Week 12, Chargers at Jaguars
4th-and-7, 11:04 remaining in 4th quarter, Down by 12
The Jaguars went for it on a 4th-and-7 on the Chargers’ 21. It’s close, but the NYT 4th Down Bot would have attempted a field goal.
If you disagree

The coach’s decision to go for it is the right call if you think the Jaguars’ chances of converting on fourth down are at least 55 percent. But based on my analysis, I’d give the Jaguars only 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
Field goal try38 yard kick (est.) 87% 8% 8% -
Go for it4th and 7, opp. 21 35% 8% 7% –1%
Punt 8% 5% –3%
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-7 on opp. 21
Down by 12 with 11:04 remaining in the 4th quarter
Behind my field goal number
How important was this call?

If the coach had attempted a field goal instead of going for it, I estimate the Jaguars’ chances of winning would be about 8 percent instead of 7 percent.

What coaches usually do
Field goal try 50% of the time
Go for it 36% of the time
Punt 15% of the time
Based on about 889 fourth downs in similar situations since 2001.
What happened

Blake Bortles pass to the left to Julius Thomas for 21 yards for a TOUCHDOWN. Blake Bortles pass to the left to Julius Thomas for 21 yards for a TOUCHDOWN.

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!