The improbability of Tim Tebow's streak

Tim Tebow’s effect on Denver’s six-game win streak is debatable and incalculable, but the sheer improbability of the Broncos’ tear with Tebow is not.

Tim TebowTebowIn each of its last four games, Denver has come back to win after trailing in the fourth quarter. The only other NFL team ever to do that is the 2009 version of the Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts (h/t Elias Sports Bureau). Throw in tight road wins at division rivals Oakland and Kansas City, and the Broncos have matched their longest win streak since their championship season of 1998.

ESPN Stats & Information’s win probability model, which is based on a decade of NFL play-by-play data, calculated the Broncos’ chances to win at the lowest point in each of those six games. Denver’s nadir was 22.3 percent or less in five of the six victories, and in four of those games, the Broncos’ odds were below 15 percent.

Broncos Win Probability
At Lowest Point of Games in Win Streak

Sunday’s comeback against Chicago was the most improbable of the streak. As the Bears lined up to punt with 1:06 left in the fourth quarter, Denver’s chances of winning were a mere 3.8 percent.

The Broncos’ hopes were at 15 percent as Matt Prater lined up for the game-tying 59-yard field goal with eight seconds left. In overtime, their chances dipped down to 27.8 percent before Marion Barber kindly gave the ball back to Denver.

Multiplying out the Broncos’ lowest chances in each game of the win streak, Denver’s probability to win all six games was 0.0007 percent, approximately one in 137,000. The odds are better that a flipped coin comes up heads 17 consecutive times.

That microscopic number doesn’t even consider Denver’s most unlikely comeback, which came in Tebow’s first start of the season. With 5:50 remaining in Miami, the Dolphins led 15-0 and had 1st-and-10 from their own 33-yard line. At this point, the Broncos’ win probability was only 1.9 percent.

Denver promptly rattled off 18 unanswered points and won the game in overtime, setting in motion the implausible events that culminated (perhaps) with Prater’s 51-yard game-winner yesterday.