Tennessee Titans' Advanced Stat of the Week: Win Probability

Nate Dunlevy@NateDunlevyGuest ColumnistFebruary 20, 2013

The Titans defense stood tall inside the 10 to seal a win in overtime.
The Titans defense stood tall inside the 10 to seal a win in overtime.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Kick returns, runbacks, Hail Marys and fourth downs in overtime.

The early-season thriller between the Tennessee Titans and Detroit Lions had it all. Its status as one of the wackiest games of 2012 makes it the perfect entry to describe the Advanced Stat of the Week.

Win Probability and its player-driven cousin Win Probability Added (WPA) are stats advanced by Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats. Win Probability calculates the likelihood that a team will win the game before each and every play. WPA adds up the impact that an individual player has on those odds.

For instance, a team with a 40-point lead with 45 seconds to play has a Win Probability of 100 percent. Win Probability is a stat that explains what happened after the fact. Swings in Win Probability illustrate which plays had the most impact on a game.

These plays can be charted to produce a graphical representation of the swings of NFL games. For games with twists and turns, these charts can be dynamic.

Few charts in the NFL in 2012 feature swings as wild as those in the Lions-Titans game.

The Titans dominated early, and six minutes into the third quarter, they actually had a 93 percent chance to win the game.

That margin slowly eroded as the Lions came storming back to take a 27-20 lead with less than seven minutes to play. At that point, they were 85 percent favorites.

The Titans responded by tying the game on the ensuing kickoff as Darius Reynaud took it 105 yards for a score.

Tennessee ripped off two more scores in the final 3:30 of regulation as Nate Washington had a 71-yard catch and Alterraun Verner ripped off a 72-yard fumble recovery return to give the Titans a 41-27 advantage with 1:32 to play.

The average team wins the game with two-touchdown lead and 92 seconds left 99 percent of the time.

The 2012 Titans were not your average team.

They surrendered two scores in the final minute, including a 46-yard desperation heave by Shaun Hill of all people.

Ninety-nine percent became 50 percent in a flash.

The Titans won the overtime toss and drove inside the Detroit 20, again setting up a 98 percent chance of winning the game. Once they picked up the field goal in overtime, their Win Probability actually dropped below 50 percent again.

Detroit then marched inside the Titans' 20 and actually had a 98 percent chance to win the game themselves.

On 4th-and-1 from the 7-yard line, the Lions tried to sneak for the first down, but Hill's awkward run was snuffed out and the Titans secured what had been both a probable and improbable victory at the same time.

Win Probability is fun to watch in a game with this many big plays and twists and turns because it illustrates just how rare the long scores were. With so many long touchdowns in one contest, the probability calculator just starts smoking before cowering in the corner begging for a merciful death that refused to come.

From a player standpoint, Jake Locker wound up with a WPA score of 0.99 for the game. That means that all his positive and negative plays added nearly a full point toward the Lions' likelihood of winning.

However, despite his terrific day (378 yards, two touchdowns, no picks), the Titans could still have easily lost the game if Hill had picked up that final first down.

Once again, this shows why it's such a bad idea to judge quarterbacks by wins and losses. Locker had done nearly everything right that day, but his defense nearly gave away a sure victory.