### The math behind the missed opportunities

February, 6, 2012
2/06/12
8:05
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Paul Sancya/AP Photo Tom Brady could only wonder what might have been.
Super Bowl XLVI between the New York Giants and New England Patriots featured several key moments on which the outcome of the game could have swung significantly.

The ESPN Analytics Team looked at a few of those moments and analyzed them based on our historic win probability data from the past 10 seasons. Here’s what we found.

How much should the Patriots rue their missed opportunities?
The Patriots just missed converting two plays that would have made a significant difference in the outcome of the game.

A couple plays after Tom Brady threw an interception for the game’s only turnover early in the fourth quarter, Ahmad Bradshaw fumbled with the Giants deep in their own territory.

Fortunately for Bradshaw and the Giants, Chris Snee recovered the ball at the 11, keeping possession of the ball.

Had the Patriots recovered the fumble, their win probability would have jumped to from 69 percent to 78 percent. So the inability to recover Bradshaw’s fumble cost the Patriots nearly 10% in terms of win probability.

Similarly, with the Patriots facing a 2nd-and-11 from the Giants 44, leading 17-15 with 4:06 left in the fourth quarter, Wes Welker dropped a pass from Tom Brady at the Giants 21.

Suppose he made the catch and gained six more yards after the catch (he had some space around him and would probably have been able to pick up a few yards). In that case, the Patriots would have had a 1st-and-10 from the Giants 15, and their win probability would have increased from 73 percent to 84 percent.

Should the Patriots have let the Giants score?
With the Giants having the ball inside the Patriots 10 with just over a minute to go, the Patriots had a decision to make: let the Giants score right away and leave as much time as possible for their offense, or play defense and hope for a turnover or missed field goal.

The math shows that the Patriots were in a deep hole either way.

If they held the Giants out of the end zone and made them attempt a last-second field goal, it would have had a very high likelihood of success.

This season, NFL kickers were 37-for-38 (97.4 percent) on game-tying or go-ahead field attempts from inside of 26 yards (the longest field goal attempt the Giants likely would have ended up with) with under a minute and a half left in the 4th quarter.

On the other hand, the Patriots’ win probability after Bradshaw’s touchdown with 57 seconds remaining was only 3.4 percent.

This is confirmed by historical analysis of similar situations.

The Patriots took over on their own 20, needing a touchdown to win the game and 57 seconds to go 80 yards.

Since 2001, NFL teams beginning a drive between their own 10 and own 30 when trailing by four to eight points (in other words, needing the touchdown) with between 40 seconds and 1:15 left in the fourth quarter have scored a touchdown just twice on 63 such drives, a 3.2 percent success rate.

So essentially the Patriots were choosing between a 2.6 percent chance of winning via a missed field goal (maybe a bit higher if you account for the very small likelihood of a fumbled snap or something like that) and a little bit better than a three percent chance of winning with a game-winning touchdown drive after letting the Giants score.

Either way, the decision had a very small impact on the overall outcome – the Patriots had essentially lost the game on the preceding plays of the Giants’ final drive.

What were the biggest plays of the game?
Here are the biggest plays of the game in terms of changes in win probability from before to after the play.

1. Ahmad Bradshaw’s rushing touchdown in the final minute raised the Giants' win probability from 74 percent to 97 percent.

2. Tom Brady’s touchdown pass to Danny Woodhead in the final seconds of the second quarter raised the Patriots' win probability from 42 percent to 56 percent.

3. Eli Manning’s 38-yd pass to Mario Manningham with just under four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter raised the Giants’ win probability from 37 percent to 49 percent.

### Nicks, Giants step up to NFC title game

January, 15, 2012
1/15/12
9:04
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Getty Images/Jamie SquireHakeem Nicks came through with a near-record setting performance.

The run of struggles for the top-seeded team in the NFC continued, with the 15-1 Green Bay Packers succumbing to the New York Giants on Sunday.

A 15-win team had never lost its first game in a postseason, until the Packers did. Here’s a snapshot look at the postseason’s biggest upset so far.

How the Giants won
The Giants got the same kind of performance from wide receiver Hakeem Nicks that they got from Plaxico Burress in their win in Green Bay in the 2007 NFC Championship Game.

