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Buffalo Bills Back to No. 1 in DVOA

NFL Week 10 – The Buffalo Bills are back on top of the Football Outsiders DVOA ratings after a big win over the lowly New York Jets this week. The Bills are going to be an excellent test of our precept that championship teams are defined mostly by their dominant wins over bad teams. The Bills are the least consistent team of the year according to week-to-week variance of DVOA. They have four wins with DVOA over 60% but they also have three losses with negative DVOA. Those losses weren’t to particularly good teams, either, at least according to DVOA. Yes, the Titans are 8-2, but all three of the teams that beat Buffalo are in the bottom half of our DVOA ratings.

The team Buffalo replaces on the top of the DVOA ratings is the Arizona Cardinals. Obviously, the Cardinals fell out of the top spot in large part because they had to use their backup and third-string quarterbacks against Carolina this week and ended up with a big 34-10 loss. However, it is worth noting that this week was Arizona’s worst performance of the year on both offense and defense. Even if Arizona had the same offensive DVOA as a week ago, the Cardinals still would have fallen out of the top spot overall because of the decline of their defense this week. They would just be No. 2 instead of No. 4.

As we often have to point out, the DVOA ratings are not adjusted for backup quarterbacks. DVOA measures what happened on the field based on the players who were on the field in those games, and we don’t estimate what teams would have done if they had different personnel on the field. However, we do estimate the effect of backup quarterbacks on predictive ratings going forward in the DAVE ratings that we use for our playoff odds simulation. DAVE ratings combine weighted DVOA with preseason projections, giving more weight to games over the past two months while also incorporating September games as well as prior data from before the season. For example, DAVE assumes that Kansas City is better than what the Chiefs have shown us so far, but each week the amount of preseason projection we use in DAVE goes down as we get more data about how good Kansas City actually is this season.

The DAVE ratings listed below do not adjust for backup quarterbacks, but like I said, we do estimates for the effect of backup quarterbacks when we do the ratings that we use in the playoff odds simulation. Here’s a look at the difference right now between the top teams in DAVE and the top teams in quarterback-adjusted DAVE.

Rk Regular
1 BUF 25.6% BUF 25.6%
2 TB 24.7% TB 24.7%
3 NE 19.3% DAL 22.0%
4 DAL 19.2% ARI 20.0%
5 ARI 17.0% NE 19.3%
6 LAR 14.7% LAR 14.7%
7 SF 14.5% SF 14.5%
8 NO 11.4% SEA 13.5%
9 MIN 11.4% GB 12.7%
10 GB 10.3% MIN 11.4%
11 BAL 10.0% BAL 10.0%
12 KC 8.7% KC 8.7%

Dallas, San Francisco, Minnesota, Kansas City, and Green Bay all moved up in DVOA this week, but the biggest mover was the New England Patriots. The Patriots move all the way up from 13th to fifth in DVOA after a huge dominant win over the Cleveland Browns. Opponent adjustments reached full strength this week, and with the current opponent adjustments, the Patriots get 126.0% DVOA for this win. That’s the second-highest single game of the season, trailing only Buffalo’s Week 4 40-0 castration of the Houston Texans. That game is currently at 126.7% DVOA. It would be over 150% if not for opponent adjustments! With their rise in both DVOA and DAVE, we now have the Patriots making the postseason 88% of the time in our playoff simulation.

Cleveland, meanwhile, plummets from sixth to 17th in DVOA off this one terrible game. The Browns’ playoff odds also drop 24% from 56.5% to 32.5%.

If you look at the playoff odds report, you’ll notice that there’s a big difference between the most likely teams to make the playoffs and the most likely teams to win the Super Bowl. At this point, the former is based more on the team’s record and their schedule going forward. The latter is based partly on what seed a team is likely to win but also significantly on the team’s DVOA rating. That’s how we get Tennessee and Green Bay, each at 8-2, as the teams most likely to make the playoffs but not in our top five most likely teams to win the Super Bowl.

We’ve written a lot about Green Bay and Tennessee this year. The Packers moved up in DVOA this week with a nice win against Seattle. Their defense has really turned things around over the last month. Green Bay’s defensive DVOA for Weeks 1-6 was 11.4%, which was 27th in the league. Green Bay’s defensive DVOA for Weeks 7-10 was -22.3%, which was sixth in the league. The Packers are still being held down in DVOA by their terrible Week 1 loss to New Orleans and by a lower offensive DVOA for the game where Jordan Love played quarterback while Aaron Rodgers was out for COVID.

