Analytics expert says Jets' late punt an obvious mistake ... and explains why

September, 12, 2017
Sep 12
9:45
AM ET

The math says New York Jets coach Todd Bowles made the wrong call by punting on fourth-and-8.

Don't take my word for it; here's Brian Burke, a senior analytics specialist at ESPN and a nationally-recognized expert:

"It was a mistake for the Jets to punt there," Burke said. "Their win probability [on our model] certainly did not go up based on the decision to punt.

"Their odds were very long either way. Their chances to win based on their options were:

Punt: 1.1 percent.

Go for it: 2.0 percent.

"In absolute terms, a difference of only .9 percent is small," Burke added. "But, however small their overall chance to win, the decision to punt cut it nearly in half."

The Jets had the ball at their 44 with four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, trailing the Buffalo Bills by two scores -- 21-12, the eventual final score. On Monday, Bowles, said, "If we got a little closer, I might have went for it, but fourth-and-8 is a tough pill to swallow right there."

But it wasn't as tough as Bowles suggested, according to Burke.

"We calculated their 'break-even' conversion probability required to make going for it worth the risk was only 14 percent, and the league average conversion rate in similar situations is nearly 32 percent," he said. "This means it was should have been an obvious decision to go for it. No NFL offense, no matter how much they struggle, is that much worse than league average."

Obviously, Bowles didn't have the luxury of reaching out to an expert; he had to make a decision in about 30 seconds. This wasn't a game of Madden; it was real life with real consequences.

"You go by the feel or the pulse for the game and see how well we’re moving the ball or not moving the ball," he said. "You make calculated decisions."

This one didn't work. The Jets probably would've lost anyway -- it was a near certainty -- but it turned out to be the hot-button issue. On this one, the math says he blew it.

Rich Cimini

ESPN Staff Writer

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