest quarterbacks to that in NFL history are Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger with eight apiece. So this was one of the classic come-from-behind-but-fall-from-ahead losses (or lost comebacks) for New Orleans. The Saints are certainly not surging into the postseason, but at least the defense was good enough throughout the year to get back to 11-5 and in the tournament again with at least one home game.

Kansas City Chiefs 27 at Denver Broncos 24

Type: GWD
Game Winning Chance Before: 62.0 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 100.0 percent
Win Probability Added: 38.0 percent
Head Coach: Andy Reid (37-67-1 at 4QC and 52-75-1 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Patrick Mahomes (0-0 at 4QC and 1-0 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Kansas City's fifth-straight win over Denver was unique to say the least. The Chiefs were resting their top players such as Alex Smith, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and Marcus Peters, so rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes got the start. This means the Chiefs actually won a game with a starting quarterback they drafted for the first time since September 13, 1987 (Todd Blackledge). Mahomes was a mixed bag in his first start, with a some big plays and some mistakes, but he was on the road against a talented defense while playing with the backup offense.

At least he didn't have Tyler Bray's misfortune. Bray entered the game with Kansas City ahead 24-10 with 7:02 left. A botched handoff exchange was returned for a fumble return touchdown. Denver later tied the game at 24 after Paxton Lynch engineered a good drive and patiently found Demaryius Thomas open on a fourth-and-4 for a touchdown with 2:53 left.

Mahomes came back into the game and immediately began his first ever game-winning drive opportunity by getting buried for a sack to bring up the two-minute warning. To his credit, the rookie took advantage of Denver jumping offsides on a third-and-4. After making some plays, he did panic a bit by flinging a deep ball into double coverage, but got away with it. He settled down for one more easy completion and the Chiefs were able to use the ground game to set up the winning field goal. Harrison Butker made the 30-yard kick as time expired to give Kansas City a 27-24 win, and the first game-winning drive for Mahomes.

We'll see just how many more duels with Lynch are in this rivalry's future. The Broncos have big questions at head coach and quarterback again.

Dallas Cowboys 6 at Philadelphia Eagles 0

Type: GWD
Game Winning Chance Before: 48.6 percent
Game Winning Chance After: 77.5 percent
Win Probability Added: 28.9 percent
Head Coach: Jason Garrett (24-35 at 4QC and 33-37 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Dak Prescott (5-5 at 4QC and 9-5 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Philadelphia played a lot of backups in this meaningless game; shouldn't that have made it easier for Dallas to score? Instead, we ended up with the first NFL game that was scoreless through three quarters since Panthers-Seahawks in 2007. Oddly enough, it was a 99-yard touchdown drive by Dallas that became the game's only score. The drive was kept alive by an illegal contact penalty on Philadelphia on a third-and-9. Three plays later, Brice Butler made his second big play of the drive by winning in single coverage for a 20-yard touchdown with 12:19 left. Dan Bailey was wide left on the extra point, and the Cowboys led 6-0.

Nate Sudfeld, a 2016 sixth-round pick by Washington, made his NFL debut at quarterback in taking over for starter Nick Foles in the second quarter. Sudfeld completed 19-of-23 passes, but for only 134 yards in an ineffective effort to move the offense. Sudfeld was nowhere close on a fourth-and-2 at the Dallas 44 with 5:36 left. The Cowboys picked up four more first downs and should have been able to run out the clock, but Ezekiel Elliott ran out of bounds after a first-down run after the two-minute warning. That led to a 23-yard field goal attempt by Bailey, but the star kicker missed it after a lousy end to his season following a return from injury. At least the only damage that did was leaving the Eagles 13 seconds to drive 80 yards. That ended with a lateral that was fumbled, recovered by Dallas, only to see the Cowboys fumble the ball back for a few more seconds of entertainment. The ball eventually ended up back in Sudfeld's hands, and he was tackled at the 1-yard line to end this mess.

Dallas did not have a fourth-quarter comeback win this season after five of them in 2016, but Sunday was the fourth game-winning drive led by Prescott in 2017. He joins Andrew Luck (11), Russell Wilson (10), Bernie Kosar (nine), and Jake Plummer (nine) as the only quarterbacks in NFL history with at least nine game-winning drives through their first two seasons. However, while 2017 was a "winning season" for Dallas (9-7), it certainly goes down as one of the most disappointing seasons for the Cowboys too.

