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The Worst Play Call in Super Bowl History


This article discusses the controversial final play call made by Seattle Seahawk’s coach Pete Carroll in the 2015 Super Bowl game, that lead to a Super Bowl victory for the Patriots.  With less than five minutes less in the game, the Seahawks were losing to the Patriots by 4 points.  The Seahawks got themselves within one yard of the end zone, with 3 downs to go.  This is when Carroll made the call to do a passing play, rather than run the football, which led to an interception and ultimately losing the Super Bowl.  This is the call that has been so ridiculed by players, commentators, fans and viewers alike.  However, in this article the author uses the concepts and explanations of game theory to analyze and explain why perhaps this was not actually a poor call, but rather just an unlucky outcome.

At its most simple, game theory is a way of analyzing the optimal strategies for players to use in a game based on the different payoffs associated with these strategies.  In football, this can be generalized to the decision between a passing play and a running play.  This is the most general form of the decision that Carroll made in the final minutes of that Super Bowl game.  The writer looks at stats and records of the Seahawks running gain and success rate compared to that of their passing.  As well as looking at both of these as compared to the Patriots defense against these different strategies.  The stats reveal that the Seahawks have a very high success rate for running the football, especially for short distances, for instance less than one yard.  It also revealed that the Patriots have a very weak defense against this type of offense.  However, game theory tells us that since that is there most successful strategy, they would be most likely to choose this and therefore the Patriots are expecting to defend against this offensive strategy.  Through this analysis, and even more in depth analyzing of the situation, the author of the article argues that using a passing play in this situation was actually a smart decision, that just had an unfortunate and unpredictable outcome.


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September 2019