Week 16, Panthers at Falcons
4th-and-5, 1:53 remaining in 4th quarter, Down by 4
The Panthers went for it on a 4th-and-5 on their 37. The NYT 4th Down Bot stands with the coach.
If you disagree

The coach and I agree that going for it is the thing to do here, but you may be thinking it makes sense to punt. That would be the right call if you think the Panthers’ chances of converting on fourth down are less than 21 percent. But based on my analysis, I’d give the Panthers a 46 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
Go for it4th and 5, own 37 46% 18% 24% +6%
Punt 18% 18% -
Field goal tryA really, really long kick <1% 18% 13% –5%
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-5 on own 37
Down by 4 with 1:53 remaining in the 4th quarter
What coaches usually do

Based on about 1,666 fourth downs in similar situations since 2001.

What happened

Cam Newton incomplete pass to the left intended for Greg Olsen. Cam Newton incomplete pass to the left intended for Greg Olsen.

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!