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» Week 4 DVOA Ratings

Five different teams from last year's DVOA top eight rank in the bottom half of the league through four weeks of 2014. What can we learn from other teams with similar starts in the past?

02 Nov 2004

Week 8 DVOA Ratings

by Aaron Schatz

Here are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through Week 8 of 2004, 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.)

Moving UpSD (12 to 7), NYG (14 to 9), WAS (25 to 20)

Moving DownARI (15 to 26), DEN (7 to 13), CIN (20 to 25), NE (2 to 2)

Yes, that's right, 2 to 2.  Even though New England holds the exact same ranking it had last week, it was actually the week's biggest drop in terms of total DVOA, from 44.7% to 31.9%.

The reaction to New England's loss was pretty absurd.  Apparently 21 straight wins wasn't good enough for some people.  Stuart Scott said this finally would make Boston fans happy now that they had something to complain about again (oh, for crying out loud).  ESPN.com said the Patriots were not a historically great team, but a team that has relied on luck and opportunistic turnovers in order to win -- as if all interceptions are random kismet instead of quality pass coverage.  The Patriots were the best team in the NFL in 2003.  Don't confuse the 2001 Patriots (good play, great luck) with the 2003 Patriots (great play, good luck).

I'll admit as a Patriots fan I was pretty depressed by the whole thing as it was happening.  It was tough to see them give up on the run entirely -- I wanted to give Cedric Cobbs a chance to see what he could do -- and it was weird to see Tom Brady completely flustered after the Steelers went up 21-3.  I really wasn't that happy to see the return of that old Patriots favorite from 1999, 2000, and 2002, "Kevin Faulk ruins momentum with a killer fumble."  Once the game was over, though, I was serene.  They kept making mistakes, but Brady was much more composed in the second half and they never stopped trying to come back.  If you are going to lose, it might as well be to another one of the NFL's top teams, on the road.  Hopefully they don't end up neck-and-neck with the Steelers for home-field advantage in the playoffs only to have this game serve as tiebreaker.

The bigger worry for the Patriots is not the loss but the injuries, but I'll get to that in a bit.

With New England's first loss in 22 games, the Philadelphia Eagles are now far ahead of the rest of the pack in our DVOA ratings.  More importantly, they are far ahead of the rest of the NFC.  Far, far ahead.  Teams two through eight are all AFC teams.  The AFC playoff race is going to be a dogfight, and the playoffs are probably going to be great.  One or two teams in the DVOA top ten won't even get into the playoffs.  On the other hand, if the Eagles don't stomp all over the rest of the NFC in their march to the Super Bowl, I'll be a little surprised.  Remember that weird gut feeling I had before the season that something would go wrong for the Eagles?  Yeah, that's why we don't often pick things based on gut feelings.

One interesting note is that DVOA doesn't think the Eagles have played a particularly easy schedule, because even though their conference is inferior to the AFC they have played a schedule that features the best NFC teams so far: Detroit, the Giants, and Minnesota.

Second half schedule is probably going to have a major impact on the AFC race, which is all bunched up now after the Patriots loss.  Although the Chiefs would have to basically run the table, and I'm personally not a believer in Baltimore, you can make a Super Bowl case for any of those AFC teams ranked two through eight, and probably for Denver, Houston, and Jacksonville as well.  But the schedule is about to get a lot easier for the Patriots and Chiefs, and a lot harder for the Steelers, Jets, and Colts.  The AFC East race in particular is nowhere near as close as it looks.  The Patriots have a hard stretch here -- as I'm about to discuss, the injuries make it harder -- but their last five games include four walkovers: Cleveland, Cincinnati, Miami, and San Francisco, with the fifth game being at the Meadowlands.  The Jets, meanwhile, have faced one winning team so far, the Pats, but have Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Seattle, St. Louis, and Houston still left on the schedule along with the second New England meeting.

If you look at our numbers, of course, you wouldn't count St. Louis as a tough game.  Two teams right now stand out in our ratings, the Chiefs and Rams.  But I think by this point everyone agrees that the Chiefs are dangerous, that they had some bad luck early but are really one of the NFL's better teams.  On the other end of I-70, though, our ratings really differ with conventional wisdom.

