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Win probability notes: Buffalo Bills vs. Houston Texans

The anticipation for Wild Card weekend was at a boiling point for Buffalo Bills fans this past Saturday. For the first time in 20 years the Buffalo had clinched a playoff spot before Week 17 and despite many believing this was a game in the Bills’ favor, the Houston Texans came into the game with a 56.04% chance of winning.

The Bills would soon take control of the game and at one point hold a 90% chance of winning. However as most of us know by now this would not be the case for long and Buffalo would lose on a heartbreaking overtime field goal by Houston kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn. Let’s take a look at the emotional roller coaster that was Wild Card weekend.

The Bills would take over the win probability on the first drive after a 16-yard pass from John Brown to Josh Allen. The end-around pass would put the Bills in the driver’s seat and give Buffalo a +6.16% swing in win probability. The score would put Buffalo up early and they would hold the lead until late into the second half.

Late in the third the Bills held their most convincing win probability of the game (and the year) before the fourth quarter. While the numbers suggest that this was a monumental collapse, contextually it didn't feel like it. The fourth quarter and overtime suggests what many of us knew was coming—a slugfest ending.

After having only a 10% chance of winning with six minutes left in the third, the Texans would take a commanding 86.96% chance of winning. The Bills’ 13.04% chance of winning would be dependent on a fourth-down stop late in the fourth. The fourth-down stop would swing Buffalo 10.04% and send the Bills on a drive that would tie the game on a 47-yard Stephen Hauschka field goal.

In overtime after yet another defensive stop by the Bills’ defense, Josh Allen and company would go on a ten-play, 13-yard drive that would end in controversy. In field-goal range, on 3rd and 9, Cody Ford would be called for an illegal blind-side block. This play would knock the Bills out of field goal range and knock them -13.32% in the win probability. On the ensuing drive, Deshaun Watson did his best Randall Cunningham impression on 2nd and 6 ,breaking what seemed like a can’t-miss sack from Siran Neal and Matt Milano and completing a pass to former Bills running back Taiwan Jones for 34 yards, setting up the game-winning field goal.

The chart illustrates what many of us already know—the Texans clawed their way back into the game and even then, it was still a game many fans and viewers will remember as one of the better Wild Card games we’ve seen in the past few years. While it wasn’t the outcome any of us wanted, when we look back on this season and ahead to the next one, you can’t help but be optimistic due to the progress the Bills made in 2019.