How Much Did the No-Call Hurt the New Orleans Saints' Win Probability?
In a 20-20 game, with 1:49 remaining in this weekend's NFC Championship Game, there was a blatant missed pass interference call as Drew Brees targeted Tommylee Lewis deep in the red zone on a crucial third down. And before you say "judgement call," the referees admitted as much. As a result, the New Orleans Saints were forced to kick a field goal, giving the ball back to Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams for the opportunity to tie or take the lead in the final two minutes.
Using our win probability model, we can see just how much that affected the Saints' chances of winning the game and, ultimately, the Super Bowl.
Before the third-down attempt, the Saints had an 84.1% chance to win the game. After the no-call and resulting incompletion, that fell to 83.0%. But what if they had been given the pass interference call? That would result in an automatic first down, and the Rams had only one timeout remaining. The Saints could kneel the ball three straight times and kill the clock down to fewer than 10 seconds before kicking a chip-shot field goal for the win.
That equates to a 98.2% chance to win -- a difference of over 15%.
That is devastating in any game, let alone the conference championship. Coach Sean Payton's squad had a 26.8% chance to win the Super Bowl coming into the game. Before the play, they had a 41.9% chance of winning it all. With a pass interference call there, that would have jumped to 49.0% to win the Lombardi Trophy.
It is important to note, though, that the game was far from over after the no-call, and the Saints were still favored. Goff and company did a great job running the two-minute offense and hitting the game-tying field goal. Payton made a few interesting decisions after the no-call, including calling timeout before the Greg Zuerlein field goal attempt.
After the field goal, there were 15 seconds remaining. The Saints would have had a chance with a touchback to run two plays over the middle of the field to try to get Wil Lutz into field goal range for a shot at the win. Instead, they ran the kickoff out and kneeled down, settling for overtime. In a game where 15% win probability was taken away from your team, every marginal gain you can make is crucial.
Payton certainly didn't help his cause, but he didn't cost his team the win. For the Saints, that opportunity was all but taken away from them when the referees decided to swallow their whistles on what has quickly become one of the worst no-calls in NFL history.