There are a number of reasons why the Rams are a bit of an enigma this season.  First of all, if you remember from reading Football Outsiders in the past, the Rams have been pretty much misunderstood by everyone over the past few seasons.  Their defense has been one of the best in football each year, while their offense declined from the juggernaut of 2001 to mediocrity.  There were two reasons to suspect that the defense might have problems this season: first, the departure of Lovie Smith, and second, the fact that they recovered far more than their share of fumbles in 2003, a trend likely to return to league-average.  Takeaways by the Rams defense, however, haven't just become less frequent; they've practically disappeared.  Last year the Rams had 24 interceptions and 22 fumble recoveries.  This year they have two interceptions and four fumble recoveries.  And here's the thing -- they've still recovered more than their share of fumbles, because they've caused six.

So the Rams defense is ranked 32nd in the NFL with a DVOA of 33.7%.  Take out the game against the Dolphins, which was a bit of a fluke, and they would still rank 32nd with a DVOA of 28.5%.  The St. Louis defense is equally bad against the run and the pass.  They're equally bad on first, second, and third down.  They are equally bad at every location on the field except for what I call the "FRONT" zone, when the opposing offense is on the St. Louis 21-39 yard line; in that area, they are league-average.  How the hell are they winning games?

A large part of it is improvement from the offense.  The defense is getting fewer turnovers, but the offense is also turning the ball over itself less frequently.  Bulger had 22 interceptions last season, but only has seven this season.  But for all the talk about the passing game -- and it is the Rams, of course people talk about the passing game -- the running game has also made a major step forward.  Marshall Faulk has improved from last season's 5.8% DVOA to a much better 14.3% DVOA.  Part of the reason for Faulk's improvement is that he's getting a little rest, and when he gets to rest the Rams are in much better hands than they were a year ago.  Steven Jackson has a 13.0% DVOA.  Last year's backups were Arlen Harris, with a poor -10.1% DVOA, and Lamar Gordon, with a league-average -0.2% DVOA.

But even with the league's seventh-ranked offense, DVOA ranks the Rams below 11 different teams with losing records.  They're below average in every part of special teams, in particular kickoff returns and kickoff coverage (Wilkins himself has had average gross kickoffs).  DVOA says that when they have lost, they've lost big, and when they've won, they've won small.  They got lucky with a Tampa team that couldn't stop tripping over its own feet and a Seattle team that decided the fourth quarter of their game against the Rams was a good time to attempt the ancient Buddhist practice of self-immolation.  Yes, St. Louis had to have the offense to make that comeback happen, but they can't expect that to occur every time their defense digs them a big hole.  Here are the game-by-game DVOA ratings for the Rams this season:


St. Louis DVOA by Week 1-ARI (W) 2-ATL (L) 3-NO (L) 4-SF (W) 5-SEA (W) 6-TB (W) 7-MIA (L)
TOTAL 16.3% -75.2% -24.5% 22.6% 0.1% -15.6% -64.4%
OFFENSE 42.0% -7.2% 17.4% 43.7% 19.1% 6.9% 25.2%
DEFENSE 20.5% 66.7% 37.2% 13.3% 31.3% 4.7% 71.1%
SPECIAL TEAMS -5.2% -1.3% -4.7% -7.8% 12.3% -17.8% -18.6%

The New England-St. Louis matchup ends up providing a fascinating example of why you can't pick games based strictly on DVOA or any other measurement of team ability.  If New England is still second in the league in DVOA, and St. Louis is by far the worst-ranked winning team, the Patriots should clobber the Rams.  Unfortunately for the Patriots, their recent rash of injuries hit them in exactly the right place to allow the Rams to take advantage.  To beat the Rams, you need quality cornerbacks that can at least partially stop the passing attack -- especially in the dome -- and you need a running game that allows you to keep the Rams offense off the field and take advantage of the collapse of the Rams defense this season.  Where are New England's injuries?  Cornerback, running back, and offensive line.  Uh-oh.

