It was a wild, unpredictable divisional round of the playoffs, highlighted by two improbable comebacks by the Packers and Seahawks that ultimately fell short. Did you miss any of the action? We’ve got you covered.
Below are 10 of the biggest plays of the weekend ranked by a statistic called win probability added (see bottom of this post for definition). The plays with the biggest WPA affected the outcome of the game the most.
Not surprisingly, the majority of the big plays occurred in Arizona’s and Denver’s close wins, but in the interest of inclusion, at least one play from each game is listed below.
1. Aaron Rodgers’ game-tying Hail Mary to Jeff Janis
Win probability change: From 1 percent to 47 percent (plus-46 WPA)
Rodgers did it again! With five seconds remaining and the Packers trailing by seven, Rodgers heaved the ball to the end zone and into the hands of Janis. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Janis’ reception was the first game-tying or game-winning pass touchdown to end regulation in NFL postseason history.
2. Larry Fitzgerald’s 75-yard reception in overtime
Win probability change: From 53 percent to 84 percent (plus-31 WPA)
The Packers’ jubilation would be short-lived. On the first play of overtime, Fitzgerald took a 14-yard pass 75 yards down to the Packers’ 5-yard line. Two plays later, Carson Palmer completed a shovel pass to Fitzgerald to clinch Arizona’s first trip to the NFC Championship Game since the 2008 season.
3. Palmer’s interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter
Win probability change: From 63 percent to 37 percent (minus-26 WPA)
Overshadowed by the excitement of the final minutes, Arizona and Green Bay made a number of (at-the-time) game-changing plays throughout the fourth quarter. The first occurred with 14 minutes remaining and the Cardinals trailing by three. Palmer drove Arizona to Green Bay’s 10-yard line, but threw a costly interception on a pass into the end zone.
4. Fitzgerald Toussaint’s fumble in the fourth quarter
Win probability change: From 74 percent to 54 percent (minus-20 WPA)
The biggest play of the Broncos’ 23-16 victory over the Steelers was undoubtedly Toussaint’s fumble in the fourth quarter. Leading by one and driving for another score, the Steelers had their highest win probability (74 percent) of the game before this game-changing fumble. The Broncos would convert the takeaway into a 13-play, 65-yard, go-ahead touchdown drive.
5. Palmer’s touchdown to Michael Floyd in the fourth quarter
Win probability change: From 58 percent to 77 percent (plus-19 WPA)
Palmer made up for his interception by marching the Cardinals 80 yards in 14 plays for a go-ahead touchdown. That drive was capped by his 9-yard touchdown pass via a tip to Floyd with 3:44 remaining in the fourth quarter.
6. Fitzgerald’s game-winning touchdown in overtime
Win probability change: from 82 percent to 100 percent (plus-18 WPA)
On the final play of this wild game in Arizona, Fitzgerald took a shovel pass 5 yards for a game-winning touchdown. Fitzgerald’s two receptions in overtime added a combined 49 points of win probability.
7. C.J. Anderson’s go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter
Win probability change: From 65 percent to 81 percent (plus-16 WPA)
Seven minutes after Toussaint’s fumble, Anderson plunged into the end zone for a 1-yard go-ahead touchdown. After the touchdown and two-point conversion, the Broncos’ win probability hit 80 percent and didn’t fall below that mark the rest of the game.
8. Bennie Fowler’s 31-yard reception
Win probability change: From 36 percent to 51 percent (plus-15 WPA)
The Broncos may not have been in position for a go-ahead score if not for Fowler’s 31-yard reception earlier on that drive. The completion on third-and-12 not only extended Denver’s drive, but it also set up the Broncos in Pittsburgh territory.
9. Rob Gronkowski’s 32-yard reception in the first quarter
Win probability change: From 62 percent to 73 percent (plus-11 WPA)
About three minutes into the game, Tom Brady completed a pass across the middle to Gronkowski. He rumbled 18 yards after the catch to set up the Patriots at the 11-yard line for their opening score.
10. Jonathan Stewart’s 59-yard rush on first play of the game
Win probability change: From 59 percent to 68 percent (plus-9 WPA)
It is fitting that the biggest play of this game occurred on the first play from scrimmage. Despite ultimately winning by only seven points, the Panthers had an average win probability of about 96 percent across all of their plays. This single play increased Carolina’s chance to win to 68 percent, and only a few plays later the Panthers had an 85 percent chance to win. Carolina would never have less than a 95 percent chance to win for the entire second half.
Win probability added (WPA) measures the change in a team’s chance to win from the start of the play to the end of the play. ESPN’s win probability model is built on actual outcomes of NFL games from recent seasons that featured similar circumstances (score, time remaining, field position, down and distance to go).