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07 Oct 2003

Week 5 Team Efficiency Ratings

by Aaron Schatz

Here are the team efficiency ratings after Week 5, measured by our proprietary Value Over Average (VOA) system that breaks down every single play and compares a team's performance to the league averaged based on situation in order to determine value over average.  (Explained further here.)

Before this week's commentary, let me talk about a couple of new wrinkles you'll find added to the ratings this week.  First, ratings now include adjustments for strength of schedule, with the exception of the column marked NON-ADJ TOTAL VOA, which is the team's total VOA without the opponent adjustments.  Right now, opponent adjustments are at 50% strength; I'll increase that 10% each week until after Week 10 when the opponent adjustments will be at full strength.

There are also two columns at the end of the table marked PAST SCHEDULE and FUTURE SCHEDULE.  The first column represents the average adjusted total team efficiency of the opponents played so far.  The second column represents the average adjusted total team efficiency of the opponents remaining on the schedule.  Note that these numbers are based on efficiency ratings as they stand now.  Obviously, to give an example, if Philadelphia gets its act together, the number will go up for every team that has either played the Eagles (PAST) or still has to play the Eagles (FUTURE).

By the way, I hope to have a method to do in-season special teams rankings by next week.  Between Tampa Bay's close call losses and the Dante Hall experience, special teams have clearly had an important effect this year, and adding them to the total team efficiency rankings would change some of the ratings below.  Most importantly, Kansas City would clearly move into the top five.

Onto this week's commentary:

Minnesota moves into the top slot this week after yet another big win.  With one of the easiest schedules in the league from now until December, the Vikings seem assured of a division title and first-round bye. Tampa Bay falls one spot to second.  This won't ease Ian Dembsky's pain, but VOA does say that the Bucs outplayed the Colts and still have the best defense in the league.  But the second-best team in the league is now .500 after losing two games they shouldn't have lost, and their margin for error is shrinking.

What is it they say in a stock prospectus, "Past performance is no guarantee of future returns?"  I think that's a worthy motto for the NFL as well.  Raise your hand if you expected Chicago to beat Oakland this week.  VOA said Seattle was supposed to beat Green Bay, too, and that didn't happen.

On the other hand, last week's VOA ratings had New England higher than Tennessee, Jacksonville higher than San Diego, and said that Carolina and New Orleans were not as far apart as it seemed.  So I think we can feel good that we are recognizing some hidden facts of the NFL here.

With the knowledge in mind that it is still early and nothing is yet set in stone, the team efficiency ratings say that Week 6 will be Rude Awakening Week across the NFL.  I think an unhappy week is ahead for fans of Carolina, Oakland, Tennessee, and possibly Dallas.

Let's start with the team that I've been down on for the entire season, the Carolina Panthers.  Once again this week, Carolina won a game despite being outplayed according to VOA.  They can thank He Hate Me for that, and given the way the Saints have been playing, beating New Orleans on a kick return doesn't scream "Super Bowl contender."

This week Carolina heads to Indianapolis, where they are five-point underdogs to the high-flying Colts.  Since this is a battle of undefeated teams, people may flock to the underdog Panthers.  But unless the Colts are emotionally drained from Monday's super win in Tampa and come out flat as matzoh, they should annihilate Carolina.  Right now Stephen Davis is the one member of the Panthers playing at a level worthy of his public accolades (only Ahman Green has been a more valuable back this year), and if the Colts can get a couple of early touchdowns they'll take him out of the game.  Note that not only has Carolina's defense not been as good as advertised, it has been worse against the pass, and last time I checked Indianapolis was kind of good at that.

Next come the latest critical darlings, the Dallas Cowboys.  Reading about the NFL over the past two days it has been impossible to get away from statements about Dallas having "the #1 offense in the NFL so far this year."  Don't believe it.  Our rankings have Dallas listed as a middle-of-the-pack offense, at #13.  If you measure offense in yards per game, yes, Dallas has the best offense so far this year.  But not all yards are created equal:

  • Start with the fact that Dallas has played the easiest schedule in the league over the first five weeks.  Dallas' opponents are ranked #16 (Giants), #23 (Jets), #28 (Atlanta), and #32 (Arizona).
  • Dallas has gotten yards and yards and yards and then failed in the red zone, where they have a -50% DVOA so far.  That's the NFL's third-worst offensive rating in the red zone.
  • Dallas averages 6.7 yards on third downs (and non-punt fourth downs), the sixth highest number in the league.  That sounds great, except that Dallas averages needing 8 yards to go on third downs, the third highest number on the league.  That means that the Cowboys are getting a lot of ultimately meaningless third down yards and converting only 38% of third downs, less than league average.

