Week 12, Panthers at Cowboys
4th-and-3, 1:26 remaining in 1st quarter, Down by 10
The Cowboys attempted a field goal on a 4th-and-3 on the Panthers’ 3. The NYT 4th Down Bot would have gone for it.
If you disagree

The coach’s decision to attempt a field goal is the right call if you think the Cowboys’ chances of converting on fourth down are less than 14 percent. But based on my analysis, I’d give the Cowboys a 42 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
Go for it4th and 3, opp. 3 42% 35% 36% +1%
Field goal try20 yard kick (est.) >99% 35% 34% –1%
Punt 35% 28% –7%
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-3 on opp. 3
Down by 10 with 1:26 remaining in the 1st quarter
How important was this call?

If the coach had gone for it instead of attempting a field goal, I estimate the Cowboys’ chances of winning would be about 36 percent instead of 34 percent.

What coaches usually do
Go for it 51% of the time
Field goal try 49% of the time
Punt -
Based on about 1,045 fourth downs in similar situations since 2001.
What happened

Dan Bailey 21 yard field goal attempt is GOOD. Dan Bailey 21 yard field goal attempt is GOOD.

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!