Explaining The Unexplainable: Tim Tebow And The Broncos Inside The Numbers

By now, you’ve probably heard of this Tim Tebow guy that has quarterbacked the Broncos to seven wins in their last eight games and to the top of the AFC West.  TebowMania began two months ago with a crazy comeback victory in Miami.  At that point, it was a fun little sideshow to the real stories of the NFL season.  But then Tebow kept winning.  And winning.  And winning.  Each victory more unbelievable than the previous one.

Tebow is the most polarizing NFL player in a generation.  Below average for three quarters, brilliant for the fourth.  Equal parts fullback and quarterback.  A herky jerky throwing motion that would offend Bernie Kosar complimented by intangibles unseen by mortal man.  A commitment to sharing his Christian faith accentuated by the otherworldly nature in which Tebow has led the Broncos to victory.

However, the joy of watching the Broncos season unfold has been overshadowed by the Tebow Media.  NFL pundits have pitched themselves in the pro-Tebow or anti-Tebow camps since he was drafted.  The storylines are all too predictable and each one of them is jammed down your throat 24/7.  Of course, Tebow’s performance thus far (awful for 75% of the game and Hall of Fame worthy for the final 25%) has perfectly equipped each side to further entrench themselves.  And everyone, including your aunt whose only exposure to sports is through Dancing With The Stars, has a Tim Tebow joke to share on Twitter.

But for just a moment, let’s remove all the Tebow hyperbole (a nearly impossible task because there is enough Tebow hyperbole to fill the galaxy) and examine the insane nature of this Broncos streak.  Although Tebow has gotten all the attention, it’s what the Broncos have done as a team including Tebow that is truly remarkable.  It is simply the most incredible stretch of victories in recent NFL history.

Even as a man of deep faith myself, I’m still called to look at the numbers to try and explain the unexplainable between the lines.  It’s just not in my personal understanding to view God as deciding who wins and loses football games.  There has to be some way to quantify TebowMania, as divinely inspired as it may seem on the field.  Just how improbable are these seven Broncos wins since Tebow took over the starting role? (And yes, we’re forgetting that Week 8 mulligan against the Lions.)  You won’t believe the numbers.  Here’s the game by game breakdown with the lowest win probabilities for each game thanks to the great Advanced NFL Stats website…

Week 7: Denver 18, Miami 15 F/OT (Lowest 2nd Half win probability: .01, 3:26 remaining 4th Quarter)

The Broncos trailed 15-0 in Miami and punted the ball away with 5:50 remaining in the 4th. Denver took all three of their timeouts after three Miami running plays and got the ball back with 5:23 to go.  Tebow was 4/5 for 41 yards and ran for 13 yards on the first scoring drive.  15-7.

Denver then recovered an onside kick and Tebow went 5/8 on the next scoring drive for 50 yards.  Tebow  completed the comeback by running in a two point conversion to tie the game.  15-15.

In the overtime period, DJ Williams forced and recovered a fumble of Dolphins QB Matt Moore at the Miami 36.  Three runs later and Matt Prater kicked a 52 yard field goal to win.  No sweat, right?  18-15 Broncos.

Pre-Tebow Time: 4/14, 70 yards, 0 TDs

Tebow Time (5:23 4th quarter on): 9/13, 91 yards, 2 TDs

How Did This Happen?!?!

1) Defensive 3 & Out, 2) Touchdown drive, 3) Successful onside kick, 4) Touchdown drive, 5) Two point conversion, 6) OT forced fumble, 7) 52 yard GW FG

Week 9: Denver 38, Oakland 24 (Lowest 2nd Half win probability: .15, :45 remaining 3rd Quarter)

This victory is one of the least dramatic in this improbable streak, but Denver was only staring at a 15% chance of winning nearing the end of the third quarter.  Oakland had the ball, leading 24-17 with mere seconds remaining in the third.  Then, Carson Palmer was intercepted by Chris Harris and Willis McGahee ran in a 60 yard TD on the final play of the quarter.  24-24.