Clutch Encounters of the Losing Kind

Jaguars at Titans: Party Like It's 2007

You have to go back to 2007 to find the last time the Titans and Jaguars both made the playoffs. Tennessee was in danger of missing the playoffs after an 8-4 start, but completed the season sweep of the Jaguars with a 15-10 win. This was not a game for pretty offense. Each team only had one 20-yard gain, and they were both short passes to running backs. It's a good thing Derrick Henry went 66 yards for a touchdown on a screen on the game's only offensive touchdown, because he was held to 51 yards on 28 carries on the ground.

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This was also a game about fumbles. Two late Jacksonville fumbles in the first half led to two easy field goals for the Titans, who took a 15-3 lead into the fourth quarter. Perhaps the Jaguars would have called off the dogs if the team had been locked into the No. 3 seed, but that was not the case. With 11:02 left to play, Marcus Mariota crashed into Henry in the backfield for a fumble, and Yannick Ngakoue recovered the ball for a 67-yard touchdown to pull to within 15-10.

Unfortunately, Jacksonville's offense had a failed play on each of its final seven snaps of the game. A big sack of Blake Bortles by Brian Orakpo blew up one drive by bringing up a third-and-20 situation.

Mariota's legs helped him burn most of the final four minutes on the clock. His big 13-yard scramble on a third-and-5 made him his team's leading rusher (60 yards) on the day. By the time Bortles got the ball back at his own 18, only 18 seconds remained. Kevin Byard got a late present with his eighth interception of the season (tied for the league lead) on a desperation heave from Bortles to end the game.

Tennessee should get a tougher test next week in Kansas City, while the Jaguars host Buffalo in one of the most unexpected playoff games in a long time.

Bills at Dolphins: I Know It's Over

With a huge assist from Andy Dalton and the Bengals, the Bills are finally in the playoffs in the 21st century. However, the fact that they had to sweat out this game in Miami was a shock. Buffalo led 22-3 and just missed out on a 99-yard defensive return touchdown after replay corrected a call. Miami scored, but it was still 22-9. But a competitive David Fales, who replaced Jay Cutler early, led another touchdown drive to pull within 22-16 with 1:56 left.

The game basically came down to recovering an onside kick, but wouldn't you know the Dolphins got another one? There were only 12 recoveries of onside kicks in the NFL this season, and Miami had four of them on five attempts. Suddenly, Miami was in decent position to win the game, but after crossing midfield, Fales threw a poor interception to Jordan Poyer to end the threat. Buffalo rode big turnovers to this 9-7 record all year, so that's a fitting ending.

It's also fitting that Miami technically lost another game-winning drive opportunity. After starting 4-0 in such games on the way to a 4-2 start, Miami finished the season 2-8 and 0-4 at game-winning drive opportunities. Adam Gase's magic beans weren't going to work forever, though a few recoveries of onside kicks gave him a few shots down the stretch this year. Still, the 6-10 finish was fairly predictable for this squad.

The Bills, Rams, Jaguars, and Titans have all ended long playoff droughts this season. That leaves the longest remaining droughts in Cleveland (15 years), Tampa Bay (10 years), Chicago (seven years), and the New York Jets (seven years).

Browns at Steelers: Detroit and Cleveland Linked Once Again

Detroit, you better open up some more bottles of Faygo, because you have some company. While these teams competed against each other for NFL championships in the 1950s, the 2008 Lions and the 2017 Browns now share the distinction of being the only 0-16 teams in NFL history. This was actually one of Cleveland's best "almost wins" of the season, and it sure helped that Pittsburgh rested five Pro Bowlers on offense. The scary part for the Steelers is that only Cameron Heyward sat out on defense, and this was largely the unit they will try to win a Super Bowl with. This defense made DeShone Kizer look like a dual-threat playmaker with the ability to scramble for a third-and-15 and to thread the needle on a third-and-17. Sure, there were some sacks where Kizer showed zero awareness and some dropped interceptions, but this was one of the best games Kizer had all season. It was also his first 300-yard passing game.

The unexpected shootout at 28-24 crawled to a scoring halt in the fourth quarter when the Browns kept coughing up the ball. Duke Johnson had an all-too-easy 30-yard gain on a third-and-15, but fumbled the ball at the end. Kizer threw an interception to Sean Davis, but got one more shot with the ball and a chance to drive for the winning touchdown. On a fourth-and-2 at the Pittsburgh 27, Kizer escaped a sack and found Corey Coleman with a good throw. The ball went right through Coleman's hands just short of the 10-yard line with 1:46 left. The Steelers were able to run out the clock, dropping Cleveland to 0-16.

So which team did more to earn 0-16? I put together a little table for comparison of how these teams failed to win.

