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Win probability vs Fan Experience: Bills v Jets

WP charts a smooth ride that felt a little bumpier for fans

NFL: New York Jets at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Win Probability (WP) is a number that represents a team’s chances of winning. It was originally created by Pro Football Reference (the OGs of advanced statistics) although there are some slightly different versions in use today. WP is determined by a formula that takes into account things such as team strength, current score, time left, field position, possession, and down & distance. Essentially, it creates a chart of how a team’s chances of winning ebb and flow (or peak and plummet) with the results from one play to the next. Each week, the WP of every NFL game are charted by numberFire and ESPN.

Football is back. And not a moment too soon. Along with strategy and gamesmanship of the sport comes the emotional roller coaster of fandom for three hours each weekend.

Also returning to our phone, computer, and TV screens are stats. Stats of every shape and size. Numbers that attempt to analyze, and distill performance into digestible measurements. Among the plethora is Win Probability, which is perhaps most known for the fascinating visual it gives after each game.

Win Probability for the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets in Week 1 ended up looking like this:

The positioning of this graph brought to mind a specific metaphor that jives nicely with the Bills fan experience of watching the Bills and Jets on Sunday. For the most part, the Bills were in control; there was a lot to like and many of the Jets’ successes seemed directly related to missed opportunities by the Bills (i.e. Josh Allen fumbling again).

The game never seemed out of reach or even really at risk of going the Jets’ way sans maybe very early in the game before the Bills had built their lead. So if we imagine the chart above and its smoothness as the strenuousness of your workout on your stationary bike, you’re in for a pretty easy exercise. There’s a hiccup here or there, but it’s basically downhill riding from the start.

That resonates with the emotional experience of watching this game. There was certainly a sense of Jekyll & Hyde with the Bills because of things like Josh Allen’s fumbles (again!) and Tyler Bass’s missed field goals (there’s already an ‘again’? It’s been one game and the rookie kicker already has an ’again’?! [insert facepalm emoji]).

Interestingly enough, the most costly of any of those mistakes according to WP was Allen’s first fumble when the game was scoreless, which gave the Bills a -4% hit. However, once the Bills were up 21, neither of Bass’s misses nor Allen’s second fumble did anything more than -1% according to WP. For the sake of context, the Jets’ first touchdown was a +5% for them and Chris Herndon’s fumble in the fourth was a -6%.

Despite multiple misfires, either because of the Jets and their coaching miscues or the Bills and their handsome expectations for 2020, this game quickly became one-sided both in the determination of the Win Probability formula and in the opinion of most Bills fans—even the anxious and jaded ones.