In the fourth quarter it wasn’t Tebow, but rather a combination of the Denver defense, Eddie Royal, and McGahee that sealed the victory.  The Broncos defense forced two three & outs and another interception in the quarter.  Eddie Royal put the Broncos ahead with an 85 yard punt return with 6:12 remaining and McGahee clinched it with a 24 yard run in the final minutes.  Tebow threw ZERO passes during Denver’s 21-0 run to end the game.

Pre-Tebow Time: 10/21, 124 yards, 2 TDs

Tebow Time (4th Quarter): 0/0, 0 yards; 3 rushes, 27 yards

How Did This Happen?!?!

1) INT, 2) 60 yard TD run, 3) 85 yard punt return TD, 4) 24 yard TD run

Week 10: Denver 17, Kansas City 10 (Lowest 2nd Half win probability: .58, 13:44 remaining 4th Quarter)

The one game during this remarkable run where Denver was actually the favorite throughout.  The Broncos never trailed in the game, but it was a 56 yard Tebow to Eric Decker TD pass with just under 7 minutes to play in the 4th quarter that was the decisive blow.

Pre-Tebow Time: 1/7, 13 yards

Tebow Time (4th Quarter): 1/1, 56 yards, TD

How Did This Happen?!?!

The Chiefs firing Todd Haley yesterday and the Broncos running the ball 55 times compared to 8 passes pretty much explains this result.

Week 11: Denver 17, NY Jets 13 (Lowest 2nd Half win probability: .17, 7:38 remaining 4th Quarter)

While the genesis of TebowMania was born in Miami, it reached the mainstream on a Thursday night in Denver.  Facing a fierce Jets defense, the Broncos were locked in another defensive struggle.  Heading into the 4th Quarter, Denver had managed 10 points, 7 of which coming on an Andre Goodman pick six.  The offense had only mustered 134 total yards in the first 54 minutes of the game and trailed 13-10.  And then, it was Tebow Time.  The Broncos QB accounted for 92 yards on a 95 yard drive with the signature play a 20 yard Tebow sprint to the endzone.  17-13 Broncos.  W.

Pre-Tebow Time: 6/15, 69 yards; 2 rushes, 11 yards

Tebow Time (5:54 4th Quarter on): 3/5 35 yards; 6 rushes, 57 yards, TD

How Did This Happen?!?!

The Broncos nearly doubled their ENTIRE OFFENSIVE OUTPUT on one game winning drive against the fearsome Jets defense.  

Week 12: Denver 16, San Diego 13 F/OT (Lowest 2nd Half win probability: .18, 4:46 remaining Overtime)

The second overtime win for the Broncos came after another nip and tuck affair with division rival San Diego.  The win brought Denver above .500 for the first time in 2011 and dropped the Chargers to 4-7, so this was a huge swing game for both teams.  The Broncos were trailing 13-10 late in the 4th Quarter until Tebow led a 68 yard drive into the Chargers red zone for the tying FG with a minute and a half to play.  The Broncos defense held and forced overtime.

The OT period was… well… offensively challenged to say the least.  In fact, we were 30 seconds away from a tie!  Denver had 2 failed drives to start the OT period and the Chargers drove to the Broncos 35.  For some reason, Norv Turner was content to leave the ball there as three running plays gained 0 yards.  Nick Novak missed a 53 yarder to win for San Diego.  Tebow and McGahee ran for 40 yards in 3 plays to give Prater a chip shot 37 yard FG to win.

Pre-Tebow Time: 6/12, 71 yards, 1 TD

Tebow Time (5:27 4th Quarter on): 3/6, 72 yards

How Did This Happen?!?!

1) Tying FG drive, 2) Defensive hold under two minutes to force OT, 3) Missed SD FG, 4) 37 yard FG to win

Week 13: Denver 35, Minnesota 32 (Lowest 2nd Half win probability: .14, 9:53 remaining 4th Quarter)

Tebow’s best all-around game came in Minnesota… against the 2-9 Vikings.  He was an efficient 10/15 for 202 yards and 2 TDs through the air, while only running 4 times for 13 yards.  In spite of Denver’s offensive success though, they were in an uncharacteristic shootout with the Vikes, down 29-21 with just under 10 minutes to play in the 4th Quarter after a long Percy Harvin TD.  

