Week 15, Jets at Cowboys
4th-and-8, 3:49 remaining in 3rd quarter, Up by 1
The Cowboys attempted a field goal on a 4th-and-8 on the Jets’ 19. The NYT 4th Down Bot stands with the coach.
If you disagree

The coach and I agree that attempting a field goal 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 Cowboys’ chances of converting on fourth down are at least 55 percent. But based on my analysis, I’d give the Cowboys only a 29 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 try36 yard kick (est.) 93% 59% 59% -
Go for it4th and 8, opp. 19 29% 59% 53% –6%
Punt 59% 49% –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-8 on opp. 19
Up by 1 with 3:49 remaining in the 3rd quarter
Behind my field goal number
What coaches usually do
Field goal try >99% of the time
Go for it -
Punt -
Based on about 768 fourth downs in similar situations since 2001.
What happened

Dan Bailey 38 yard field goal attempt is GOOD.

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!