Week 3, Browns at Dolphins
4th-and-17, 7:30 remaining in 3rd quarter, Up by 3
The Browns attempted a field goal on a 4th-and-17 on the Dolphins’ 24. The NYT 4th Down Bot approves.
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 Browns’ chances of converting on fourth down are at least 48 percent. But based on my analysis, I’d give the Browns 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
Field goal try41 yard kick (est.) 82% 52% 55% +3%
Go for it4th and 17, opp. 24 10% 52% 46% –6%
Punt 52% 45% –7%
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-17 on opp. 24
Up by 3 with 7:30 remaining in the 3rd quarter
Behind my field goal number
What coaches usually do
Field goal try 69% of the time
Punt 28% of the time
Go for it 3% of the time
Based on about 1,385 fourth downs in similar situations since 2001.
What happened

45 yard field goal attempt by Cody Parkey is NO GOOD. 45 yard field goal attempt by Cody Parkey is NO 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!