There is a certain beauty to the contradictory nature of sports analysis. Everyone is sure they’re right all the time. And thank goodness they are, if not what would they put on the radio during the day?
Anyhow, there’s a nice analysis of the analysis from last night’s game over at rc3.org. In case you missed it (like me), Bill Belichick decided to go for it on a fourth-and-two from the Patriots 28-yard-line with just over two minutes left in the game. They failed and the Colts scored and won the game 35 to 34. Belichick has been roundly criticized for the decision, which was clearly a gamble. However, as Advanced NFL Stats points out, the numbers work in favor of the decision:
Statistically, the better decision would be to go for it, and by a good amount. However, these numbers are baselines for the league as a whole. You’d have to expect the Colts had a better than a 30% chance of scoring from their 34, and an accordingly higher chance to score from the Pats’ 28. But any adjustment in their likelihood of scoring from either field position increases the advantage of going for it. You can play with the numbers any way you like, but it’s pretty hard to come up with a realistic combination of numbers that make punting the better option. At best, you could make it a wash.