3v3 Overtime is Working

By Antonio Papa

This season, the NHL has initiated a rule change to create more overtime goals and fewer shootouts. Now, overtime play will be 3-on-3, instead of 4-on-4. A quick statistical analysis shows us that the new rule has – and will continue to – increase overtime scoring.

Shootouts were added after the 2005-06 lockout as an alternative to ties in the regular season, but they have been criticized as essentially flipping a coin to decide the winner. 3-on-3 play, in contrast, gives stronger teams an increased chance of scoring goals. In the early 1980s, the Edmonton Oilers even told their defenders to get into mutual roughing penalties on purpose so that the game would become 4-on-4 or 3-on-3. Then, Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri and Mark Messier would take over on the open ice. This was effective because players with superior skating ability gain an upper hand in 4-on-4 and 3-on-3 situations, resulting in more goals scored.

The NHL instituted the “Gretzky rule” in 1985 as a direct response to these shenanigans. The “Gretzky Rule” created the concept of coincidental minor penalties and allowed full strength play for offsetting penalties. A few years later, the NHL reversed the change in an attempt to reclaim some of that high-scoring open play. Expect this year’s 3-on-3 overtime to benefit top-heavy teams, like the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are sure to take advantage of the situation with skaters like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.

Over the past eight seasons, 43% of overtime games had a goal and the other 57% needed a shootout (2,227 games). In this preseason’s overtime games with the rule change in place, 72% of overtime games had a goal and only 28% needed a shootout (24 games). Even with the small sample size, we can use a T-test (difference of means) to determine whether this change is statistically significant. The standard binomial error is σ = .0105 for the regular season set and σ = .0926 for the preseason set. The result is that we are 99% confident that the new rule decreases the proportion of shootouts in overtime by 40%-58% (about half) and should lead to high-octane teams winning more games in overtime.

[Editor’s Note: The last paragraph was edited post-publication to clarify the statistical test used]

AL Wild Card Live Probability Tracker

By Patrick Harrel

With three days left in the MLB season, there is still a lot to settle. The Astros looked strong as they sat atop the AL West for much of the year, but are now just trying to hold onto the second wild card spot. Meanwhile, the Angels have surged in September, and the Twins have also stayed in the race. With three games left, the Astros are holding on by 1 game over the Twins and Angels, and will look to stay ahead as they play in Arizona this weekend.

But how will the season finish? We will be tracking just that here, using live probabilities from Fangraphs’ win expectancy model. Follow here and see how your team’s chances at the playoffs change as the games go on tonight and into the weekend.

KO With A Side of Marrone to GO

By Dana Fesjian


In the last two weeks of the Buffalo Bills season I have cried, hollered, cheered, pouted, and smiled. The Bills have had such a tumultuous end to 2014 – it is just very emotional. Bottom line, they lost a lot: an owner, a head coach, a quarterback, a game against the 2-12 Raiders, and a chance at a playoff spot.

But there is one thing they haven’t lost: their fans. I am more happy and excited about the Bills than ever before. Seeing their first winning season since I became a die-hard Bills fan is exciting. Considering the challenges the Bills faced as a team this year, this is an unbelievable feat. So here is my year in review.

The Saga Begins

Let’s commence with that tragic July 2nd when I got that Bills app update that Kiko Alonso hurt his knee. My first thought was just “no.” When I found out he tore his ACL, I was speechless. Could you have imagined how powerful the defensive line would have been with both Kiko and the Brandon Spikes?


Then came the disappointing preseason with three straight losses going into the regular season, and I expected another 6-10 season or worse. The next few weeks came as a nice surprise though- two wins with EJ! But the two losses afterwards led them to put KO in. He did well, but we lost Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller to injuries in the process.

The Saga Continues

After the bye week, we had two disappointing losses in games the Bills should have won. And then there came another obstacle they had to go through: Mother Nature. Buffalo got about 8 feet of snow and I got a ScoreCenter update asking me to call a number to come shovel Ralph Wilson Stadium (aka THE best invitation ever). Then the Bills beat the Jets 38-3 as if there had never been a snowstorm in the first place.



CJ returned against Oakland and, with the way Sammy had been playing all season, I was ready for the playoff push to keep going. After that game there was an afternoon of tears. The Bills lost to the Raiders 26-24. They almost made a comeback, but the Oakland defense was just too good that Sunday. Playoff chances were gone, but my hope was definitely not.

The Perks

The main things that kept me devoted to the 2014 season were Sammy Watkins, Dan Carpenter, and the defensive line. The All-Pro duo and the defensive line were stellar this year and Dan Carpenter got a career high 34 field goals and set the Buffalo Bills record. Sammy was just Sammy and set some rookie records all across the board.


I have a lot to be upset about because the Bills didn’t make it into the playoffs, but I am also so happy with this Bills season. The Bills will keep improving even without Doug Marrone and KO because Doug Marrone was not the defensive coordinator and KO could have been better.

I see great things in store for 2015 and we shall see if Rex Ryan does become the new head coach. Boy, will I have a lot of things to say about that.


Shootout for the Ages

By Antonio Papa

How unlikely was the twenty round shootout between the Capitals and the Panthers?

