Week 12, Saints at Texans
4th-and-20, 9:37 remaining in 3rd quarter, Down by 15
The Saints punted on a 4th-and-20 on their 26. 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 Saints’ chances of converting on fourth down are greater than 30 percent. (Based on my analysis, I’d give the Saints a 10 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 4% 4% -
Go for it4th and 20, own 26 10% 4% 3% –1%
Field goal tryA really, really long kick <1% 4% 3% –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-20 on own 26
Down by 15 with 9:37 remaining in the 3rd quarter
What coaches usually do
Punt 97% of the time
Go for it 3% of the time
Field goal try -
Based on about 2,753 fourth downs in similar situations since 2001.
What happened

Thomas Morstead punts for 44 yards to Hou30. Thomas Morstead punts for 44 yards to Hou30.

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!