The 0-16 Comparison
Split 2008 Lions 2017 Browns
Scoring differential -249 -176
DVOA -48.4% -27.2%
Blown 4Q leads 4 1
Game-winning drives allowed 6 3
4QC record 0-9 0-6
4QC/GWD record 0-9 0-7
Overtime losses 0 2
Failed clutch field goals 0 0
Underdog 15 times 15 times
Against the spread 7-9 4-12

Scoring differential and DVOA certainly favor Cleveland as the better team. Detroit had some serious ass-kickings, like the 47-10 loss to Tennessee on Thanksgiving and a 42-7 home loss to the Saints. Alas, the number of close, winnable games in the fourth quarter favors Detroit. The 2008 Lions blew four fourth-quarter leads compared to just the one for Cleveland, but Detroit's four leads were only eight points combined. The Browns blew a 14-point lead to Brett Hundley and the Packers in Week 14 before losing in overtime. That really should have been their win this year, but the defense just couldn't stop Green Bay at the end.

The fact that Cleveland did this after a brutal 1-15 season a year ago is hard to fathom. Worse, how does Hue Jackson retain his job after going 1-31 in two years? The Lions sacked Rod Marinelli after his 0-16 season, and he at least finished 7-9 in 2007. The Browns have seven wins in their last 57 games. This team earned 0-16, because it would have been cheap to get to 1-15 by playing the Packers without Aaron Rodgers or the Steelers without their stars. Even with those advantages, the Browns still couldn't luck into a win this year.

Redskins at Giants: End of Two Eras?

These teams played a dreadful game on Thanksgiving with short fields for scoring drives, and that was basically the same result on Sunday. New York took a 12-0 lead barely two minutes into the game and Washington simply never recovered from that. Wayne Gallman's 21-yard run to the 1-yard line allowed the Giants to run the clock out after Kirk Cousins threw his third interception of the day with 2:40 left in the 18-10 loss.

This game could be the end of an era for both teams. If this was Cousins' last game with Washington, it was not a good one to go out on. In addition to the three picks, Cousins passed for just 158 yards, and his only contribution to the scoring was a 20-yard touchdown drive. That came after an Eli Manning interception, and if this was Manning's last game with the Giants, it too was not a very good ending. He completed 10-of-28 passes for just 132 yards.

Believe it or not, but this was the first time all season the Giants successfully defended a one-score lead in the fourth quarter. They did that 11 times in 2016 on their way to the playoffs, but things were much different in a painfully bad 2017 where the team finished 3-13 and has already started to clean house.

We can only imagine how different these teams might look when they meet next in 2018.

Texans at Colts: Farewell to a Horseshoe Guy

The final game of the Chuck Pagano era in Indianapolis brought back a once-familiar scene: the Colts winning at home against Houston. It did not happen in the previous two years, and that had a lot to do with the Colts missing the playoffs in 2015 and 2016. However, things have long been ruined this year, and for once the Colts actually flipped the script by making a comeback after trailing 13-7 at halftime. The Colts lost seven games after leading at halftime this year, three more than any other team.

The fourth-quarter pass rush also came alive for the Colts. There were two big sacks of T.J. Yates, including one in the end zone for a safety and 16-13 lead. Adam Vinatieri hit two field goals to push the lead to 22-13, and the running game delivered to bleed most of the clock. Yates ended the game with a desperation heave for an interception.

The Colts had three fourth-quarter holds of a one-score lead all season, but two of those games were the wins over Houston. Still, with the star players the Texans are getting back next year, and the uncertainty with Indianapolis' coach and the health of Andrew Luck, it's hard not to think that the Colts are still the team that's farthest away from competing in the AFC South. Given how this was supposed to be the sixth year of Pagano and Luck, that's a very depressing outlook.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 50
Game-winning drives: 78 (plus two non-offensive game-winning scores)
Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 139/256 (54.3 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 25

For starters, it was great that 2017 didn't feature a tied game, but where have all the fourth-quarter comebacks gone? We only had 50 this season. From 2012 to 2016, there were always 68 to 73 fourth-quarter comeback wins. That includes the playoffs, but even if all 11 playoff games have one this year, that would be 61 at most. Offenses were successful on only 27.3 percent of their comeback opportunities this year, down from 33.6 percent in 2016 and 31.5 percent in 2015.

The following table shows a summary of each team's success in close games this season. First, the offense's record in games with a 4QC opportunity is shown. As a reminder, that is games having possession in the fourth quarter (or overtime) with a one-score deficit. Next is the overall 4QC/GWD record, which also includes the games where the score was tied in the fourth quarter or overtime. For the defense, the holds are the games where the defense was successful in defending a one-score lead in the fourth quarter or overtime.

The number of games lost in which the team had a fourth-quarter lead is also shown. The last section shows the team's overall record in close games, which are defined as games involving a 4QC/GWD opportunity on either side of the ball.

