Week 3 of the NFL had more than its fair share of drama and interesting decisions.  At EdjSports, we are particularly interested in critical coaching decisions and how those impact the outcome of games. Here are three such situations that occurred this past weekend.  In each instance, the recommendation of our model, Zeno is supported with highest confidence after more than one million simulations.

Clock: 1:28 in the 3rd Quarter
Timeouts: 3
Score: 20-23 (Falcons)
Ball Position: 4th and 1 on the Falcons 12-yard line
Action:  Field Goal Attempt 

This is the classic, customary choice to take the “guaranteed” points and bask in the temporary beauty of a tie score, as we’ve become accustomed to experiencing.  The goal is to win the game and a first down attempt does that nearly 8% more often.  In fact, this decision was one of six high confidence errors by the Lions that resulted in a total Game Winning Chance (GWC) cost of nearly 25%.  Three more games with this type of GWC expense will cost the Lions one entire game over the course of the season.

Clock:  2:53 in the 4th Quarter
Score: 21-31 (Colts)
Timeouts: 0
Ball Position:  4th and 10 on the Colts 39-yard line
Action: Pass Attempt 

We often see Zeno favor more aggressive actions on critical 4th downs but this is an exception.  While the winning prospects for the Browns are slim regardless of their course of action, a field goal results in approximately double the expected wins (0.7% to 1.4%).

Clock: 2:36 in the 2nd Quarter
Timeouts: 2
Score: 7-0 (Eagles)
Ball Position: 4th and 8 on the Giants 43-yard line
Action: Pass Attempt 

Doug Pederson made a very controversial choice late in the second quarter and we concur.  It may seem counter-intuitive to attempt a pass here, but on average an NFL offense will convert this first down more than 1/3 of the time.  This fact combined with the expected net yardage of a successful punt (historically, most often downed at the 14-yard line) make this a close but reasonable call.  Also, unconventional choices can sometimes have the benefit of forcing the opponent to react differently – for instance, anticipating a long count offside attempt.  While the first down attempt will fail twice as often as it succeeds (as it did here), on average it will boost the Eagle’s GWC.