Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2
Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Bill Barnwell

(Ed. Note: This was the introduction to yesterday's Quick Reads on ESPN.com. We're running it as separate commentary on FO in order to prevent the fourth-and-2 discussion from blocking out discussion of the other 14 games in the Quick Reads discussion thread. The rest of Quick Reads for Week 10 can be found here.)

Too close to call.

It's not the satisfying answer to the Great Belichick Debate, which has seen him declared to be either an infallible genius or an overzealous tinkerer by most observers, but it's the most accurate one.

No matter how we tinker with or adjust the probabilities to account for the game situation and the quality of the two offenses and defenses, it's difficult to find a dramatic difference between the choices of going for it or punting.

Take the first option, the one Bill Belichick chose. Teams attempting to convert a fourth-and-2 have successfully done so at a 48.6 percent rate this year, well down from 62.3 percent the year before. The "true" likelihood of such a play being converted by an average team in an average situation is closer to that latter figure, based on historical data.

Of course, the phrase "…average team in an average situation" simply does not apply. The Patriots don't have an average offense, they have the league's best by DVOA; the Colts' defense ranks sixth. Although the Patriots had failed to convert in two of their three previous third-and-2 situations (including the one directly preceding the decision to go for it), their chances of making it in this situation are greater than the average team's.

On the other hand, the probability has to be adjusted for the situation. Robert Mathis had been abusing right tackle Nick Kaczur all night, meaning that Brady wouldn't have time for the combination of Randy Moss and Wes Welker to run anything resembling an intricate route pattern. Dwight Freeney lurked on the other side. Furthermore, the probability of a team going for it on fourth down might very well be artificially high because of selection bias -- teams are far more inclined to go for it on fourth down against the Lions or the Rams than they are against the Vikings or Ravens.

Throw all these numbers into a big soup, spin them however you'd like, and you'll end up with an expected conversion rate of about 60 percent. It might be 63, it might be 57; truthfully, it's not going to be enough to change our analysis.

The Colts aren't going to score every time they get the ball on the opposition's 29-yard line, but they will score most of the time. Toss in momentum and the quality of the Colts' offense versus the Patriots' secondary, and you can estimate, say, an 85 percent chance of the Colts scoring in that situation. That makes Belichick's decision to go for it a little stronger, upping the Patriots' chances of winning by going for it to 66 percent.

Then, it comes down to punting and where Manning gets the ball, which requires even more theoretical assumptions. Chris Hanson has a 39.6-yard net average, but it was in a dome, and the Colts don't have great return units. If we just assume 40 yards, the Colts get the ball on their own 32-yard line with two minutes to go and one timeout. If you believe that the Colts had a 34 percent chance or better of scoring a touchdown in that situation (100 percent minus the 66 percent chance we mentioned a moment ago), Belichick was right. If you think the odds are below 34 percent, Belichick was wrong.

If you disagree with the expected percentages of conversion above, Mike Harris (creator of the playoff odds simulator) has developed a nifty calculator that lets you plug in your own averages and figure out whether Belichick made the right call by those figures. You can find that calculator here.

Of course, we haven't even considered the possibility of running the ball as opposed to passing it on fourth down, turnovers, onside kicks, or the Patriots scoring on a game-winning drive. The bottom line is that a mathematical analysis of the decision boils down into too many assumptions and inapplicable historical expectations to say very much about one decision on one drive in a very unique situation, and when we make the broadest assumptions possible about the decision, the decision isn't close to clear-cut.

The important factor that the cacophony of responses seems to be missing is that you can't judge Belichick's decision by the fact that it didn't work. As we've mentioned more than once in these pages, you cannot judge decisions by their outcome. You have to consider the process that goes into them, and then decide whether they're right or wrong at the moment they're made.

Think back to another controversial Belichick decision made in the heat of a prime-time game, his decision to take a safety on purpose down one point during the fourth quarter of a Monday night game against the Broncos. Of course, the Patriots ended up getting the ball back and won the game. Belichick took virtually no flak after the game for his unconventional choice, and was instead hailed as an aggressive, brilliant game manager.