NFL 2017 Regular Season Close Game Summary (4Q/OT)
Team Record 4QC Pct. 4QC/GWD Pct. HOLD BLOWN LD Games W-L Pct. CG%
CAR 11-5 1-1 0.500 3-1 0.750 7 0 9 8-1 0.889 56.3%
PIT 13-3 3-2 0.600 4-2 0.667 5 1 9 7-2 0.778 56.3%
NE 13-3 2-2 0.500 2-2 0.500 6 1 8 6-2 0.750 50.0%
PHI 13-3 2-2 0.500 3-2 0.600 6 0 8 6-2 0.750 50.0%
NO 11-5 2-2 0.500 2-2 0.500 4 2 7 5-2 0.714 43.8%
DAL 9-7 0-2 0.000 4-2 0.667 5 1 7 5-2 0.714 43.8%
BUF 9-7 1-3 0.250 3-3 0.500 6 1 10 7-3 0.700 62.5%
GB 7-9 4-3 0.571 4-3 0.571 3 1 9 6-3 0.667 56.3%
MIN 13-3 1-2 0.333 3-2 0.600 4 0 6 4-2 0.667 37.5%
TEN 9-7 3-4 0.429 4-4 0.500 5 3 10 6-4 0.600 62.5%
ATL 10-6 2-4 0.333 3-4 0.429 6 2 10 6-4 0.600 62.5%
ARI 8-8 5-4 0.556 5-4 0.556 4 2 10 6-4 0.600 62.5%
CIN 7-9 3-2 0.600 3-4 0.429 5 3 9 5-4 0.556 56.3%
KC 10-6 1-4 0.200 4-4 0.500 5 2 11 6-5 0.545 68.8%
DET 9-7 1-5 0.167 4-5 0.444 6 1 11 6-5 0.545 68.8%
WAS 7-9 1-4 0.200 4-5 0.444 5 1 10 5-5 0.500 62.5%
LARM 11-5 1-4 0.200 1-4 0.200 4 1 8 4-4 0.500 50.0%
MIA 6-10 3-4 0.429 4-4 0.500 4 0 8 4-4 0.500 50.0%
SEA 9-7 2-5 0.286 2-5 0.286 4 2 9 4-5 0.444 56.3%
JAC 10-6 1-4 0.200 1-4 0.200 2 1 7 3-4 0.429 43.8%
BAL 9-7 0-3 0.000 0-3 0.000 2 2 5 2-3 0.400 31.3%
DEN 5-11 0-3 0.000 0-3 0.000 2 0 5 2-3 0.400 31.3%
IND 4-12 0-5 0.000 1-7 0.125 3 4 11 4-7 0.364 68.8%
TB 5-11 2-7 0.222 3-7 0.300 2 3 11 4-7 0.364 68.8%
LACH 9-7 2-5 0.286 2-6 0.250 2 2 9 3-6 0.333 56.3%
SF 6-10 2-5 0.286 2-6 0.250 1 2 9 3-6 0.333 56.3%
OAK 6-10 1-4 0.200 1-4 0.200 1 1 6 2-4 0.333 37.5%
NYJ 5-11 1-7 0.125 2-7 0.222 2 2 10 3-7 0.300 62.5%
CHI 5-11 0-5 0.000 2-5 0.286 1 1 8 2-6 0.250 50.0%
HOU 4-12 1-7 0.125 1-7 0.125 2 2 9 2-7 0.222 56.3%
NYG 3-13 0-8 0.000 1-8 0.111 1 3 10 2-8 0.200 62.5%
CLE 0-16 0-6 0.000 0-7 0.000 0 1 7 0-7 0.000 43.8%

No team played in more than 11 close games, while the Ravens and Broncos only played in five close games. That was good for Baltimore since it had some big wins, but ugly for Denver since many of its losses weren't even close. During Denver's eight-game losing streak, only one of those games (Cincinnati) featured a comeback opportunity. It was a rough debut for rookie coach Vance Joseph, but he is getting a second chance in 2018.

Something I kept track of often in 2017 was the performance of the four "clutch" playoff teams from 2016 (Lions, Raiders, Giants, and Dolphins). All of these teams won at least six games with a game-winning score in the fourth quarter or overtime in 2016. In 2017, none of them made the playoffs, three of them fired their head coach, and they combined for just five fourth-quarter comebacks after 22 in 2016.

