Week 12, Saints at Texans
4th-and-16, 2:24 remaining in 3rd quarter, Up by 18
The Texans punted on a 4th-and-16 on the Saints’ 43. The NYT 4th Down bot agrees wholeheartedly, 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 Texans’ chances of converting on fourth down are greater than 41 percent. (Based on my analysis, I’d give the Texans 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 97% 97% -
Go for it4th and 16, opp. 43 10% 97% 96% –1%
Field goal try60 yard kick (est.) 8% 97% 96% –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-16 on opp. 43
Up by 18 with 2:24 remaining in the 3rd quarter
Behind my field goal number
What coaches usually do
Punt >99% of the time
Go for it -
Field goal try -
Based on about 1,525 fourth downs in similar situations since 2001.
What happened

Shane Lechler punts for 43 yards to NO0. Shane Lechler punts for 43 yards to NO0.

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!