Week 1, Bears at Texans
4th-and-12, 11:09 remaining in 3rd quarter, Up by 1
The Bears punted on a 4th-and-12 on their 23. The NYT 4th Down Bot is totally on board.
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 Bears’ chances of converting on fourth down are greater than 40 percent. But based on my analysis, I’d give the Bears only a 24 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 38% 38% -
Go for it4th and 12, own 23 24% 38% 34% –4%
Field goal tryA really, really long kick <1% 38% 28% –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 23
Up by 1 with 11:09 remaining in the 3rd quarter
What coaches usually do
Punt >99% of the time
Go for it -
Field goal try -
Based on about 2,601 fourth downs in similar situations since 2001.
What happened

Patrick O'Donnell punts for 46 yards to Hou31. Patrick O'Donnell punts for 46 yards to Hou31.

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!