If Kevin Faulk stumbles two feet forward, Belichick is being spoken about in those glowing tones today by virtually everyone lining up to criticize him. That doesn't make his decision correct or incorrect, any more so than Faulk coming up short does. If Belichick's decision was wrong, it was wrong from the moment the playcall went to Tom Brady. And with everything we know about the situation, it's impossible to say whether that was truly the case.

(Another Ed. Note: If you would like to read a similar analysis of a completely different coaching decision, find a copy of the 1986 Bill James Baseball Abstract and read his commentary on Tommy Lasorda's decision to pitch to Jack Clark with a base open late in Game 6 of the 1985 NLCS. Some truths are universal.)


214 comments, Last at 18 Nov 2009, 5:55pm

205 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

You can't isolate them from each other like that. The 4th down decision only makes sense if 1) you've got a high-percentage, low risk play choice and 2) you have a strategy for dealing with failure. I don't believe they had either: you can make a claim that they had the former, but they certainly did not have the latter. And without that strategy, it's a bad decision. You're better off punting and giving your opponent more opportunities to make a mistake.

115 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

Seconding what a few have mentioned above...

What are the odds of the Patriots gaining 2 yards by running the ball on consecutive downs? 90%? 95%? Wasn't THAT was the relevant statistic, starting on 3rd and 2? I gotta believe Brady falling forward twice from right under center would have worked.

Instead, the Pats threw a dangerous out-route, and then had to call time-out (allowing the Colts to get set) to make the decision about whether to go for it or not. Then they drew up a play where one of the primary targets ran ONLY AS FAR as the first down marker. Which backfired. And was lame. Statistics don't even need to be consulted to know that Belicheck blew that sequence.

118 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

It's worth noting that that was their last timeout, and it left the Colts with one. Add in the fact that the route brought the WR's momentum back towards the line... seriously, if Belichick thought that play had a 60% chance of success, he was absolutely delusional.

137 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

Probably because the ball wasn't spotted where he landed, so he was given some forward progress, and the guy who spotted the ball was staring straight at him with a completely clear line of sight.

It should also be noted that if he had been awarded forward progress, it would've been because of a mistake by the Colts DB in even touching him before he was behind the line.

140 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

My complaint was not about what the placement of the ball was, but rather that consideration of that fact doesn't seem to enter anybody's minds when they tear into Bill Belichick.

A play that came within a whisker of actually succeeding, had a 60% chance of success?

I'm curious - do you think Kevin Faulk has a 40% bobble rate?

Where is the 60% coming from?

Certainly on that given day, with that offense against that defense, the average gain per snap was well over 2 yards.

143 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

A play that came within a whisker of actually succeeding, had a 60% chance of success?

I'd say, yeah. I mean, the only reason it came within a whisker of succeeding is because the DB didn't play the ball very well. But the play design was really bad: backward movement towards the line, that short? Did he not see the Philly game last week?

Certainly on that given day, with that offense against that defense, the average gain per snap was well over 2 yards.

It's not the average gain, it's the percentage of time a play gains over 2 yards. Funny thing is that this play is actually a bad example for you for using average, considering there's no way the receiver would gain more than 2 yards, and so on average, he'll gain less than 2.

It's also not that play, the way it turned out - when the play's called you don't know their defense. It just wasn't a good play call - Moss wasn't doing anything to peel the defender away from Faulk, for instance. But in general there wasn't anything interesting going on - the Patriots went 4-wide, the Colts went with a man defense, only two receivers ran viable short routes... just really amazingly vanilla.

122 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

Solid post morganja. I agree that there's a bit too much certainty being purported in some of these probability analyses (but to his credit, not by Bill Barnwell).

Apparently AdvancedNFLStats' analysis is now semi-famous because it was featured in the Boston Globe and batted all over the local airwaves today. Just my gut reaction based on the game conditions (I've already acknowledged, I'm not taking a side): I think their 60% estimate for a successful Patriots' conversion is too high, and their 52% estimate for a Colts TD from the 29-yard-line (against a gassed New England defense) is easily too low. To be fair, I also think their 30% estimate for a Colts TD from their own 30 is too low also. Actually, I don't think there's any way Bill Belichick goes for if he thinks his defense has a 70% chance of a stop.

