Week 12, Panthers at Cowboys
4th-and-3, 11:48 remaining in 2nd quarter, Up by 7
The Panthers punted on a 4th-and-3 on the Cowboys’ 38. The NYT 4th Down bot abides, although going for it would have been fine, too.
If you disagree

I lean slightly towards going for it, but I don’t have strong feelings here – my numbers tell me that either going for it or punting could be the best play. Specifically, punting would be the right call if you think the Panthers’ chances of converting on fourth down are less than 44 percent. (Based on my analysis, I’d give the Panthers a 52 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. 38 52% 74% 75% +1%
Punt 74% 75% +1%
Field goal try55 yard kick (est.) 42% 74% 73% –1%
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. 38
Up by 7 with 11:48 remaining in the 2nd quarter
Behind my field goal number
What coaches usually do
Go for it 44% of the time
Field goal try 43% of the time
Punt 12% of the time
Based on about 759 fourth downs in similar situations since 2001.
What happened

Brad Nortman punts for 22 yards to Dal16. Brad Nortman punts for 22 yards to Dal16.

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!