Nicks went one better than Burress’s 11-catch, 151-yard game. He finished with 165 receiving yards, second-most in Giants postseason history. He finished 10 yards shy of the Giants postseason record for receiving yards in a game. The mark was set by Bob Schnelker at the Colts in the 1959 NFL Championship.

Nicks’ 66-yard touchdown reception was the third-longest postseason touchdown catch in Giants history. He tied the mark last week with a 72-yard touchdown catch against the Falcons.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Nicks joined Isaac Bruce as the only receivers to have a pair of touchdown catches of at least 66 yards in the same postseason.

Nicks is the third receiver in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to have multiple games of at least 100 receiving yards AND two touchdown catches in the same postseason, joining Jerry Rice of the 1989 49ers and Larry Fitzgerald of the 2008 Cardinals.

The man who got Nicks the ball, quarterback Eli Manning, surpassed Phil Simms as the Giants all-time passing yardage leader in postseason play. His 330 passing yards were the third-most in Giants postseason history, trailing a pair of games by Kerry Collins.

Manning's speciality was putting the right touch on the long throw. He completed 8-of-10 passes that traveled 15 or more yards downfield for 206 yards and two touchdowns

Ahmad Bradshaw was held to 63 yards rushing, but he had a pair of runs of over 20 yards in this contest. The Giants had only had four rushes of at least 20 yards in the regular season, the fewest in the NFL.

How the Packers lost

This game was a significant struggle for Aaron Rodgers and his receivers compared to the first meeting between the two teams in Week 13.

Rodgers was 21-for-25 for 265 yards and three touchdowns throwing outside the painted numbers on the field in that Week 13 win, but was just 11-for-23 for 115 yards on such throws in this game.

Rodgers was 2-for-8 throwing 15 air yards or more downfield, his second-worst completion percentage of the season on such throws. The only game in which he was worse was when he was 2-for-12 in the Week 15 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. The Giants duplicated the approach of the Chiefs defensively in one regard. They sent four or fewer pass rushers on 81 percent of Rodgers' dropbacks. The Chiefs did so on 80 percent of Rodgers' dropbacks

Packers receivers finished the game with six dropped passes, tied for the most by any team in a game this season, with six different receivers dropping a pass. The Packers previous high was four drops, done twice, including Week 13 against the Giants.

The Packers lost only six fumbles in the regular season, but they lost three in this game, the most they’d lost in any game since the 2007 season.

Stats of the Game
Tom Coughlin’s six postseason road wins as a head coach are one shy of the NFL record, set by Tom Landry.

Eli Manning’s four postseason road wins are tied for the most in NFL history with Len Dawson, Roger Staubach, Jake Delhomme, Mark Sanchez, and Joe Flacco.

Both Manning and Flacco will be on the road next week, with a chance to extend those marks in conference championship games.

What’s Next?
The Giants are 3-4 all-time against the 49ers in postseason play, 1-4 in San Francisco. The win was a 15-13 triumph in the 1990 NFC Championship Game, won on Matt Bahr’s walk-off field goal.

The Giants are 4-0 all-time in conference championship games, the best record for any team that has played in at least three conference title games.

### Brees looks to keep streaks alive vs Giants

November, 28, 2011
11/28/11
1:30
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When the New Orleans Saints and New York Giants meet on Monday Night Football several streaks will be on the line:

• The Saints have won five straight Monday Night Football games, while the Giants have won their last three appearances on Monday night.

• The Saints have won four straight home games to start the season. New Orleans has started 5-0 at home only once, back in 2009 when it went on to win Super Bowl XLIV.

• Drew Brees has thrown a touchdown pass in 37 straight games, the second-longest streak in NFL history.

• He has also completed 20 passes in an NFL-record 30 straight games.

The last time the Saints and Giants met, back in 2009, Drew Brees threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns in a 48-27 Saints victory.

Expect more of that tonight as Drew Brees has torched the Giants in his career. Brees is 3-0 as a starter against New York, and has thrown seven touchdowns and zero interceptions in those games.

Brees
Brees enters tonight's game with 3,326 passing yards, the most by any player through 10 team games in NFL history. He needs to throw for 302 yards against the Giants the set the record through 11 games, which is currently held by Tom Brady with 3,627 yards this season.