125 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

The numbers game aside it was a bad decision because it was spur-of-the-moment. I've read Lombardi over at the NFP making the case that this was all planned out ahead of time but Belichick's actions just don't support that. If they knew they were going for it on 4th down regardless then a run is the only reasonable choice on 3rd and 2: run the clock (I believe) below 2 minutes and set yourself up better for the shot on 4th down. If they knew they were going for it on 4th down they wouldn't have sent then punt team out and then blown a timeout changing their minds.

I fully understand the thought process and the possible risks/rewards. In my mind the risk is too great; even if the entire gameplan was based around eventually taking a shot on 4th-and-2 from the -28 it's just not the kind of decision I can support. Setting perfect world arguments aside I don't believe for a second that what I saw was evidence of Belichick acting on a cunning plan plan. He was flying by the seat of his pants and he blew it so badly that he left himself without a timeout to challenge with.

And that's why it was a terrible decision.

136 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

I don't know why Lombardi thinks this was planned out. Obviously it wasn't planned out, and Belichick admits as such.

That doesn't make it a "terrible decision". Certainly the implementation could have been done better - it would certainly have been better to have the plan in place from 1st down. But...modulo a dubious spot by officials who ignored the forward progress on the play, the play actually did succeed.

How, then, can it have been a "terrible decision"?

I don't understand people who say "I fully understand the thought process and the possible risks/rewards. In my mind the risk is too great."

Clearly, you don't "fully understand" the thought process. You are still beholden to your gut feelings and are unwilling to let your decision-making process be ruled by strategy concerns alone. Every analysis that has looked at the decision-making process from a mathematical one has concluded that going for it on 4th down improved the Patriots' odds of winning. The problem is that the strategy is counter-intuitive.

All of the outrage of the past two days is based on people trusting their ingrained feelings about the subject more than any analysis.

152 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

Dude, enough on the "bad spot" argument. There is no forward progress given when the receiver bobbles the football. That is a rule. The ref was in perfect position to make the call. He immediately makes the juggle motion with his hands and without hesitation spots the just inside the 30 yard line. In contrast, the ultra-slow-mo television reply that we have all seen is at an angle that makes it impossible to determine proper depth perception as it relates to Faulk and the first down line. How you can claim this replay proves anything beyond a reasonable doubt is crazy.

181 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

"Every" analysis? Really? I think that particular 4th-down playcall had a less than a 50% chance of succeeding (again, it's more like making a 2-point conversion with the game on the line), and that the Colts had at least a 75% chance of scoring a TD from the Patriots' 29. I'm not crazy about those odds. It's still close, so I'm not judgmental of Belichick-- he did what he thought was right-- but it's this notion that it's been "proven" that he made the right decision that is suspect. No such proof, or even a reasonably convincing argument, exists either way.

133 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

My take is that people wouldn't be rushing to defend this move it was Norv, and Switzer was ridiculed for the same move in '95. So, even more so than 'you can't criticize this move just because it didn't work', I think the standard should be, 'if you would have criticized Norv or Barry for the move, you should rip Bellicheck'. Shannahan 'couldn't win without Elway', I guess Bellicheck can't win without Vinateri.

139 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

Yeah, but then you are in the position of accusing Belichick defenders of being engaged in a personality cult.

How do you know we wouldn't defend Norv Turner, or any other coach for doing the same thing.

The reason Barry Switzer was ripped was because called the same play! on third and fourth down in that game in question (against the Eagles). And certainly that's a reason I've ripped Norv Turner this year with his goal-line strategy. Long after it should have been obvious that LT was not scoring on the goal line dive with ease as he did 3+ years ago, Norv continued to call that same play.

He may have adjusted by now. Norv is dumb, but he's not a complete idiot.

As for Switzer...

145 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

I think it's exactly a personality cult thing with why this is so controversial. Switzer had the best rushing attack in football and two attempts to get two yards (I think he actually had three tries, because one play was waived off). Martz was often criticized when playing the percentages. And Norv is ridiculed even by writers on this site when his gambles don't pay off, based on results, not process. The standard should be the same. (we don't even know what the probabilities for this particular situation, since it's such a high leverage, rare circumstance, i.e., not just a fourth and two, but a fourth and two, you lose the game if you don't hold, you win if you do). Bellicheck, more than any other factor from the Pats (though not from the Giants) blew the last Super Bowl. He shouldn't be above criticism.