No, instead it is the Dallas defense that is powering this team, ranking #2 in adjusted VOA despite the easy schedule.  I can't tell you whether the Eagles have gotten their offense back on track -- you know, that McNabb guy that's been in the news lately -- and I can't tell you if they will beat the Cowboys.  But I am guessing that the Philadelphia defense puts the hurt on Quincy Carter, leading to either a surprise Philadelphia rout or a very close game dominated by defense.  Take the under on this one.

Another interesting game this week has Cleveland hosting Oakland.  Introducing opponent adjustments this week helps demonstrate how these are two teams going in opposite directions.  Cleveland jumps 11 spots in our ratings thanks to a combination of two things: their deconstruction of the Pittsburgh offense and the inclusion of an adjustment for their difficult early schedule.  Yes, they gave up Jamal Lewis' record day, but the Cleveland pass defense has now held down Payton Manning, Jeff Garcia, and Tommy Maddox.  On offense, they seem to have put things together by bringing back Tim Couch; last year, he was definitely worse than Kelly Holcomb, but this year he's been much better

On the other side you have Oakland.  VOA says the Raiders should have won this week, which makes their loss to the worst team in the NFL even more embarrassing.  This week, Cleveland's great pass defense is going to cause the Raiders a lot of trouble.  Oakland is going to have to change their modus operandi, because so far their offensive pass plays have outnumbered their offensive rush plays two to one.  That makes Oakland the most pass-wacky team in the NFL; no other team has had such a low percentage of runs on offense.  And it gets worse; check out those FUTURE SCHEDULE numbers and you'll see only the Patriots have a harder schedule from now until the end of the season.  Every year we expect the Raiders to suddenly get old, and I do believe it has now happened.  Barring massive change of direction, this team isn't making the playoffs.

Finally, I wouldn't be stunned if the Tennessee Titans fall to Houston this week, but more importantly the line of Tennessee -10 is absolutely insane.  Houston has actually played better than Tennessee, according to our methods, and even if you think that's a fluke of early small sample size (and I do) a double-digit line is absurd.  Listening to local media here in Boston warn us about Eddie George all week, I had to laugh, because the Titans' offense is all Steve McNair at this point.  On the other side of the ball, the Titans have an average rush defense and an abysmal pass defense.  Yes, if you've been waiting for the right week to play David Carr in your fantasy league, here it is.

Finally, let's talk about a Non-Rude Awakening.  Like the Tennessee rushing attack, the Buffalo rushing attack is also close to nonexistent this year.  Travis Henry may be the most overrated player in the league, gathering good superficial statistics thanks to the luck of good field position, a quarterback who gets him close to the goal line, and a coach who runs him into the ground despite his fumble problems.  But this week, Henry gets to play the Jets, with one of the worst run defenses in the league, so once again he should have good fantasy numbers.

As always, positive numbers represent more points so DEFENSE is better when it is NEGATIVE.  In the STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE listings, a POSITIVE number means the team has played/will play a HARDER schedule, and a NEGATIVE number means that the team has played/will play an EASIER schedule.  The PAST SCHEDULE number will differ from the difference between ADJUSTED VOA and NON-ADJ VOA because schedule strength is based on the opponent's total efficiency rating, while opponent adjustments to VOA take into account the situations faced within each specific game.