Brees has been so productive in large part to a new found weapon in tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham has been Drew Brees' most targeted receiver on throws 15 yards or more downfield. He is tied for the seventh-most receptions on such throws this season and leads all NFL tight ends.

Brees isn't the only quarterback in this game looking to keep streaks alive. Eli Manning needs 48 passing yards and two touchdown passes to give him 3,000 passing yards and 20 pass touchdowns for the seventh consecutive season. Drew Brees extended his streak earlier this year and has now done so in eight consecutive seasons.

Manning would be just the fifth player in NFL history to accomplish the feat, joining elite company including Brees and Eli's brother Peyton, who did so an NFL-record 13 straight seasons (1998-2010).

This game takes on more family importance for Eli Manning as he grew up in New Orleans watching his father Archie play for the Saints.

While this will be a nice homecoming for the Giants QB, the players to watch for New York are in the backfield, where the Giants have been struggling without injured RB Ahmad Bradshaw.

The Giants are averaging only 83.2 rushing yards per game, their fewest over a full season since 1945 (76.9 a game) nor has their per-carry average been this low since 1953 (2.64). The Giants rank in the bottom two in both rushing yards per game and yards per rush attempt.

In addition, the Giants haven't ranked next to last or worse in rush yards per game since 1953 (last with an 87.4-yard average) and they haven't ranked last in rush yards per attempt since 1975 (3.4).
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### No Bradshaw, no screen pass for the Giants

November, 16, 2011
11/16/11
8:20
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ESPN Stats & InformationAhmad Bradshaw is the primary focus of the Giants’ screen game. He's increased his receptions per game each of the past three seasons.
Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw has established himself this season as a legitimate dual threat. In addition to his ability to beat defenses running the football, Bradshaw has had the most prolific receiving season of his career.

But if his absence as a result of an injured foot continues Sunday, the Giants will once again be without the primary focus of their screen game.

Bradshaw’s production in the passing game has steadily increased (1.4 receptions/game in 2009, 2.9 in 2010, 3.4 in 2011), and the Giants have benefitted from his versatility. In games this season where Bradshaw has at least four receptions, the Giants are 4-0 (2-3 otherwise).

Bradshaw does have a pair of drops this season and has seen his drop percentage rise from 5.3 percent in 2010 to 7.4 percent this year. However, he is still averaging 7.8 yards per target this season, a significant increase over last season (5.5).

Additionally, Bradshaw has improved after the catch, averaging 9.0 yards after a catch compared to a 6.6 average a year ago.

Bradshaw’s impact is especially evident in the screen game.

Eli Manning has relied on Bradshaw for the highest percentage of a team’s screen passes in the NFL (66.7 percent). Bradshaw and the Giants used a screen-heavy game plan in Week 3 against the Eagles to challenge Philadelphia’s linebackers and counteract their aggressive defensive line.

Manning was 4-4 for 27 yards and a touchdown on screen passes to Bradshaw against the Eagles.

Meanwhile, the Eagles defense has shown a susceptibility to screen passes this season. Philadelphia has 7.7 yards per attempt on screen passes (seventh-worst in NFL). To beat the Giants Sunday night, the Eagles will have to contain Bradshaw not only on the ground, but through the air as well.
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### No average Joe for Week 3 Total QBR

September, 26, 2011
9/26/11
4:47
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Week 3 featured 11 quarterbacks who passed for over 300 yards and two, Tom Brady and Eli Manning, who threw four touchdowns. Among the standout quarterbacks, Joe Flacco separated himself from the bunch with 389-yard performance that helped him earn the top QBR of the week.

As a reminder, Total QBR is a quarterback rating that takes into account all of a quarterback’s contributions (passing, rushing, sacks, fumbles, penalties) to his team’s scoring and winning and summarizes them into one number on a 0-100 scale, where 50 is average.

• For a game, the number can be interpreted as a percentile, so a score of 80 means a quarterback’s performance was better than 80% of all QB games.
• For a season, a Total QBR of 65 or better is roughly Pro Bowl level and a rating of 75+ is MVP level.