146 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

I'm going to do something here that I usually prefer not to do: Use the actual financial numbers from the in game trading.

when the Patriots were expected to punt they were given a 64% chance to win (-178 to American wagerers, .56 in European style odds). When the markets realized the Patriots were punting the odds jumped to 71% (-245 in American odds, .41 European odds).

People can claim whatever they want, but when people had to put their money on the line they gave the Patriots an additional 7% when they decided to go for it.


The math guys are agreeing that the decision was correct. The meatheads are panning it.

The decision was correct and it wasn't close. Anyone who who says the decision is wrong has failed an intelligence test. Anyone who says it was close is still failing basic football math.

The decision was correct and history will not look kindly on those who suggested otherwise.

148 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

Yeah, they sure were right to place their trust in Bellicheck. Couldn't be that it's usually paid off in the past for him to make unconventional moves, and people were putting their trust in that. Nope, the wisdom of the crowds is always right, and people who second guess Bellicheck must be stoopid.

You are what you record says you are. It was a bad move because it didn't work, and if you take the praise, you are subject to the criticism. I'd still love to have Bellicheck as my team's coach, but he's not perfect.

150 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

We are not exactly talking about the traditional wisdom of crowds. Financial markets are a little different because it roughly translates into $1 for 1 vote.

I might add you are attempting to argue against a straw man. The wisdom of crowds isn't wrong when a favorite loses. The wisdom of crowds is wrong when they have the wrong team favored.

Also, if you don't really understand betting markets you might not understand this but: when the market moves 7% it might have moved the wrong amount, but the odds of it having moved in the wrong direction are close to nil.

151 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

Oh, and one of the tenets of Football Outsiders is that you are NOT what your record says you are in the short run. Teams that have a losing record can be considered much stronger than teams with a winning record.

That is not to say I can justify FO's rankings of the Eagles. :)

154 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

This is the funniest argument yet! I love your vision of people who gamble on football as a bunch of math geeks who pour over statistics to such an extent that they can instantly, without hesitation, compute precise probabilities on the outcome of a game as it plays out. Wow! I don't even need to watch the games anymore because these football savants can just TELL me whats going to happen next.

In contrast, my vision of people who gamble on football (from first hand experience of spending way too much time in Las Vegas) is a bunch of drunken fratboys who bet with their hearts and not there heads. They are quick to let their emotions get the best of them and more times than not will end-up passed out drunk before the last game of the night ends.

157 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

I understand, but that's not what the poster was talking about. He was talking about the line moving as the game was being played. This is the not the traditional Las Vegas line mind you, but the financial model of betting that has long been popular outside the US with sports like tennis. Regardless, I would NEVER put much stock in this type of analysis. Its simply too fraught with emotional decisions made with bad information.

161 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

It is a myth that most of the money is public money and that the public moves the lines.

In terms of in game wagering it is even more of a myth.

As for in game-tennis wagering, that world is vastly different from the world of the NFL.

I feel like a guy trying to explain evolution to a fundamentalist congregation. It might take 5 years, it might take 20, but there will come a time when NOT going for a first down in this kind of situation will get you fired.

164 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

OK, I bite. If most of the money is not public money, then what the hell is it? And what the hell makes "private" money so damn insightful that they can precisely calculate new probabilities on the outcome of a game within seconds of finding out NE is going for it on 4th and 2?

I'm not saying punting is right or wrong, I'm just calling your "the line moved 7%" theory as complete BS.

169 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

OK, two issues. Where the money comes from, and what the 7% means. I'll start with the money.

Public money can also be considered dumb money. It is money that will back the popular side, and is willing to do so at bad prices. There was a time when that money mattered a great deal, however the gambling world has evolved. Now, a much higher % of the money wagered is exceedingly price sensitive. It can be called sharp money, but that might be giving it more credit than it deserves. Someone betting on the Packers to win doesn't necessarily have to have any inside information, or be certain that the Packers are going to win. Rather, they have reason to believe that the Packers are more likely to win than the betting line implied, and that they have a positive expected value (referred to as positive EV). On way of thinking about this is someone betting on the roll of a six sided die. If they bet $100 that a 1-4 will be rolled at even money (risking $100 to win $100), then the will win 2/3's of the time and have a positive expected value (of $33.33). Of course, if a 5 or 6 is rolled, Peter King will call them a schmuck.

