Win probability measures the chance that a team will win a game in progress, given a particular combination of circumstances including score, time remaining, field position, down and to-go distance. Win probability is based on a model built on actual NFL outcomes from recent seasons that featured similar circumstances.
Story of the game ...
The Panthers began the game with a 59 percent chance to win, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, but those chances would change quickly. After only six offensive plays, Carolina had an 85 percent chance to win, and by the half, its win probability reach 99.6 percent. Below are the three biggest plays of the first half that helped the Panthers build their lead.
14:55 1st Quarter: Jonathan Stewart’s 59-yard rush
Win probability change: From 59 percent to 68 percent (plus-9 WPA)
On the first play from scrimmage, Stewart ran 59 yards to the Seattle 16-yard line. That play flipped the field and set the Panthers up for an opening-drive touchdown.
11:46 1st Quarter: Luke Kuechly’s interception returned for a touchdown
Win probability change: From 76 percent to 85 percent (plus-9 WPA)
On Seattle’s second offensive play from scrimmage, Kuechly intercepted Russell Wilson’s pass intended for Marshawn Lynch. He returned the interception 14 yards for a touchdown to give the Panthers a 14-point lead.
2:54 1st Quarter: Cam Newton’s 27-yard completion to Greg Olsen
Win probability change: From 88 percent to 92 percent (plus-4 WPA)
On 2nd-and-15, Newton hit Olsen across the middle for a 27-yard gain to Seattle’s 30-yard line. Five plays later, Carolina would score a touchdown to extend its lead to 21.
After this play, the Panthers’ win probability never fell below 90 percent.
Despite Seattle cutting Carolina’s lead to 10 with six minutes remaining, it never had more than a five percent chance to win in the second half. Although some Panthers fans may have been nervous and some Seahawks fans might have been hopeful, the Seahawks still needed to score, recover an onside kick, score again, and then find a way to win in overtime.
Even though the game ended with a seven-point margin, the Panthers averaged a 95.5 percent chance to win across all their plays, the third-most dominant playoff win in the last eight seasons.