Flacco

Joe Flacco – 87.9 Total QBR on 66 action plays

Flacco had the best QBR of week 3, thanks in most part to his first-quarter performance. Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens blew the St. Louis Rams out of the game early, rendering their play in the second half relatively moot. While the game was still in question Flacco was dominant, going 8 for 13 for 181 yards and three touchdowns in the first quarter. Flacco’s three touchdowns travelled 18, 30 and 41 yards in the air, respectively, adding to the credit he received on those plays in QBR.

The game was Flacco’s third-highest QBR of his career, and the best since his rookie season.

Even with the game out of control early in the second half, Flacco continued to be very involved in the offense. Flacco ended the game with 66 action plays (defined as any offensive play where the QB had direct involvement), 12 more than his previous career-high of 54.

Eli Manning – 81.2 Total QBR on 29 action plays
Manning had the second-highest QBR of the week with an 81.2. Manning did great in clutch situations. He was 6 for 7 for 114 yards with two touchdowns on third downs. Coincidently, he was also 6 for 7 with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and also completed his only pass in the red zone for a touchdown to Ahmad Bradshaw, though much of that was done by Bradshaw after the catch.

Ryan Fitzpatrick – 80.8 Total QBR on 50 action plays
Similar to Manning, Fitzpatrick was also great in clutch situations. He was 4 for 5 for 127 yards in the fourth quarter, 9 for 11 with one touchdown on third downs and 2 for 3 with two touchdowns in the red zone.

Tom Brady – 71.2 Total QBR on 50 action plays
While Brady’s 71.2 QBR is an above average game for most, it was the second-worst performance by Brady in his last 12 regular season starts. His four interceptions (including a pick six) cost the Patriots almost eight points, more than any other QB this season.

Brady made up for these interceptions with strong passing numbers aside from the mistakes. During the NFL passer rating era (post-1973) there have been 499 games in which a QB threw at least four interceptions. Brady’s 86.0 NFL passer rating is the seventh-highest of those 499 games and the second-highest in the previous 22 seasons.

Looking beyond passer rating numbers and into the situational football QBR is based on, Brady completed both of his fourth down passes for first downs (one for a touchdown). Both completions came on the Patriots final drive to tie the game.

Flacco, Manning, Fitzpatrick and Brady may have all put up big numbers, but not every quarterback had great QBR success on Sunday.

Matt Ryan – 33.4 Total QBR on 55 action plays
Ryan’s red zone play was instrumental in the Atlanta Falcons loss against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “Matty Ice” was far from clutch in the red zone, a stark contrast from his performance during the first two weeks of the season.

QBR vs. NFL Passer Rating
The team with the better Total QBR went 13-2 on Sunday and has won 83.0% of games this season. The team with the better NFL passer rating went 9-6 on Sunday and has won 74.5% of games this season.

Since 2008 the team with the better Total QBR has won 85.7% of games. The team with the better NFL passer rating has won 79.3% of games.

### Vikings and Giants need to tackle better

December, 13, 2010
12/13/10
2:00
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A statistical look at tonight's matchup in Detroit between the New York Giants and the Minnesota Vikings.

• Entering Week 14, the Vikings and Giants are 31st and 32nd in the NFL, respectively, in percentage of opponents’ passing yards gained after the catch. Minnesota has allowed 49 percent of their opponents’ passing yards to come after the catch is made, while New York is the only team in the league that has allowed more than half.

This could be trouble for the Giants, as Percy Harvin entered this week with the fifth-most YAC in the NFL among non-running backs. New York’s best performer in that area is Hakeem Nicks, who ranked behind 36 other non-running backs in YAC entering Week 14.

• Speaking of Nicks, he and fellow wideout Steve Smith are likely to play Monday, giving Eli Manning his two best targets this season. When throwing to Nicks and Smith, Manning’s passer rating is nearly 10 times higher than when he targets any other player, and his TD per attempt ratio is nearly double.

• If the Giants get close to the end zone, look for them to utilize Ahmad Bradshaw. He entered Week 14 with 14 carries in goal-to-go situations, tied for 14th in the league, and he’s scored a touchdown on six of those carries, which is good for a 42.9 percent conversion rate. That’s the fourth-best percentage among runners that entered the week with 10 such carries.

