Did the Falcons really have a 99 percent chance to win the Super Bowl?

# Did the Falcons Really Have a 99 Percent Chance to Win the Super Bowl?

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Feb. 6 2017 5:33 PM

# We Are the 99 Percent

## How close were the Falcons to winning the Super Bowl?

How big was the Patriots’ 25-point comeback against the Falcons? It was by far the biggest ever in a Super Bowl; before Sunday, no team had overcome anything bigger than a 10-point lead. This isn’t just a Super Bowl–based anomaly. In the entire history of the NFL, a team has come back to win just four times after trailing by more than 25 points.

You can see the depths to which the Patriots sunk in this win-probability graph provided by ESPN Stats & Information.

It’s possible to look at that image and think, Wow, ain’t sports grand. We watch all of these games because we can’t know with certainty what’s going to happen. The possibility of witnessing low-probability events helps take my mind off the inevitability of my own death.

It’s also possible to look at that image and think, Those nerds screwed up again. Forget math.

Given that number crunchers got the election and the Super Bowl wrong, the time has come to throw these so-called prognosticators in the ocean and see if they float. But before we do that, I’d like to note that a probability is not a guarantee. The fact that a high-probability event doesn’t end up happening is not evidence that it was really a low-probability event. Or to put it another way, if a model says that something is supposed to happen nearly 100 percent of the time, and it in fact happens 100 percent of the time, you need to tinker with your model.

In this case, it seems weird to mock a calculation that matches our own intuition. We knew in our guts that the Patriots had very little chance to come back from 28-3 down to the Falcons. A win-probability graph attaches a number to that feeling. In the Super Bowl, that number peaked at 99.8 percent—ESPN’s estimated win probability for the Falcons with 6:04 to go in the third quarter.