The analytics nerds won Saturday… well, kind of.
It came during the afternoon game of the league’s NFL Super Wild Card Weekend as the No. 2 Buffalo Bills defeated the No. 7 Indianapolis Colts 27-24 to advance in the AFC playoffs.
Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich made a fourth-quarter analytics-driven decision many football fans didn’t agree with. There was probably more than one decision from Reich that was met by skepticism, but his two-point attempt was the most notable.
Reich made the call to go for a two-point conversion while trailing the Bills 24-16 with 11:32 remaining. The Bills had committed an infraction on the Colts’ extra-point attempt, which meant the ball was advanced to the Buffalo 1 yard line. It undoubtedly impacted Reich’s decision. The Colts, though, failed on a two-point attempt — a rush by running back Jonathan Taylor — and kicked the ball back to Buffalo facing an eight-point deficit.
Approximately 20 minutes later, however, the Colts scored their second touchdown of the fourth quarter. It cut their deficit to 27-22 and made it a no brainer to go for a two-point conversion. Indianapolis quarterback Philip Rivers found tight end Jack Doyle for both the touchdown and successful two-point attempt, which cut the Colts deficit to 27-24 with six minutes remaining. Essentially, Indianapolis was in the same position it would have been if it kicked an extra point in both circumstances.
It prompted those in the analytics crowd to take a victory lap.
More than anything, though, it was a case of no harm, no foul.
But another one of Reich’s questionable decisions — going for a fourth-and-goal from the Buffalo 4 yard line — wasn’t exactly the same. The play, you may remember, came in the first half with the Colts leading 10-7. Indianapolis would’ve taken a 13-7 lead with the field goal, but opted for the opportunity to put more points on the board.
That, depending on who you ask, may have been considered an analytics decision, too. That one, however, was one of the biggest reasons why the Colts were knocked out of the postseason.