The sharp money is by no means perfect, but when I am talking about the in-game %'s I'm referring to the action at the high limit sportsbooks where winners are not kicked out or limited in any fashion.

As for the 7% being BS, I would literally be willing to back every side that has been the beneficiary of a 7% move at the pre-move price. Literally, every single one, sight unseen. I don't know how much stronger I can say this. After the fact some of those sides will lose, but I can guarantee that every single one was was positive EV (post move, at the pre-move price).

171 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

I can appreciate your knowledge of the industry, but must question your theory in the last paragraph. You claim to guarantee that every single one of the 7% moves was positive EV. While this is strong claim, it is impossible to actually verify. This particular situation we are talking about (NE vs. COLTS) is so rare that it has generated tons of discussion throughout the entire sport. So it is certainly possible that THIS 7% move was irrational and flat out wrong.

These are sports games we are talking about and you can't claim to KNOW anything as fact. That's the nature of the beast, these are games being played by humans and are subject to a countless number of variables. Since no two games or situations are the same it is impossible to put accurate (and factual) probabilities on their outcomes. This is not Strat-to-matic baseball being played with dice rolls.

Nevertheless, good discussion. But its time for me to call it a night.

173 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

We are on the same page.

I too am very tired and I too am enjoying this discussion.

Some notes:

1. I can actually track what a 7% move implies using the data from this and last season. That may or may not be a statistically significant sample, but if it is not significant yet, I'll simply keep adding data until it provides a result that is not random chance.

2. There are actually a lot of things I can know for a fact. While any one game can have an aberrant result, and any one line can be wildly wrong, but I can know that the Yankees are more likely to win the 2020 World Series than the Pirates. I can know that over the course of an NBA season home teams will score more points than road teams. I can know that over the course of a season more than half of the double digit favorites will win the games in question.

Let me use the NCAA tournament as an example. I don't know that all 4 #1 seeds will beat all 4 #16 seeds. I do know that all 4 #1 seeds will be favored.

If I choose a card at random from a normal 52 card deck, I don't know I won't pick a heart, but I do know that I am more likely not to pick a heart.

I can't know that the Patriots win if the go for it. I can know that if they have 1000 games where they go for it and 1000 where the punt... :)

And back to the 7% move, I can know on average they are correct. Can I prove that they are worth 7%? Not yet. I can prove that a 7% move is worth more than 0%.

179 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

I'm back and rested. I will take your assertion that a 7% move always presents a positive EV position at face value. However, you are basing this point on your data that indicates this over the longhaul. This data does NOTHING to prove that any one particular 7% move presents positive EV. In fact, logic tells us that a certain percentage of these moves will actually be negative EV. The problem is we have no way of determining which moves are positive and which are negative. We only know (based on your data) that overall a 7% move results in positive EV.

Therefore, the claim that since the line moved 7% when NE decided to go for it PROVES that is was a good decision is completely absurd.

194 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

OK, this is actually a fair ground to debate.

Will there ever be a 7% move in the wrong direction? Actually, even that isn't quite right. Will there ever be a 7% move that is on the wrong direction or purely random such that the true value has not changed at all?

I think that is the question. And yes, I am fully prepared to take the side that 7% moves are literally all in the correct direction and that none will be without proximate cause.

It is difficult to prove a negative, but there really has to only be 1 case where there was a 7% move that was in the wrong direction for my thesis to be incorrect.

Out of curiosity, given the presumption that over the long haul 7% moves are positive EV, how confident would you be that any 1 move is correct, sight unseen?

196 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

I have no way of determining if any 1 move is correct, so my answer is I don't know. You say there is no way to prove a negative, I'll go one step further and say there is no way to prove a positive within the contex of this discussion either. No amount of data you can produce with regard to sports betting lines is going to prove anything in relation to proper football strategy. There is simply no direct correlation between these things.

Now, if you want to use the betting line as SUPPORT for your assumption that BB made the right call - be my guest. But thats all it is, support.

