Super Bowl 58 Betting: What Will 49ers & Chiefs Do On 4th Down After Dan Campbell Failed?

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Written By Evan Scrimshaw | Last Updated
Fourth Down

After the NFC Championship Game, lots of attention is on fourth-down failures by the Lions. With Detroit missing two short conversions during that game, the longstanding arguments about analytics on fourth downs have been reignited. As bettors begin to ponder Super Bowl 58 odds on their sports betting apps, whether Kyle Shanahan and Andy Reid go for it on fourth down could be key to determining the winner. Fourth down variance and decision making may prove crucial.

Best Super Bowl 58 Odds & What They Mean

Recent Fourth Down History

Whenever a game ends closely with high-leverage fourth-down decisions, there’s always an eagerness to ignore the broader history. The Lions probably wouldn’t have been in the NFC Championship Game if they “took the points” and not converted a 4th & goal from the two-yard line against the Rams. But more importantly, we have the recent record of high-leverage playoff games, and we can see that often, going with the fourth-down analytics has worked.

Eagles In Super Bowl LVII

In the Super Bowl last year, Philadelphia’s willingness to go for a 4th & 5 from the KC 45 directly led to a touchdown. Yes, Philadelphia lost, but without those points, the controversial flag at the end would have been irrelevant.

Rams in Super Bowl LVI

The Rams going for a 4th & 1 from their own 30 with 5:00 left in the game kept the drive alive that led to the game-winning touchdown.

While pondering how easy it would have been for Sean McVay to punt that away, think about some of the counterfactuals.

Remember the 2020 NFC Championship game, when the Packers kicked the FG down 8? Green Bay never got the ball back. Against the Rams, the Niners punted away the ball from Rams territory on 4th & 3 or closer twice in the NFC title game two years ago. They lost by 3.

Chiefs In Super Bowl LIV

The last time the Chiefs and Niners played in Super Bowl 54 at the end of the 2019 season, the Chiefs managed to convert a fourth down en route to their first touchdown.

Dan Campbell’s 4th Down Decisions

It’s also worth remembering that this is sports, and players have to make the plays or not. On the first dropped fourth down by the Lions, Josh Reynolds had the ball. It’s easy to blame the coach for being too aggressive, but it’s absurd. The Lions orchestrated the exact look they got to beat the Packers in Week 18 last year.

This time, they dropped it.

Had the Niners lost this game, would this level of criticism be on Kyle Shanahan for trusting rookie kicker Jake Moody on San Fran’s opening drive? He missed a 48-yard field goal. Of course not, even though they’re analogous situations.

In both cases, a player failed to execute properly. Only one ends up being a referendum on coaching, analytics, and the very concept of math playing a role in sports.

4th Down: Kyle Shanahan vs. Andy Reid

Per Ben Baldwin’s modeling, there’s actually a considerable decision-making gap in this Super Bowl.

The Niners were second this regular season in going for it when Baldwin’s fourth-down model pointed that way, going for it four of five times, or 80%.

The Chiefs, on the other hand, were 22nd, going for it less than 50% of the time on 20 opportunities where the model was clearly in favor of aggression. The most notable example of this was against the Eagles on Monday Night Football, when Andy Reid punted from the Eagles 39, never to see them get that close again.

The Niners aren’t perfect at this, but Shanahan less routinely throws away win expectancy as the Chiefs do.

Reid was more aggressive in the AFC Championship Game, going for two high-leverage fourth downs in the first half against the Ravens. Betting on him to retain that aggression is a risk despite the fact that he has Patrick Mahomes.

Kyle Shanahan Has Gone Conservative In These Playoffs

Concerningly for Niners fans and/or bettors is Shanahan’s playoffs. Baldwin’s model thought they were in a clear Go Zone on the Field Goal to start the third quarter of the NFC Championship Game.

The Niners also punted in what the model considered a clear Go in the fourth quarter against the Packers.

Combined with those two punts against the Rams two years ago, Shanahan has shown some tendency to go conservative in the playoffs.

Conclusions

When it comes to fourth-down coaching, there does appear to be a clear advantage on one side of the ball. Making the analytically correct calls doesn’t guarantee success. No serious advocate for the types of analytical advances we’ve seen in recent years would say so.

But to the extent that these fourth-down decisions may matter, the Chiefs have a coach with a spotty track record. The 49ers have shown some playoff time and some troubling traits, but overall, Andy Reid is a far more concerning decision-maker over the long term. Whether that will come back to matter in the Super Bowl is unclear.

What is clear is that the fourth-down decision debate isn’t over. Remembering when aggression paid off and when conservatism failed will be key moving forward. And those Monday Morning Quarterbacking the decisions of Dan Campbell should be reminded hindsight is always 20-20.

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