As for Tennessee, well, we’ve written a lot about the Titans and they did it again this week. They won another game despite having the lower DVOA rating. Tennessee beat New Orleans despite being outgained significantly, 373 yards (6.1 per play) to 264 yards (4.6 per play). They won the turnover margin because each team fumbled once but the Titans recovered both fumbles. New Orleans’ fumble came on a kick return and gave the Titans a short field at the New Orleans 19. They scored a touchdown. And the Titans took advantage of both a bad fourth-and-goal call by Sean Payton, kicking a field goal from the 1, and two missed extra points they really had nothing to do with. And still, the Saints were within a two-point conversion of sending the game to overtime.

The Titans get -19.9% DVOA for this game, which lowers their season overall DVOA to 0.7%. That’s still above average, slightly, but it ranks 18th in the league. The Titans are a little higher in weighted DVOA, 3.5%, which ranks 15th. Their very easy remaining schedule and 8-2 record give them a significant leg up on getting the No. 1 seed in the AFC and that all-important first-round bye. Even with such a low DVOA, they currently get the first-round bye in 48% of our simulations. But the Titans simply are not as good as their record and they should not be No. 1 or even in the top three of NFL power rankings around the Internet.

Here’s where the Titans are now compared to the worst 8-2 teams in DVOA history. All of these teams made the playoffs. Some of them even made the Super Bowl! But the ones that made the Super Bowl generally improved in the second half of the year. I’m curious to go back and see what the press was saying about some of these teams at the time. Were the 2000 Vikings on top of NFL power rankings around the Internet? I remember having to explain the 2003 Panthers constantly, since that was the first year of Football Outsiders. They actually declined in the second half of the season, then turned things around and got hot in the playoffs to almost win the championship.

Worst 8-2 Teams by DVOA, 1983-2021
Year Team W-L DVOA Rk Final
2000 MIN 8-2 -3.5% 20 11-5 -1.3% 20
2021 TEN 8-2 0.7% 18
1999 TEN 8-2 4.2% 18 13-3 14.9% 5
2003 CAR 8-2 5.9% 14 11-5 -0.2% 16
2021 GB 8-2 6.8% 12
2001 CHI 8-2 7.3% 11 13-3 15.9% 8
1997 MIN 8-2 7.5% 10 9-7 -0.8% 16
2004 ATL 8-2 7.7% 12 11-5 -1.7% 15
2016 OAK 8-2 8.7% 8 12-4 7.6% 10
1989 NYG 8-2 9.0% 9 12-4 15.3% 6
1998 ATL 8-2 9.3% 11 14-2 22.9% 6
2002 GB 8-2 9.8% 12 12-4 7.8% 13

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Football Outsiders playoff odds, snap counts, and the FO+ database are now all updated through Week 10. A reminder that all our free stats pages, including DVOA and player position stats, require registration to view. This is not a paywall! You only need to register (for free) and then log in to the site to view these pages. While you’re at it, you can get a seven-day trial of FO+ and check out the FO+ features like a deeper DVOA database, weekly fantasy projections, fantasy football research tools, and picks against the spread.

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Here is the Football Outsiders Top 16 through 10 weeks of 2021, measured by our proprietary Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) system that breaks down every single play and compares a team’s performance to the league average based on situation in order to determine value over average. (Explained further here.)

OFFENSE and DEFENSE DVOA are adjusted for opponent and performance indoors and consider all fumbles, kept or lost, as equal value. SPECIAL TEAMS DVOA is adjusted for type of stadium (warm, cold, dome, Denver) and week of season. As always, positive numbers represent more points so DEFENSE is better when it is NEGATIVE.

Opponent adjustments are now at full strength as we have hit Week 10.

DAVE is a formula which combines our preseason forecast with current DVOA to get a more accurate projection of how a team will play the rest of the season. DAVE is currently 36% preseason forecast and 64% actual performance for teams with nine games played, and 24% preseason forecast and 76% actual performance for teams with 10 games played. It is not currently adjusted for any backup quarterbacks.

To save people some time, please use the following format for all complaints:

<team> is clearly ranked <too high/too low> because <reason unrelated to DVOA>. <subjective ranking system> is way better than this. <unrelated team-supporting or -denigrating comment, preferably with poor spelling and/or chat-acceptable spelling>

Click here for the full table.

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