Earlier this season I wrote that the Packers injuries exposed a lack of depth that could be blamed on the front office, and a reader pointed out that the Packers couldn't prepare for a number of injuries that all took place at the same positions (nose tackle and cornerback).  Well, that's what happened to the Patriots this week.  Already missing their second cornerback, they lost their first and third cornerbacks during this game.  Already missing their right tackle, they lost their left tackle.  And yes, they were without their running back.  That meant no play action, no running game, no protection for Tom Brady, and easy pickings for Ben Roethlisberger in the first half before he turned things over to the running game in the second half.

My guess is that most of the stories about this game will concentrate on the Patriots cornerbacks.  Early indications are that the injury to Ty Law is serious, and it looks like he'll be out for a while.  The Patriots may get cornerbacks Tyrone Poole and Randall Gay back but they probably won't be 100 percent.   Prognosticators, who if DVOA is correct are already overestimating the Rams, will predict that the Rams passing attack will shred the Patriot backups.

In my opinion, however, the important players here are not the cornerbacks but Corey Dillon and the offensive line.  It looks like tackles Tom Ashworth and Matt Light will play against the Rams, and so will Dillon.  If those players are healthy, it won't matter that the Rams can pick apart the Patriots defense because the Patriots can pick apart the Rams defense just as much.  I'm sure Bill Belichick already has this on his mind, since he's the best coach in football and I'm some dude with a website, but the Pats should play the entire game next week in slowdown mode.  Run, run, run.  Wait until there is one second on the play clock before snapping the ball every single time.  Keep the Rams offense off the field.  No matter how many cornerbacks are injured, the Patriots should be favored in this game if the offensive line and Dillon are healthy.

If the Pats are still carrying this many injuries when they play Kansas City, though, they're toast.

* * * * *

One more team I want to address this week is Arizona.  They plummeted down the rankings from #15 to #26 and you are probably wondering how that happened with just one loss, a loss that was close until the fourth quarter.  Much of the drop came in special teams (yes, it is ironic that I picked Arizona as the team to highlight when I explained the special teams table in this article last night).  Scott Player had a lot of short punts, and just like New England, the Cardinals got torched by kickoff returner Terrence McGee.  The rest of the drop, actually, was due to previous error on my part, with a series of plays in the Seattle-Arizona game that had the offense and defense reversed.  Fixing these plays hurt the Arizona offense and helped the Seattle defense.

Despite that help, Seattle moves out of the top spot in defense this week for the first time.  Their recent mediocre performance finally outweighs their ridiculously strong performance in the first 15 quarters of the season.

* * * * *

OFFENSE and DEFENSE DVOA are adjusted based on strength of opponent as well as to consider all fumbles, kept or lost, as equal value.  SPECIAL DVOA is adjusted for type of stadium (warm, cold, dome, Denver) and week of season.  NON-ADJ TOTAL VOA does not include these adjustments.  Opponent adjustments are currently at 80 percent strength and will gradually increase each week until Week 10.

As always, positive numbers represent more points so DEFENSE is better when it is NEGATIVE.  Player stats pages will be updated later today.


