Week 16, Cowboys at Bills
4th-and-5, 7:02 remaining in 4th quarter, Down by 3
The Cowboys punted on a 4th-and-5 on the Bills’ 35. It’s close, but the NYT 4th Down Bot would have attempted a field goal.
If you disagree

The coach’s decision to punt is the right call if you think the Cowboys’ chances of making a field goal are less than 30 percent. But based on my analysis of over 13,000 field goal attempts since 2001, I give the average kicker a 58 percent chance to make a kick from this distance in a outdoor stadium.

Here's the full breakdown of my calculations:

Option Chance of converting
Chance of winning
Before play
After play Change
Field goal try52 yard kick (est.) 58% 33% 34% +1%
Go for it4th and 5, opp. 35 41% 33% 33% -
Punt 33% 29% –4%
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 opp. 35
Down by 3 with 7:02 remaining in the 4th quarter
Behind my field goal number
How important was this call?

If the coach had attempted a field goal instead of punting, I estimate the Cowboys’ chances of winning would be about 34 percent instead of 29 percent.

What coaches usually do
Field goal try 64% of the time
Punt 25% of the time
Go for it 11% of the time
Based on about 995 fourth downs in similar situations since 2001.
What happened

Chris Jones punts for 27 yards to Buf8. Chris Jones punts for 27 yards to Buf8.

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!