• The Vikings allow the fourth-worst passer rating when sending a defensive back to pressure the quarterback and only three teams in the league have fewer sacks when rushing a member of the secondary. Luckily for Minnesota, they don’t rush a defensive back very often.

Entering Week 14, only two teams sent secondary pressure less often than the Vikings. The good news for Vikings fans is that Eli Manning entered this week just 18th in the NFL in passer rating when facing secondary pressure.

### Jackson another weapon at Rivers' disposal

November, 27, 2010
11/27/10
3:03
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Chargers at Colts
From 2008 to 2009, no player caught more passes thrown 21 yards or more down field than the San Diego Chargers' Vincent Jackson's 23. He's scheduled to make his season debut Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. Jackson also led the league in receiving yards and first downs on such plays.

This season, Malcom Floyd has filled the void left by Jackson on deep passes. Floyd has seven receptions, 276 yards and two touchdowns on balls thrown at least 21 yards this season.

While Rivers will have another deep threat, Peyton Manning has struggled throwing deep this season. Six of his seven interceptions have been on throws that traveled at least 15 yards. Not only that, but the Chargers defend the deep pass well. Only two of the nine TDs they have allowed this season have been on throws that were at least 15 yards.

Eagles at Bears
Something’s gotta give in a matchup of one of the best offenses against one of the best defenses in the NFL.

The Eagles are averaging 28.4 points per game, second in the NFL. The Bears are allowing 14.6 points per game, tied with the Green Bay Packers for fewest in the NFL. Chicago has allowed only one opponent this season to score more than 20 points, while Philadelphia has scored at least 26 points in all seven of its wins.

The key will be containing Michael Vick, both in and out of the pocket. Vick has the NFL’s best passer rating this season inside the pocket at 114.3. His passer rating outside the pocket drops to 83.5; however, Vick has scrambled 22 times outside the pocket for 218 yards.

Packers at Falcons
Matt Ryan has yet to lose a home start in his career against an NFC opponent (13-0). However, Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons are playing a Packers' team that has allowed one touchdown and a total of 10 points in the last three games.

Both Ryan and Aaron Rodgers became their team’s full-time starting quarterback in 2008. Since then, they have been two of the most efficient passers on throws between the hash marks. Ryan has a passer rating of 111.7, while Rodgers’ is 102.2. Among quarterbacks with at least 150 attempts between the hash marks, those ratings are second and fifth, respectively.

With injuries on defense, the Packers have taken a more conservative approach this season to rushing the passer. Through 10 games in 2009, the Packers sent five pass rushers or more on 43.8 percent of pass plays. In the first 10 games of 2010, Green Bay has sent added pressure on 31.1 percent of pass plays.

Clay Matthews has three sacks when part of a three-man pass rush, four sacks when four defenders rush the passer, and 4.5 sacks with five pass rushers.

Atlanta's pass defense has done a much better job of protecting leads in 2010. Last year when leading in games, the Falcons allowed 12 touchdown passes and had just two interceptions in 190 attempts. This season, Atlanta has five interceptions on 89 pass attempts when protecting a lead and has allowed only three touchdowns. When protecting the lead against three or more wide receiver sets, their opponents’ passer rating has dropped from 99.7 last season to 54.8 in 2010.

Jaguars at Giants
With Brandon Jacobs getting the start at running back for the fumble-prone Ahmad Bradshaw, you might expect the New York Giants to pound the ball between the tackles.

Jacobs averages four yards a carry up the middle, while the Jaguars allow 4.9 yards. Only the Detroit Lions (5.4 yards per rush) allow more yards on runs up the middle.

One area of the field you can expect Manning to throw the ball to is outside the numbers. Twelve of his 21 touchdowns have been outside the numbers. However, six of those 12 TD passes went to Hakeem Nicks, who will not play Sunday because of a leg injury.

Buccaneers at Ravens
One reason for the Bucs’ improvement this season has been QB Josh Freeman's ability to get the ball to his wide receivers between the numbers. Last season, Freeman completed less than 50 percent of his attempts to wide receivers between the numbers, with 10 interceptions and no touchdowns. This season, Freeman is 44-for-65 (67.7) with five touchdowns and three interceptions.