Week 8, Seahawks at Cowboys
4th-and-1, 4:26 remaining in 1st quarter, Down by 3
The Cowboys went for it on a 4th-and-1 on the Seahawks’ 45. The NYT 4th Down Bot would have punted.
If you disagree

The coach’s decision to go for it is the right call if you think the Cowboys’ chances of converting on fourth down are greater than 88 percent. But based on my analysis, I’d give the Cowboys only a 67 percent chance to get a first down here.

Here's the full breakdown of my calculations:

Option Chance of converting
Chance of winning
Before play
After play Change
Punt 48% 48% -
Go for it4th and 1, opp. 45 67% 48% 46% –2%
Field goal try62 yard kick (est.) 5% 48% 39% –9%
My decision in context

Along with some circuitry to come up with a win probability for every game situation, all you need to figure out what you should do next is an estimate of how likely you are to make a field goal or convert a first down.

My estimates for these are based on the results of thousands of similar plays, but you may think you're smarter than I am. This chart shows you how changing those estimates would change my recommendation.

What to do on 4th-and-1 on opp. 45
Down by 3 with 4:26 remaining in the 1st quarter
Behind my field goal number
How important was this call?

If the coach had punted instead of going for it, I estimate the Cowboys’ chances of winning would be about 48 percent instead of 46 percent.

What coaches usually do
Punt 85% of the time
Go for it 15% of the time
Field goal try -
Based on about 1,364 fourth downs in similar situations since 2001.
What happened

Darren McFadden rush to the left for 3 yards to the Sea42. Tackled by Cary Williams and K.J. Wright.

Where did these numbers come from?

To estimate a team’s chances of winning, I use a mathematical model that accounts for a whole lot of variables — including the difference in score, the time remaining in the game, and the number of timeouts each team has left. On top of that, I have models for the likelihood that a team makes a field goal and the likelihood that it will convert a first down.

By combining all of this information, I can come up with the best decision a team can make, according to math.

If you want even more details about the numbers behind my decisions, my full model is available on GitHub. Help make me better!