Last Tuesday, the Florida Panthers defeated the Washington Capitals in the longest NHL shootout ever. It was a grueling, twenty-round battle that dwarfed the previous record. The previous record for longest shootout, which only lasted fifteen rounds, took place in 2005 between the New York Rangers and the Capitals.

Just how incredible was the shootout marathon between Washington and Florida?

Shootouts themselves aren’t terribly rare; there have been 1409 since the league instituted them for the 2005-06 season. Between the 2005-06 and 2013-14 seasons 13.3% of games have been decided by shootouts. The majority of those shootouts have been resolved in the first three rounds. If the score is tied after the first three rounds then more rounds are added until one team scores and the other misses.

Here is a table that counts the number of shootouts that reached up to fifteen rounds (the previous record). The number of shootouts drops rapidly as the number of rounds increases, and barely any last more than eight rounds. Again, this data includes all games between the 2005-06 and 2013-14 (previous) season and thus does not include this season’s data.


*Note: A shootout can end after two rounds if one team leads by 2-0 at the end of the second round (leaving no room for a comeback and resulting in an automatic shootout win).

This relationship of the number of shootouts that reach a particular round can be better described graphically. The following graph only shows shootouts that went to at least the fourth round, because the shootout rules change to sudden death after the third round. The y-axis is on a logarithmic scale.

A function of natural log fits the plot quite well. Based on the trend line, the probability that any particular game will end in a shootout lasting twenty or more rounds is 0.00112%. If we extend this relationship, we predict that, with 1230 games in a season, we can expect a shootout like the one on between Florida and Washington to take place about once every seventy-two seasons.


So, how rare was Tuesday’s shootout marathon?

Once in a lifetime.

A Carpenter and His (De)Fense

by: Dana Fesjian

And we are back. After six weeks of emotional ups and downs, the Bills have reached their first eight-win season in ten years, thanks to a Week 15 upset over the Packers. How long ago was that last eight-win season? Well, for starters, Sammy Watkins was 11 years old in 2004. Fred Jackson was earning $200 a week playing indoor football for the Sioux City (Iowa) Bandits. Usher and Outkast topped the Billboard Hot 100.

How did the Bills get here? That would be thanks to Dan Carpenter and the Bills defense. The Bills special teams and defense accounted for all 21 points last week, enough to overcome the hottest team in football. The Packers were working on a five-game winning streak. No other team in the league had even a four-game streak. Of course, KO’s ability to not mess up has helped too. Though KO has only thrown five TD passes over the last six games (since my last article), he has kept the Bills close in every game.

Dan Carpenter

When I think of the Buffalo Bills, I think “field goals.” Unlike the quarterback position, the Bills never went wrong with the choices they made at kicker. It was bittersweet when they let Rian Lindell go two summers ago – after 10 seasons with the Bills – in favor of their sixth round draft pick Dustin Hopkins, who had set the all-time NCAA scoring record for kickers with 466 points at FSU. But a groin injury ended Hopkins’s rookie season before it even began.

In comes the “replacement” Dan Carpenter…Last year, Carpenter made 33 field goals, tied for the most in Bills history. His 91.7% accuracy was second only to Rian Lindell in 2006. This season, Carpenter leads the NFL with 32 field goals and is T-second in the league with 5 field goals of 50+ yards. Last week, he went 4/4 and led the charge against the Packers.

Baccari Rambo Running

The Bills are also lucky to have such a strong defense. Over the past two weeks, they have held Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning to a combined zero touchdowns and four interceptions. They lead the NFL with 49 sacks and are second in the league with 30 turnovers. Go Bills. And they are ranked in the top 10 in just about every other defensive category as well.


In the midst of all of these defensive feats, Sammy‘s 850 receiving yards surpassed the previous Bills rookie mark held by Lee Evans. He’s looking to join only 12 other rookies since the merger to reach the 1,000-yard plateau. All in all, these things were good for the Bills and for my fantasy teams so thanks boys. I just hope that the momentum from this game can carry on into next week’s game against the Raiders. And that all of the teams that need to lose in order for the Bills to get into the playoffs are playing defenses just as good as theirs.

There is No Place Like Home

By Jeffrey Gleason

Nine weeks into the NFL season, no teams remain unbeaten. This could’ve actually been said after eight weeks, after seven weeks, and after six weeks as well. Week 5 was the last time an unbeaten team remained, when both the Cardinals and Bengals were sitting at 3-0.

However, after these same nine weeks, five teams remain unbeaten at home. The Patriots, Broncos, Eagles, Packers, and Cardinals have yet to lose on their own turf.

Home field advantage is a phenomenon that gets a lot of traction in sports. Experts often use it to justify their predictions and betting lines usually reflect the perceived advantage of the home side. However, people often generalize home field advantage with a “one size fits all” approach, acknowledging its presence, but assuming it displays a constant impact across different situations.

With five unbeaten NFL home teams and the recent impetus of a road team finally winning Game 7 of the World Series (the Giants topped the Royals on October 29th to capture their third championship in five years), I was interested in how home field advantage was quantitatively different in different situations. How does it vary across sports? Do both good teams and bad teams experience the same advantage? Is it magnified in the postseason? What about differences in earlier eras? These are the questions I set out to resolve.

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