NFL Nation: NFC West game changers

Pivotal plays: Super Bowl's top five

February, 6, 2013
We have at various times ranked NFC West plays by how much they changed a team's chances for winning, based on swings in win probability.

The chart ranks the five most pivotal five plays from Super Bowl XLVII regardless of whether they helped or hurt the San Francisco 49ers.

Note that San Francisco had a positive win probability (52.4 percent) before LaMichael James' fumble.

The chances were lower than I would have expected when the 49ers lined up on fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line in the final two minutes. The relatively low win probability before that play (32.3 percent) reflects not only the chances for scoring, but also the chances for holding a lead with so much time remaining in the game. Converting on that play would have been hugely pivotal, of course, but it wouldn't have won the game by itself.

NaVorro Bowman's fourth-and-4 pass breakup all but delivered the San Francisco 49ers to victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game.

The play was notable for a few reasons.

Having Bowman, an inside linebacker, in coverage against a wide receiver with Roddy White's credentials would seem to favor the offense. But as White dragged across the formation, Bowman blanketed him and made contact before quarterback Matt Ryan delivered the ball, making this a legal play.

Tony Gonzalez, the Falcons' 13-time Pro Bowl tight end, came open on the play, but Ryan seemed to lock in on White from the beginning. There was logic to Ryan's thinking with a linebacker in coverage.

Bowman and fellow inside linebacker Patrick Willis both had underneath coverage responsibilities on this play. Their ability to remain on the field and make plays in nickel situations sets them apart from traditional run-defending inside linebackers.

In the end, Bowman's breakup will go down as the most pivotal play on the 49ers' road to the Super Bowl -- not just on an anecdotal basis, but also on a statistical one.

The play produced change in win probability of 31.5 percentage points, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That was the largest positive swing for any play during the 49ers' first 18 games of the season.

The chart, courtesy of Dean Oliver, shows the 49ers' 10 most pivotal positive plays of the season by change in win probability. Colin Kaepernick appears on the list four times. Alex Smith does not appear on the list.


Roster Advisor