Denver responded with a 2 play 66 yard drive and Tebow rushed for a successful two point conversion (ala Miami) to tie the game at 29.  The teams traded field goals, but Minnesota had the ball in Christian Ponder’s hands with a chance to win and 1:33 on the clock.  Inexplicably, Ponder threw an interception to Andre Goodman deep in his own territory.  Denver was able to run out the clock before a 23 yard game winning field goal from Prater, his second in as many games.

Tebow Time (all day): 10/15, 202 yards, 2 TDs

How Did This Happen?!?!

On a day when the Broncos defense was consistently burned, Denver was gifted a road victory by Ponder’s interception on the first play of Minnesota’s final drive.  Tebow and the Denver offense scored enough points to stay in the game until Ponder’s blunder.

Week 14: Denver 13, Chicago 10 F/OT (Lowest 2nd Half win probability: .01, :14 remaining 4th Quarter)

The most recent Broncos victory was by far the most incredible.  The Bears defense crushed Denver’s offense all game long and it looked like it would take a miracle for the Broncos to even register points, let alone win the game.  Tebow was 3/17 passing entering the 4th Quarter and the Broncos were still down 10-0 with 4:34 remaining. 

Then, for reasons only known to Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli, the Bears started to give Broncos receivers plenty of room.  Tebow went 7/7 on Denver’s first scoring drive that went 63 yards.  10-7 Bears.  With no timeouts remaining, Denver again had to try for an onside kick at the two minute warning, but this time it didn’t come off.

And then the Broncos were given yet another early Christmas present.  Marion Barber, who had been great throughout the game, unbelievably ran out of bounds on 2nd down.  Why, Marion!!  Instead of getting the ball back with 10-15 seconds, Denver had 53 seconds to drive for a tying field goal.  It was the mental gaffe of the NFL season and it gave the Broncos and Tebow a second chance.  Tebow drove 39 yards to the Chicago 41 and Matt Prater, bored with merely kicking chip shots to win and tie games, made a 59 yard FG to send the game into OT (with room to spare by the way).

But Marion Barber, obviously in a giving mood this holiday season, wasn’t done yet.  As Barber was running into field goal range for Chicago at the Denver 33, he was stripped by Wesley Woodyard in the most famous Mile High fumble since Earnest Byner.  The Broncos were probably already in FG range at that point, but they made it easy on Prater, who only needed a 51 yard game winner for Denver’s seventh win in eight games.

Pre-Tebow Time: 8/24, 106 yards, 1 INT

Tebow Time (4:34 4th Quarter on): 13/16, 130 yards, 1 TD

How Did This Happen?!?!

1) Touchdown drive, 2) Barber fails to stay in bounds, 3) 59 yard FG to force OT, 4) Barber fumble, 5) 51 yard FG to win.


It’s incomprehensible to think of how many ways things have gone the way of the Broncos in the last eight weeks.  Luck?  Fate?  Act of God?  Whatever it is, it defies all logic and probability.  Denver has benefitted from nearly every single possible game-ending scenario in football, ironically enough, except for a Hail Mary.  Interceptions, fumble recoveries, 95 yard drives, two point conversions, onside kicks, punt return touchdowns, runners not getting out of bounds, and six game winning or game tying field goals are just a few examples.

But the numbers are even more amazing.  Denver faced less than a 20% chance of winning six times in these seven wins deep in the second half.  They somehow won games facing only a 1% chance of winning twice!  If you multiply the probabilities of each of these games together, you find the total probability of Denver winning all of them.  So what are the odds of seeing what we have these last two months in Denver?  What are the odds of the Broncos coming back to win each of these games from their lowest win probabilities…

3.7 x 10^-8

Or, roughly 1 in 27 million.

1 in 27 million!!!  

That’s the odds of the Broncos winning all seven games from their lowest odds in each particular game situation.  1 in 27 million.  Maybe I should re-think this idea of God’s active role in the success of the Denver Broncos…

Whatever the case may be, enjoy Tim Tebow and these Broncos as a sports fan, because we’ll never see anything like it again.  

About Matt Yoder

Managing Editor of Awful Announcing and award winning sportswriter. Bloguin consigliere. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.