Team 2016 2017
4QC Oppt. 4QC/GWD Record DEF Hold Blown 4QL Overall 4QC Oppt. 4QC/GWD Record DEF Hold Blown 4QL Overall
DET 8-4 8-4 7 1 9-7 1-5 4-5 6 1 9-7
NYG 3-2 6-2 11 1 11-5 0-8 1-8 1 3 3-13
OAK 7-2 7-2 9 0 12-4 1-4 1-4 1 1 6-10
MIA 4-3 6-3 8 1 10-6 3-4 4-4 4 0 6-10
TOT 22-11 (.667) 27-11 (.711) 35 3 42-22 (.656) 5-21 (.192) 10-21 (.323) 12 5 24-40 (.375)

Detroit had a fourth-quarter comeback in Week 1 against Arizona, but went 0-5 on its opportunities the rest of the season. A year after Derek Carr led seven fourth-quarter comebacks, Oakland only came through once, after multiple untimed downs against the Chiefs. The Giants were a league-worst 0-8 at comeback opportunities this year. Miami had some early success in starting 4-2, but failed on its final four comeback opportunities. Regression is a real thing here.

Which teams could be regression candidates in 2018? Only Arizona had five clutch wins, and that very well could regress with uncertainty at head coach (Bruce Arians retired) and quarterback. The rising strength of the NFC West will make the Cardinals an overwhelming pick for last place in the division next season.

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Jacksonville (3-4) is the only playoff team with a losing record in close games, because so many of their wins were in dominant fashion with a big showing by the defense. Carolina had the best record (8-1) in the league in close games and the most defensive holds (seven) of any team. While Oakland was the only team to not blow a fourth-quarter lead in 2016, there were five teams who did so this year, including the Panthers. We'll see if the Panthers' unusual mixture of close wins and not-so-close losses continues into the playoffs. The Panthers haven't been able to stay close with the Saints in two tries already this year.

The Chargers didn't add a whole lot to their new BINGO card in Los Angeles this year. The Chargers only blew two fourth-quarter leads, but the one in Jacksonville was still about the most improbable of the season. Blake Bortles threw two interceptions after the two-minute warning with his team trailing and the Jaguars still won in overtime. That was also enough to keep the Chargers out of the playoffs.

The Colts led the league with five blown fourth-quarter leads, two more than any other team. Four of those were on the defense as listed in the table, but there was also the loss to Cincinnati where Jacoby Brissett threw a pick-six in a 24-23 loss. With Chuck Pagano gone and Andrew Luck hopefully back in 2018, the Colts could easily improve on that 4-12 eyesore from this season. The Colts badly missed Luck in the fourth quarter, where they went 1-7 at game-winning drive opportunities this year.

Historic data on fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives can be found at Pro Football Reference. Screen caps come from NFL Game Pass. Game Winning Chance (win probability) data is from EdjFootball.


7 comments, Last at 03 Jan 2018, 1:07pm

1 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 17 and Season Review

"Detroit had a fourth-quarter comeback in Week 1 against Arizona, but went 0-5 on its opportunities the rest of the season."

This is cherry-picking a bit. Their GWD record was 4-5, in part because in 2017 they tended to get into 4th-quarter ties instead of 4th-quarter deficits.

2 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 17/Season Review

Can you really say Detroit "regressed"? Their W-L record was identical, and they only missed the playoffs because the NFC was much stronger this year compared to last year. Also, they were a much better team in 2017 compared to 2016 according to DVOA.

4 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 17/Season Review

That’s not how the article reads, he mentions that all 4 teams that regressed in 4QC missed the playoffs, and 3 fired their coach. And who cares what your 4QC record is in isolation? The only reason we care about 4QC and record in one score games is that your luck in those games tends to regress to average the following year (as you mention, it’s not a sustainable way to win games), which means that your overall record tends to regress. I was just pointing out that while Detroit’s luck in close games ran out, they were one of the rare teams that didn’t suffer a decline in their W-L record in that situation.

5 Re: Clutch Encounters: Week 17/Season Review

Except they didn't, really.

The 2016 Lions won zero games in which the 4th quarter was never within one score.
The 2017 Lions won three.

The 2016 Lions lost one game in which the 4th quarter was never within one score.
The 2017 Lions lost zero.

The 2016 Lions were -12 in point differential.
The 2017 Lions were +34

Basically, the Lions were about 3 points better per game this year, with the net effect that they right shifted who their 4th-quarter comeback opportunities were against. The simply beat bad teams by too many points.

The 2016 Lions were somewhat lucky. That was probably a true 7-9 or 8-8 team. The 2017 Lions were somewhat unlucky. That was probably a true 10-6 team. Basically, if you get a Patriots call in the Atlanta game, Detroit is 2-4/5-4, goes 10-6, and squeezes in as a 6-seed again.

So what, right? 10-6 would tie for the 8th best season in franchise history.