A Markov Model of Football: Using Stochastic Processes to Model a Football Drive

Goldner, Keith
March 2012
Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports;Mar2012, Vol. 8 Issue 1, p0
Academic Journal
A team is backed into a 4th-and-26 from their own 25, down 3 points. What are the odds that drive ends in a field goal? In the 2003 playoffs, Donovan McNabb and the Eagles scoffed at such a probability as they converted and ultimately kicked a field goal to send the game into overtime. This study creates a mathematical model of a football drive that can calculate such probabilities, labeling down, distance, and yard line into states in an absorbing Markov chain. The Markov model provides a basic framework for evaluating play in football. With all the details of the model—absorption probabilities, expected time until absorption, expected points—we gain a much greater situational understanding for in-game analysis.


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