The stats you cite are specific to betting lines, which are contingent upon where the money is flowing. However, just because more people (or money) thinks one side has gained an advantage during the course of a game does not make it true. You cannot speak this theory into existence.

To use some of your own words, throughout history the common perception of things is often later proved to be wrong. You cite punting strategy as one of these examples. Therefore, who's to say those who are moving the betting lines are always correct in their commonly held assumptions? You can't. Therefore, the betting lines offer no proof that punting in this situation is truly the best strategy.

214 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

“To use some of your own words, throughout history the common perception of things is often later proved to be wrong. You cite punting strategy as one of these examples. Therefore, who's to say those who are moving the betting lines are always correct in their commonly held assumptions? You can't. Therefore, the betting lines offer no proof that punting in this situation is truly the best strategy.”

The betting lines are panning punting, as does the academic research.

I’m not certain that the decision was worth 7%. I do know that the calculus involved was fail 4th down * fail stop vs. fail post punt. I know that people can be fooled by randomness and as such have difficulty telling the difference between what is a random result and what isn’t. On a macro level 7% moves DEFINITELY signify an increased likelihood of success for the beneficiary. The question is on a micro level. What is our level of confidence that any individual move is indicative of an increased likelihood of victory? My answer is somewhere well North of 99.99%.

We’ve seen massive changes in baseball and basketball, but there is a pretty clear trend. The sports have become more efficient (more rational if you wish). We still have our flat Earth proponents (hi, I’m Joe Morgan), but the progress is obvious. Will we ever go too far and need to take revenge AGAINST the nerds? Probably, but not necessarily in either of our lifetimes.

Incentives matter. Betting markets reward being accurate. Pundit markets reward generating interest. Coaching decisions are a bit more complex. If you coach to win the game, there are times when you’ll bring the punditry on your head.
If some football team had developed some intellectual property, how could the reveal it while maintaining their edge?

Belichick knows he was right. I’d wager large sums that Kraft knows too. And I’d wager larger sums that the betting markets KNEW as well. :)

I’m currently seeing if there is an effective statistical proof regarding in game line moves. One of the things I'm finding is that 7% moves are often something along the lines of a 30 yard touchdown pass (remember, the offense has already moved to their opponent's 30 yard line).

183 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

That's laughable. "History" is written by the victors. Belichick and the Patriots lost. The people who bet money on the Patriots *to win* lost that money. Nobody's going to remember what odds were posted on some obscure in-game internet betting site (seriously, how many bettors had the time and inclination to respond to the 4th-down situation? How could one even be certain that the Patriots weren't punting?). And exactly who is this that's not going to look kindly on the dissenters? Will these people come to our homes to punish us?

More importantly, since when do betting lines represent probabilistic reality? Bettors are as likely to respond to conventional wisdom (or other whims) as anyone else, and maybe more so. Most gamblers I know most certainly are NOT "math guys".

193 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

History is written, and then rewritten over and over.

No one is going to come to Peter King's house (I hope), but certainly you are aware of a multitude of historical examples where a decision was popular at the time, but later viewed as an abomination? It takes time for societal norms to change, and given the massive amount of coverage given to this decision, it will probably be considered the... I hesitate to use the phrase "turning point", but I cannot think of a better expression. Football play calling is going to become more efficient over time.There was a time long ago Where a 6 point lead late in the game almost assured victory. when Notre Dame broke Oklahoma's great winning streak, the final score was 7-0. In the modern era teams are much more effective at moving the ball, particularly at moving the ball swiftly.

Coaches that play the actual %'s will be ridiculed as gamblers, particularly when they lose, but they'll also win more than they otherwise would. We've already started to see this with high school teams.

As for the betting lines indicating probabilistic reality, they too have become more efficient in the modern era. There is always variance, but in the long run larger favorites will win more often than smaller favorites. In particular, 71% favorites will win more often than 64% favorites.

In terms of bettors believing conventional wisdom, some do. I'm sure in Vegas there were guys with money on the Patriots to win screaming at them to punt. However, $1-1 vote is a lot different than the guys screaming at the screens.

208 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

Well, just as the market can stay stupid longer than the short seller can stay solvent, ridicule, if an owner is too easily swayed by such things, can result in a coach getting fired, before he can demonstrate that his strategy will win more frequently.

