Week 12, Raiders at Titans
4th-and-8, 11:56 remaining in 4th quarter, Down by 3
The Titans punted on a 4th-and-8 on their 29. The NYT 4th Down bot would have done the same thing, although going for it would have been fine, too.
If you disagree

I lean slightly towards punting, but I don’t have strong feelings here – my numbers tell me that either punting or going for it could be the best play. Specifically, going for it would be the right call if you think the Titans’ chances of converting on fourth down are greater than 37 percent. (Based on my analysis, I’d give the Titans a 35 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 27% 27% -
Go for it4th and 8, own 29 35% 27% 27% -
Field goal tryA really, really long kick <1% 27% 19% –8%
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-8 on own 29
Down by 3 with 11:56 remaining in the 4th quarter
What coaches usually do
Punt >99% of the time
Go for it -
Field goal try -
Based on about 2,601 fourth downs in similar situations since 2001.
What happened

Brett Kern punts for 46 yards to Oak25. Brett Kern punts for 46 yards to Oak25.

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!