Monday, November 27, 2006

Should the Bears have tried for a TD?

In the Chicago-New England game, the Bears were down 17-10 with 3:36 left to play. It was 4th and 6 at the NE 14. They opted to go for a FG. While watching the game, I wondered if trying for a TD was best. I decided to calculate the odds and see if a FG was in fact better than trying for a TD. The main problem is that there are a lot of assumptions that needs to be made in order to come up with a good comparison between the odds of winning the game if the Bears went for a FG or a TD. Those assumptions include:

- If they go for a TD, what are the odds they make it? If they don’t make it, what are the odds they get the ball back? If they do make it, what are the odds the Patriots score and win it in regulation?

- If they go for a FG, what are the odds they get the ball back? And then, what are the odds they score a TD to win the game?

With so many assumptions, a slight difference in one variable can change the relative probabilities. What I did come up with is that the point where it is a toss-up between going for a FG or a TD is when the probability of making a TD is 40% to 50%. That’s still a pretty wide range, but it’s a range I’m comfortable with after playing around with all the numbers. That shows how a small change in one assumption may change the bottom line.

Since it is 4th and 6 at the 14, it seems that getting a TD from that point (whether it be a TD on the 4th down or a first down and a TD on subsequent downs) is probably less than 40%. So therefore, it does seem going for a FG in that spot was the correct decision. If it was 4th and goal at the 1, then going for the TD would be the correct decision since getting a TD should be greater than 50% from that spot on the field.

This shows how tough the decisions can be for NFL coaches at times. Lovie Smith, the head coach of the Bears, didn’t spend the half hour I just did in making up assumptions and doing calculations. He had less than 20 seconds to make a decision. It looks to me like he came up with the correct one though, even though they did lose.

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