Can you predict what play will be run in the NFL before the snap?

Interesting… the study authors were able to determine—before the snap— if the next would be a short pass, medium pass, long pass, run, or scamble 40% of the time. 

This study investigated the ability of discriminant analysis to predict the offensive play calling of the 2005 Atlanta Falcons. Data was collected on each of the 988 offensive plays run from scrimmage by the Atlanta Falcons during the 2005 NFL season. Independent variables included game location (home vs. away), down, yards to go, field position, score, offensive formation, opponent’s defensive rank against both the run and the pass, weather and field surface (turf vs. grass). The response variable was categorized into either a short pass (5 yards or less), medium pass (6 to 15 yards), long pass (more than 15 yards), run, or scramble (by Michael Vick).

A linear discriminant function was developed to predict play calling based on the independent variables. Based on a cross validation procedure, the model was able to correctly predict the play called 40.38 percent of the time. While this rate is not high, the model was able to predict each play with greater accuracy than the relative frequency that each play was run. Considering that the Falcons coaches said they only use frequencies, the use of discriminant analysis is an intriguing possibility for NFL coaches.


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