The Dallas Cowboys’ thrilling Week 2 victory over the Atlanta Falcons proved one thing: win probability is a useless stat.
Advanced metrics and analytics have rightfully taken over sports in recent years. But as valuable as some statistics are, others borderline on the insane and pointless.
Football fans, especially those who watch NFL RedZone, have seen plenty of the win probability stat in recent weeks. The league may want to ditch that metric for a bit after what the Cowboys did to Atlanta.
Win probability is exactly what it sounds like
Most advanced statistics are named for exactly what they are.
Wins Above Replacement in baseball demonstrates how valuable a player is when compared to a replacement player a team would sign off the street. Football has a similar stat, Value Over Replacement Players.
Win probability is exactly what it sounds like. The metric uses historical events and games in similar situations to predict how likely a team is to win.
Consider this example. The Patriots lead the New York Jets 14-3 with 5:25 left in the fourth quarter and New England has the ball. Statisticians will use historical data to gauge how likely the Patriots’ win probability is.
Given the Jets’ luck, of course, the Patriots likely had a 100% win probability in that example.
Enter the Dallas Cowboys, a team that faced, essentially, a 100% loss probability and still won.
Dallas had a thrilling comeback win over Atlanta
After a Week 1 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, the Dallas Cowboys returned home in hopes of defeating the Atlanta Falcons.
Things didn’t start out great for the Cowboys, who trailed 20-0 when the first quarter ended. Dallas trailed 29-10 at halftime in a game the Cowboys desperately needed to win.
Then came one of the greatest comebacks in Cowboys history. Trailing 39-30 with less than three minutes left, Dallas pulled within 39-37 with 1:49 left.
Dallas recovered the onside kick and won on Greg Zuerlein’s 46-yard field goal when time expired. The Cowboys tied an unbreakable record by winning a game where they technically never led at any point.
Dallas proved how useless win probability is
The Dallas Cowboys glanced at the win probability metric and threw it in the trash.
At the time Dallas kicked the onside kick with less than two minutes remaining, the Cowboys’ win probability stood at 0.05%. When Dallas recovered the ball at their 46-yard line, the win probability jumped to 89.3%.
On the reverse, Atlanta had a 99.9% win probability when Dallas began their penultimate drive. But if Dallas had that much time left in a two-score game, why was the metric that high?
The only win probability that should matter is when the clock hits 0:00 or a game officially ends. At that point, one team is firmly established as the winner — except in games with ties — and one team is the loser.
Some advanced metrics truly help tell the story of a team or its players. For one day, the Dallas Cowboys proved the win probability mark doesn’t fall under that category.