Risky Business: Super Bowl LV

Tom Brady
Tom Brady
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Well, we didn’t see this one coming. The Buccaneers and Tom Brady had a surprisingly easy go of it against the Chiefs in Tampa on Sunday. The Chiefs’ Game-Winning Chance (GWC) dipped below 5% early in the second half, and it only got worse from there. This was a greatly-anticipated matchup with what was expected to be a complex plot. As Aaron Schatz from Football Outsiders expertly dissected in his Super Bowl preview, there were many key questions heading into Sunday. Looking at full-season DVOA performances, the Bucs stacked up well against the Chiefs and were actually a clear favorite in our simulation under that comprehensive assumption. But the major question was around how to weight more recent performances. The Chiefs appeared to be hitting their stride in the playoffs and looked like a team ready to take down consecutive championships. With heavier weighting to recent performances, the EdjSports model showed the Chiefs as a slight favorite at 53%. There were also concerns about the absence of left tackle Eric Fisher and the mobility of Patrick Mahomes. The relative merits of in-game decision making between Bruce Arians and Andy Reid had to be considered as well. Reid finished sixth in our EdjSports CCI rankings while Arians was ranked 30th. As we saw in last year’s Super Bowl, fourth-down decisions can have an enormous impact on an outcome if the difficult decisions present themselves. While all of these factors were potentially relevant, it turned out to be a bungled second quarter by the Chiefs that will define this Super Bowl. They simply weren’t present, at least mentally, for a crucial 15-minute stretch. The combination of penalty errors by the Chiefs and a merciless assault by the Bucs left little in doubt as the field was transformed for The Weeknd’s show.

When examining penalties, it is important to consider context. Some penalties, such as unnecessary roughness after the play is blown dead, are essentially pure cost. Lining up offsides also offers little upside. Holding and pass interference can be much more complicated, as we may not know how the play would have unfolded without the penalty. Here is a breakdown of the Chiefs’ costly penalties and poor execution during the second quarter. In each instance we will account for the GWC difference in the actual game state before and after the penalty.

While the aggregate penalty cost to the Chiefs is a staggering -40.1% GWC, it may not be a fair assessment of the true cost. As mentioned earlier, it is difficult to tell how much some of the penalties altered the outcome of the play. At least 12.4% of the cost had virtually no upside, and perhaps we can discount the other 27.7% for unknowns. We can debate the actual cost of penalties and the proficiency of the officiating crew, but it still appears the Chiefs squandered at least one fourth of a game in equity with mental errors in their most damaging quarter of the season.


5 comments, Last at 12 Feb 2021, 2:36pm

#1 by ryan5581 // Feb 08, 2021 - 2:48pm

After the Bucs scored with 0:06 remaining the first half, they kicked off from midfield following the KC penalty. Should they have considered an onside kick, with a recovery giving them a long FG attempt or deep shot (a la NFC Championship)? KC at say their own 40 would only have had an option to call a Hail Mary. Thought it could be worth the risk, with the Chiefs to receive the 2nd half kickoff. What yard line is breakeven for an onside kick?

Points: 0

#2 by ImNewAroundThe… // Feb 08, 2021 - 2:51pm

Even if they fail, it'll be like they kicked it out of bounds ending up at the 40. Actually they could kick it in such a way that'd it'd be really close to the sideline and they still wouldn't end up with the ball in their territory like a normal onside. 

Points: 0

#3 by RobotBoy // Feb 09, 2021 - 3:37am

Would have loved to see that.

Points: 0

#4 by DIVISION // Feb 09, 2021 - 8:32pm

..being overturned for the holding call was a huge swing.  It would have kept the Chiefs in the game via taking away that scoring opportunity for Brady and co.

It didn't cost them the game, but it helped.

Andy Reid calling TO's on Brady's last drive of the first-half sealed their doom.

Points: 0

#5 by ClavisRa // Feb 12, 2021 - 2:36pm

The Chiefs actually benefitted from their penalties. Imagine not tripping Evans when Breeland was beat by over a stride, probably closer to two strides when Evans makes the catch, depending on the safety to make a TD saving tackle. That penalty saved yards and maybe points. Similarly many of the Chiefs holding penalties prevented them getting beat deep or the receiver getting a clean release on their break.

The penalties that really hurt were the ones like lining up offsides on the FG. But the Chiefs were consistent with who they were all season, an undisciplined, inconsistent team that can usually scrape out a win despite that with some timely drives. This time they faced a disciplined, high effort, high talent team and they never had a chance all game. And you could see they knew by the end of the 1st Q from their sideline demeanor. 

Points: 0

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