Week 15, Texans at Colts
4th-and-15, 12:58 remaining in 2nd quarter, Down by 7
The Texans punted on a 4th-and-15 on their 25. The NYT 4th Down Bot thinks that’s a great idea.
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 48 percent. But based on my analysis, I’d give the Texans only 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 20% 20% -
Go for it4th and 15, own 25 10% 20% 16% –4%
Field goal tryA really, really long kick <1% 20% 14% –6%
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-15 on own 25
Down by 7 with 12:58 remaining in the 2nd 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

Shane Lechler punts for 64 yards to Ind11. Shane Lechler punts for 64 yards to Ind11.

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!