159 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

I can understand where he's coming from. the people taking the money felt a lot more comfortable with a new england victory once NE decided to go for it than they did when they thought NE was punting.

I also agree this is no way to prove anything, though

162 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

I find this debate baffling.

On any given Sunday a 3-1 underdog might win but it would be insane to argue that they should have been favored.

It isn't a matter of feeling comfortable. It is a matter of probability. The market had new information and that information was processed.

Let me put it this way, if someone knew that a team was going to go for it in such a situation, and the market was assuming a punt, that person could get a lot of expected value (EV) by betting on the team going for it.

The fact that people can say whatever they want without having to put money behind their words is what allows for stupidity to flourish (I'm looking at you Peter King). If we could replay the game 1000 times with the Patriots going for it, and 1000 times with the Patriots punting, I'd gleefully bet on the Patriots to win a higher percentage of the games where they go for it than when they punt. I'd go so far as to call anyone who took the other side of such a wager a fool.

Fools can say that punting was correct and that going for it was stupid. Fools are also seperated from their money when they put their money where their mouths are.

166 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

I'm amused by your insistence that only people who place money on the outcome of a game can accurately predict it. That is so far from reality that I question your sanity. Its as if you think people who place money on a game somehow obtain a magical power that enables them to see the future.

167 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

And another straw man gets argued against.

The people placing money on a game during it might be action junkies. They might be math nerds. As a general rule they are not you normal casual bettor.

The people wagering on a game are the same kinds of people who buy and sell commodities, currencies, equities, bonds, etc. The point isn't that they are perfect. They aren't perfect, but they are far better than random chance.

You don't have to think of these people as all-knowing to understand that when they are willing to pay 10% more for a commodity due to a decision someone made regarding that commodity... well, that was a good decision.

170 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

We are getting way off topic, but what the hell. You insist that people who buy and sell commodities, currencies, etc. are far better than random chance. However, that is open for debate. For example, it is a fact that 69% of mutual fund managers consistently UNDER perform the generally accepted index for their particular market. In other words, an investor would have been better off simply placing an equal amount of money in all companies within a particular industry rather than trust a professional adviser to active manage his investments within that same industry.

So your insistence that the line moving 7% is somehow certifiable proof that going for it was a good decision is completely irrational. The only thing it proves is that people betting on that game were "comforted" by the fact NE was not punting. This neither proves nor disproves that it was actually a good decision. The betting line is completely independent of the actual game on the field.

172 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

If we start taking a random walk down Wall Street, we will have gotten WAY off topic. :)

For the record, you are correct as a general rule having someone attempt to invest your money in a fashion that beats the market is generally a bad call.

Having said that, a 7% move can be considered proof. in fact, I am so certain of this that I would be willing to take any side that has been the beneficiary of a 7% move at the pre-move price.

Can we agree that we live in a world where traders are imperfect (particularly when their incentives are not aligned with those of their clients), and that 7% moves are indicative that one side has gained an advantage over another?

174 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

Interesting stuff. Now, imagine a world in which Belichik can and does announce to the betting population, prior to first down, that he has adopted a 4 down strategy, while keeping that tidbit from the Colts. How much subsequent movement is there?

191 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

Oddly, the information is not all that powerful if he is going to go for it on 4th and 10. Now, if he were to announce that he would go for it on 4th and short, say, short being 4 or fewer yards to go, the markets would have moved towards the Patriots, and the each subsequent stop on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd down, would be less effective for the Colts in terms of increasing their win %.

195 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

Well, the term "four down strategy" is not meant to mean, "We absolutely have to score on this possession, thus we will not punt, no matter what", but rather, "We will not punt unless it is fourth and long, and we will make our play calls on first, second, and third down with that in mind". The point is that Belichick, by not adopting a four down strategy until fourth down, significantly reduced the advantages of a four down strategy, and this was illuminated by a very poor third down call. I had no real issue with, stripped of context, a decision to go for it on that spot on fourth and two. I assume Belichick knew the condition of his pass defense, and that the condition was not good. However, in the context of what led up to Belichick's decision to go for it, I conclude that Belichick fell well short of his goal of maximizing his team's chance to win, via sound strategy.

