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Changing Times

On December 10th, 1995 the Dallas Cowboys faced the Philadelphia Eagles in a key late season contest that had significant implications on the playoff hopes for both teams.

With the game tied at 17 in the fourth quarter Dallas faced a fourth and one on the Philadelphia 29 yard line. In an unusual move for the time Dallas head coach Barry Switzer decided to go for the first down instead of punting the ball back to Philadelphia. When Dallas running back Emmitt Smith was subsequently stopped for no gain on the ensuing play the ball was turned over to Philadelphia deep in Dallas territory.

Philadelphia would go on to kick what would become the game winning field goal on the subsequent drive.

Barry Switzer was heavily criticized for his move of going for it on fourth down after the game. After the game the consensus around the NFL was that Switzer made a blunder in going for the first down and that such a move in that situation should never be under any sort of consideration.

On November 15th, 2009 the New England Patriots faced the Indianapolis Colts in a crucial mid-season game.

The Patriots, up by six, faced a fourth and two on their own 28 yard line with 2:08 remaining in the game. Instead of punting Patriots coach Bill Belichick made the unusual decision to go for the first down. However they failed to convert and gave the ball back to the Colts. The Colts would go on to score the game winning touchdown on the subsequent possession.

Much like Switzer 14 years prior Belichick was heavily criticized for his move of going for it deep in his opponent’s territory late in the game.

Those who follow the NFL today know that going for it on fourth down is much more common place than it was just say as little as ten to fifteen years ago. The reason is analytics. Coaches today look at probabilities and are more willing to go for it, even if deep in an opponent’s territory, if the odds favor them getting the first down. And this also includes key end of game situations where in the past punting was thought to be the only viable option on the table.

Here is a recent example of how coaches today use analytics in making critical end of game decisions.

On October 9th, 2022 the Los Angeles Chargers faced the Cleveland Browns.

The Chargers led by two points with just over a minute remaining in the game and faced a fourth and two scenario from their own 45 yard line. The Browns had exhausted all their timeouts. Chargers coach Brandon Staley decided to go for the first down to seal the win. However they did not convert. The Browns were given an excellent opportunity to win but were unable to convert on a game winning field goal attempt.

This type of decision by Staley, even in a win, would have been heavily dissected and criticized in the past. But in today’s NFL climate of using advanced analytics most NFL commentators applauded his aggressiveness as the “mathematically” correct move.

In planning our finances many will go with a strategy they heard of or were informed about sometime in the past but fail to adjust their portfolios over time. While that may have worked ten or twenty years ago we really should be asking the question of does that strategy still work today?

For example many people were led down the road of building their investing portfolios with a 60/40 mix of stocks and bonds. But in today’s investing climate there are many more alternatives and other ways to diversify that may be more appropriate than the old 60/40 portfolio split. This is something a financial advisor can review with each individual on a case by case basis.

One creative way to get more diversified is to look at alternative asset classes. Some large endowment funds use such asset classes as a way to provide a little less risk while still maintain equal return.

Another way to get creative is to spread out more of your traditional mutual fund holdings into sector specific funds. For example many people have traditional large cap mutual funds in their portfolio. Now may be a good time to take some of that exposure and sprinkle that into more sector specific holdings like energy or natural resources.

Whether or not you speak with a financial advisor regularly it is good to review your personal financial situation on an ongoing basis. And the question that needs to be posed is whether or not the strategy you are currently pursuing is still relevant? It might be appropriate to change your thinking and your portfolio much like today’s NFL coaches have changed their thinking.

Barry Switzer and Bill Belichick may have been ahead of their times in their thinking even if the immediate results did not go as hoped. Times change and sometimes old ways of thinking are not as relevant as they once were. This is true in both football and in investing. And if that portfolio you created 20 years ago has not been tweaked you may be missing opportunities that may not have been considered when it was initially set up.