2011 Week 7: NFC West game changers

A disputed penalty prevented the Seattle Seahawks' Leon Washington from topping our Week 7 chart for most pivotal play in the NFC West.

Washington's 81-yard punt return would have given the Seahawks a 7-3 lead in a game they lost, 6-3. A penalty against Kennard Cox for an illegal block in the back wiped out the touchdown, creating a huge momentum swing and inviting ridicule.

This was a bad call, replays showed, but Mike Pereira, the NFL's former officiating czar, makes a good point in his column for Fox. What looked like a bad call on replay looked very much like an illegal block in the back when watched at live speed.

Had the return stood, the Seahawks' win probability for the game would have jumped from 37.7 percent to 63.1 percent, according to Alok Pattani of ESPN's analytics team. That 25.4-point difference would have topped our win probability chart. It does not because the official play-by-play sheet counts the penalty as part of the play. There are not separate calculations for penalties. It's assumed the rules violation enabled the play.

That left LaRod Stephens-Howling's 73-yard touchdown reception from Kevin Kolb atop the list this week. The play improved the Arizona Cardinals' win probability from 15.4 percent to 37.6 percent, based on how similar plays have affected outcomes in similar situations previously.

The most pivotal play for any NFL team: D.J. Williams' strip-sack of Miami's Matt Moore for Denver in overtime, which changed the Dolphins' win probability from 75.8 to 23.8.

I asked about the penalty against Seattle's Red Bryant for head-butting the Cleveland Browns' Alex Smith. That one affected win probability less than I would have anticipated. The Browns were already at 98.3 percent before that play.


2011 NFC West Game Changers: Week 7