Here are the ratings through Week 5:


TEAM
ADJUSTED
TOTAL VOA
LAST WEEK
RANK
NON-ADJ
TOTAL VOA
W-L
OFFENSE
VOA
OFFENSE
RANK
DEFENSE
VOA
DEFENSE
RANK
PAST
SCHEDULE
FUTURE
SCHEDULE
1 MIN 43.7% 3 53.4% 5-0 25.4% 2 -18.4% 4 -15.3% -4.7%
2 TAM 43.6% 1 48.2% 2-2 14.8% 5 -28.8% 1 -5.9% -5.2%
3 SEA 39.7% 2 46.6% 3-1 21.6% 3 -18.1% 5 -17.4% -4.4%
4 IND 36.4% 5 31.8% 5-0 30.2% 1 -6.2% 15 2.9% -4.3%
5 DEN 28.6% 6 32.8% 4-1 17.8% 4 -10.8% 10 -6.7% 3.1%
6 DAL 25.7% 7 39.3% 3-1 3.3% 13 -22.4% 2 -22.1% -3.9%
7 KAN 21.2% 4 21.8% 5-0 9.3% 7 -11.8% 9 -1.5% -0.2%
8 SFO 14.6% 10 19.3% 2-3 6.8% 9 -7.8% 12 -3.3% -0.9%
9 CLE 13.8% 20 7.9% 2-3 -4.9% 20 -18.8% 3 6.3% -0.5%
10 BUF 12.4% 11 13.5% 3-2 -1.1% 16 -13.5% 7 -7.2% 3.4%
11 GNB 8.7% 12 15.1% 3-2 14.0% 6 5.2% 23 -9.9% 3.5%
12 WAS 8.2% 9 17.2% 3-2 8.5% 8 0.4% 18 -11.4% 1.9%
13 STL 4.7% 13 4.7% 2-2 -2.7% 17 -7.4% 13 -0.1% -4.4%
14 PIT 1.4% 8 4.6% 2-3 -6.0% 22 -7.4% 14 0.0% -0.7%
15 JAC -0.1% 16 3.1% 1-4 1.1% 15 1.2% 19 0.5% -3.3%
16 NYG -0.4% 15 -6.2% 2-2 -2.9% 18 -2.5% 16 8.7% 0.8%
TEAM
ADJUSTED
TOTAL VOA
LAST WEEK
RANK
NON-ADJ
TOTAL VOA
W-L
OFFENSE
VOA
OFFENSE
RANK
DEFENSE
VOA
DEFENSE
RANK
PAST
SCHEDULE
FUTURE
SCHEDULE
17 OAK -0.9% 14 5.3% 2-3 3.8% 12 4.8% 22 -13.7% 6.3%
18 MIA -3.8% 19 -0.1% 3-1 -11.8% 26 -8.1% 11 -1.5% -0.3%
19 NWE -4.6% 17 0.8% 3-2 -3.3% 19 1.4% 20 -4.9% 8.3%
20 HOU -5.5% 18 -6.8% 2-2 -22.8% 29 -17.3% 6 -2.9% 2.7%
21 CIN -9.2% 21 -12.4% 1-4 -5.1% 21 4.1% 21 11.1% -0.7%
22 BAL -11.8% 23 -12.7% 2-2 -24.7% 30 -13.0% 8 4.1% 2.1%
23 NYJ -12.7% 24 -18.9% 0-4 4.4% 11 17.1% 27 6.4% 1.3%
24 TEN -14.1% 22 -15.1% 3-2 4.5% 10 18.6% 28 0.7% 2.1%
25 PHI -18.2% 28 -27.3% 2-2 -20.5% 28 -2.3% 17 14.9% -0.4%
26 SDG -20.0% 25 -23.9% 0-5 3.1% 14 23.1% 31 7.4% 2.3%
27 CAR -20.7% 26 -21.5% 4-0 -7.6% 23 13.1% 25 -1.6% -4.4%
28 ATL -21.0% 29 -35.0% 1-4 -13.7% 27 7.3% 24 20.1% -2.9%
29 DET -24.6% 27 -31.8% 1-4 -10.9% 25 13.7% 26 8.3% -0.5%
30 NOR -28.8% 30 -33.0% 1-4 -8.7% 24 20.1% 29 7.2% -5.9%
31 CHI -54.0% 32 -63.3% 1-3 -32.8% 32 21.2% 30 16.5% 0.2%
32 ARI -54.2% 31 -60.9% 1-4 -26.0% 31 28.2% 32 10.8% 3.3%

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 07 Oct 2003

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