Conference championship weekend featured a blowout and near comeback. Ultimately the Panthers and Broncos came out victorious and will meet in Santa Clara, California, for Super Bowl 50.
Miss any of the action? We’ve got you covered with the top five plays of the NFC and AFC Championship Games ranked by 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 Denver’s close win against the Patriots. Many of the plays were made by New England in defeat, but ultimately the win probability that the Broncos and Panthers amassed in the first half of their respective wins was too much to overcome.
1. 0:12 fourth quarter: Broncos stop two-point attempt
Win probability change: From 25 percent to less than 0.1 percent (minus-25 WPA)
According to ESPN’s win probability model, the Patriots had a 25 percent chance to win before their potential game-tying two-point attempt. Bradley Roby intercepted Tom Brady’s pass to send the Broncos to their second Super Bowl in the past three seasons.
2. 1:34 fourth quarter: Rob Gronkowski 40-yard reception
Win probability change: From 3 percent to 19 percent (plus-16 WPA)
The Patriots would not have had an opportunity for a potential game-tying conversion had it not been for Brady’s 40-yard completion to Gronkowski. On fourth-and-10 with the Patriots trailing by eight, Brady hit Gronkowski over the middle, and he rumbled down to the Denver 10.
3. 0:17 fourth quarter: Rob Gronkowski 4-yard touchdown
Win probability change: From 10 percent to 25 percent (plus-15 WPA)
Three plays after Gronkowski’s reception, the Patriots again were down to their final play. On fourth-and-4, Brady lofted the ball to Gronkowski in the back of the end zone to pull the Patriots within two pending a two-point attempt.
4. 1:03 first quarter: Corey Brown 86-yard touchdown
Win probability change: From 77 percent to 90 percent (plus-13 WPA)
The biggest play of the Panthers’ 49-15 victory was Cam Newton’s 86-yard touchdown pass to Brown. The touchdown gave the Panthers a 17-0 lead and 90 percent chance to win before the end of the first quarter. Their win probability would not fall below 79 percent for the remainder of the game.
5. 2:27 first quarter: Denver fumble on backward pass
Win probability change: From 74 percent to 63 percent (minus-11 WPA)
Originally called an incomplete pass, Manning’s backward pass to Ronnie Hillman was challenged and overturned. The Patriots got the ball on the Denver 22 and went on to score their first touchdown of the game.
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 to-go distance).