Week 13, Texans at Bills
4th-and-12, 5:08 remaining in 4th quarter, Tied
The Texans punted on a 4th-and-12 on their 18. The NYT 4th Down Bot was thinking the same thing.
If you disagree

The coach and I agree that punting is the thing to do here, but you may be thinking it makes sense to go for it. That would be the right call if you think the Texans’ chances of converting on fourth down are greater than 37 percent. But based on my analysis, I’d give the Texans only a 23 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 40% 40% -
Go for it4th and 12, own 18 23% 40% 37% –3%
Field goal tryA really, really long kick <1% 40% 30% –10%
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-12 on own 18
Tied with 5:08 remaining in the 4th quarter
What coaches usually do
Punt >99% of the time
Go for it -
Field goal try -
Based on about 1,329 fourth downs in similar situations since 2001.
What happened

Shane Lechler punts for 58 yards to Buf24. Shane Lechler punts for 58 yards to Buf24.

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!