198 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

To put it another way, assume three parallel universes. In the first, Belichick is able to signal to the betting population, just prior to third down, that he will go for it on fourth and short, and is running a qb sneak on third down. In the second, Belichick signals that he will go for it on fourth and short, and that the third down call is a sideline pass just past the first down marker. In the third, Belichick says nothing about willingness to punt, but signals that the third down call is a sideline pass just past the first down marker. What movement results in each universe? I suspect that the gap between two and three is significantly narrower than the gap between one and two, because the betting population would think that a coach willing to go for it on fourth and short would not be calling that pass play on third down.

211 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

I'm currently listening to the Bill Simmons podcast. There are so many logical fallacies here that it is sad.

It isn't about whether or not you trust your defense, or whether or not you trust you offense. It isn't about whether or not you are getting calls. It is not BINARY.

It does not matter that the Patriots had a 34-21 lead, or a 31-14 lead. It does potentially matter that they don't trust Laurence Maroney.

Having a plan to use all 4 downs to get a 1st down increases your likelihood of winning.

I'll note that the worse your defense is, the worse punting is. Similarly, better the opposing offense, the worse punting is.

Wow, still listening to the podcast. Belichick wasn't bored. He just wants to win. End of story.

In conclusion, Belichick made tactical errors in not planning ahead to go it on 4th down. He made the correct move disregarding the sunk costs of the lost time outs.

Simmons just referenced poker with a bad analogy. He talked about calling with 6-9. The correct analogy is that the Patriots made a mathematically correct call on the flop that looked bad after the turn that and looked awful on the River.

199 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

Alright, presume a rational 4-down strategy. Yes, the Patriots benefit from that. I don't know that Belichick had made his decision before 3rd down. He might have made it during the Patriots final time out.

It is probable that the Patriots could have made better tactical decisions with their play calls on 3rd and 4th down. I think you are right that the Patriots both made the correct decision to go for it on 4th down, and also gave away some of that advantage with the previous play calling.

Yeah, not a perfect game by Belichick, but he is being excoriated for the wrong reasons.

165 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

I don't disagree. I'm just saying that using the argument 'the books said it was correct to go for it' is not really proving anything new. They have access to the same numbers used a bunch of times above, and reached the same conclusion. The numbers are the probability with or without the books

168 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

They have access to a lot of information, need to back that information with cash, and have to do so in real-time. An academic works under different parameters. That an academic reaches this conclusion is highly correlated with a gambling market reaching the same conclusion, and the correlation is most likely based on the underlying reality.

175 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

Sethburn, you're insane, but I appreciate the cocaine-esque induced enthusiasm.

I guess you've never heard of a boom or a bust or do you think they are entirely monetery phenomena?

190 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

I vaguely remember something about tulips...

There is this disconnect. I am not assuming that markets are 100% efficient, or that the people involved in markets are all geniuses. I am arguing that the response to the decision was so strong as to not possibly be ambiguous to its meaning. That the market moved 7% did not prove that the Patriots chance to win increased 7%, but rather that the Patriots chance of winning increased by an unknown amount. No one trader moved the market 7%, the volume was far too deep for that. As for emotion, I'm sure that effects some traders, but again, this was simply a huge move.

Furthermore, for the move to have been wrong, one of the two lines must have been massively wrong. That is, either the Colts were huge value at 29% (right before the snap), or the Patriots were huge value, regardless of their decision, during the time out.

My friend brought up another piece of information: The 64% for the Patriots might have already been pricing in a non-zero chance that the Patriots would go for it. It is possible that after an average net punt the Patriots would have been 60% to win.

180 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

Forget the percentages. Clearly the proper play call was to have Brady roll left and throw against his body 15 yards downfield.


192 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

Running left and throwing for a right handed QB. More difficult than rolling right and throwing straight ahead.

Why did I even respond to this?

213 Re: Further Thoughts on Fourth-and-2

Nice article and commentary...As a Pats fan, I liked the move at the time...Just from the gut feeling that they would probably be able to pick up 2 yards after having called time out and set up a good play. Obviously didn't work out that way but I was (and still am) fine with the decision.

I do think it's fair however, to base your opinion of the decision on the result.