Opportunity costs, Andy Reid gets it, Troy doesn’t

Watching the Packers against the Eagles NFL playoff game I was struck when broadcaster Troy Aikman suggested that with four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and down by 11 points the Eagles should attempt a field goal from the two yard line instead of going for a touchdown.  Aikman’s logic was that the Eagles needed to score twice – values of 3 and 8 though in either order – to send the game into overtime and instead of risking the chance of not getting any points it was better to take the 3 at that moment.

He’s wrong.  In the best situation for the Eagles – and what ended up happening – was that they would have their current possession and one more and need scores in each.  Those possible scores were, 3 + 3*, 3 +8, 8 + 3, 8 + 7.  What nearly happened except for one poorly thrown ball was the final option and the one Aikman neglected.

To think about this in terms of game theory where we value wins as 2, ties as 1 and losses as zero, kicking a field goal on the penultimate possession yields only .5 in value whereas a touchdown that turn gives 1.5.

Described action at the 5:40 mark.

*In the waning moments of a game no team would go for three points when they needed eight but this further proves Aikman’s logical flaw.  If they kicked a field goal from the one yard line any situation where they need to score a touchdown will be equal to or less likely because every distance is further than their previous opportunity.

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2 thoughts on “Opportunity costs, Andy Reid gets it, Troy doesn’t

  1. Mike,
    I had this same argument with my Dad while watching this game. I agreed with Troy and he agreed with you. You did not mention while giving possible outcomes (“3 + 3*, 3 +8, 8 + 3, 8 + 7.”) that not scoring is a very real option there because it is 4th down and have already been stoped 3 times without scoring. If you do not score there, the game is over, if you take the points that are nearly guaranteed in a field goal, you live to fight another series. Obviously it is presonal preference. My dad agreed with me that if it were not so close he would do the same but felt because you are on the one then you have to try. My feelings are that you always take the points and give your self a shot to keep fighting for the win.

    • Aaron, thanks for reading. I think it would come down to the percentages where a 100% chance of the field goal and then 5% change of recovering an onside kick and then scoring a touchdown compared to a 60% chance of scoring a touchdown and 15% of recovering an onside kick and then a field goal. (rough numbers taken from basic google searches). That would make comparing the chances for a win of 5% to 9% – enough to recognize the odds are slim either way.

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