Week 4 of the 2017 NFL season is in the books (save for Monday Night Football) and there were several big upsets and an unexpected blowout. We look again at some of the critical coaching decisions from Sunday and how they impacted their games. As always, in each instance, the recommendation of the Edj model is supported with highest confidence after more than one million simulations.

Clock: 2:00 in the 4th Quarter
Score: 32-30 (Rams)
Timeouts: 0 (Cowboys)
Ball position: 4th & 5 on the Dallas 15-yard line
Action: Field Goal attempt 

We run into a similar situation we discussed last week between the Lions and Falcons, where the Rams have a 4th down deep in Dallas territory with the decision to go for it or kick a field goal but this time the Rams are ahead by two. While commentators and fans always talk about the need to “put points on the board” when in the red zone, the Rams were hurt by this philosophy. With the field goal, their Game Winning Chance (GWC) was actually 6 percentage points lower than had they gone for it on 4th down. Even if they went for it and the conversion attempt failed, they would have left Dallas less than two minutes, with no timeouts left, to drive down the field and convert a field goal.

Clock: 3:40 left in the 1st Quarter
Score: 0-3 (Seahawks)
Ball position: 3rd & 5 on the Seattle 6-yard line
Action: Safety 

The Colts pinned the Seahawks at their own 1-yard-line following a punt. On 3rd & 5, Russell Wilson was nearly sacked in the end zone but got off a pass which fell incomplete, resulting in a punting situation for Seattle. Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano challenged the ruling, believing that Wilson’s knee hit the ground before he released the ball. Upon further review, he was correct and the Colts were awarded two points for a safety and the Seahawks must punt to the Colts from their own 20. But should they have challenged the play and taken the safety or should they have forced Seattle to punt and take advantage of the expected good field position? Our model, Zeno says that the Colts made the right call, giving them a 3% GWC increase over the alternative. An average punt from the back of the end zone results in a +43 yard-line starting positon for the receiving team. To justify the non-safety alternative, a free punt from the 20-yard line would need to net more than 60 yards. In reality, the receiving team after a safety begins their drive from the 39-yard line.

Clock: 2:19 left in the 4th Quarter
Score: 14-7 (Lions)
Timeouts: 2 (Vikings) – 3 (Lions)
Ball position: 4th & Goal on the Detroit 14-yard line
Action: Pass 

Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer was faced with a truly critical decision in the final minutes of their game against division foe Detroit. With a 4th & Goal from 14 yards out, down 7, he decided to go for the touchdown and tie the game. Many fans believed that the Vikings should have kicked the field goal and taken the points but this would still leave them down four, needing to hold Detroit’s defense, get the ball back, and drive down to score a touchdown. Our model, Zeno says that by kicking a field goal, the Vikings would have cut their GWC nearly in half as opposed to going for it on 4th down. In the end, the Vikings did get the ball back with just under two minutes to go, but fumbled on their first play and lost the game.