TEAM TOTAL
DVOA
LAST
WEEK
NON-ADJ
TOTAL VOA
W-L OFFENSE
DVOA
OFF.
RANK
DEFENSE
DVOA
DEF.
RANK
SPECIAL
DVOA
S.T.
RANK
1 PHI 44.1% 1 39.8% 7-0 33.9% 2 1.4% 16 11.6% 2
2 NE 31.9% 2 17.8% 6-1 26.3% 6 -6.4% 9 -0.7% 19
3 PIT 27.3% 6 38.3% 6-1 12.7% 10 -11.2% 4 3.4% 7
4 KC 24.2% 5 20.0% 3-4 32.4% 3 -0.9% 15 -9.1% 32
5 NYJ 22.4% 8 41.8% 6-1 31.2% 4 9.4% 23 0.7% 16
6 BAL 21.7% 3 21.5% 4-3 -8.2% 23 -19.9% 1 10.0% 3
7 SD 17.7% 12 29.2% 5-3 21.0% 8 5.9% 20 2.6% 9
8 IND 14.6% 4 13.8% 4-3 36.6% 1 19.0% 28 -3.0% 24
9 NYG 13.0% 14 25.5% 5-2 7.6% 13 -7.5% 8 -2.1% 23
10 DET 11.5% 11 11.0% 4-3 2.0% 15 -8.3% 5 1.3% 15
11 SEA 11.0% 9 27.2% 4-3 -3.3% 20 -17.6% 3 -3.3% 26
12 HOU 10.0% 13 4.6% 4-3 8.2% 12 -1.3% 14 0.5% 17
13 DEN 8.4% 7 13.9% 5-3 5.8% 14 -3.1% 11 -0.5% 18
14 MIN 7.5% 10 3.1% 5-2 30.0% 5 15.1% 25 -7.5% 31
15 ATL 1.1% 19 3.1% 6-2 -3.3% 19 2.1% 17 6.5% 5
16 DAL -1.7% 17 -7.5% 3-4 13.7% 9 17.8% 27 2.4% 10
TEAM TOTAL
DVOA
LAST
WEEK
NON-ADJ
TOTAL VOA
W-L OFFENSE
DVOA
OFF.
RANK
DEFENSE
DVOA
DEF.
RANK
SPECIAL
DVOA
S.T.
RANK
17 JAC -2.3% 16 -7.1% 5-3 -1.5% 18 3.2% 19 2.4% 11
18 BUF -3.7% 18 -2.2% 2-5 -14.2% 28 -2.4% 12 8.1% 4
19 TB -6.6% 21 -5.2% 2-5 -13.2% 27 -7.7% 7 -1.1% 21
20 WAS -8.3% 25 -10.3% 2-5 -22.5% 31 -19.5% 2 -5.4% 29
21 GB -8.3% 22 -11.6% 4-4 12.6% 11 22.3% 30 1.4% 14
22 CLE -8.4% 24 -15.4% 3-4 0.2% 17 11.5% 24 3.0% 8
23 CHI -9.3% 26 -8.3% 2-5 -15.1% 30 -3.6% 10 2.1% 12
24 CAR -9.4% 28 -22.1% 1-6 -5.5% 21 2.1% 18 -1.8% 22
25 CIN -9.6% 20 -16.5% 2-5 -6.1% 22 6.9% 21 3.5% 6
26 ARI -9.7% 15 -6.5% 2-5 -12.5% 25 -7.8% 6 -5.0% 28
27 NO -12.1% 23 -0.1% 3-4 1.2% 16 26.7% 31 13.4% 1
28 STL -18.0% 27 -12.5% 4-3 21.9% 7 33.7% 32 -6.2% 30
29 TEN -21.5% 29 -13.8% 3-5 -12.8% 26 7.6% 22 -1.1% 20
30 SF -35.3% 32 -42.1% 1-6 -14.2% 29 17.6% 26 -3.4% 27
31 OAK -36.0% 30 -39.0% 2-6 -11.5% 24 21.5% 29 -3.0% 25
32 MIA -37.6% 31 -46.0% 1-7 -41.1% 32 -1.9% 13 1.6% 13

  • PAST SCHEDULE lists average DVOA of opponents played so far, ranked from hardest schedule (#1, most positive) to easiest schedule (#32, most negative).
  • FUTURE SCHEDULE lists average DVOA of opponents remaining on the schedule, ranked from hardest schedule (#1, most positive) to easiest schedule (#32, most negative).
  • VARIANCE measures the statistical variance of the team's weekly DVOA performance.  Teams are ranked from least consistent (#1, highest variance) to most consistent (#32, smallest variance).
  • ESTIMATED WINS uses a statistic known as "Forest Index" that emphasizes consistency as well as DVOA in the most important specific situations: red zone defense, first quarter offense, and performance in the second half when the score is close.  It then projects a number of wins adjusted to a league-average schedule and a league-average rate of recovering fumbles.  It is based on the number of games a team has played so far, so teams which have not had their bye will appear higher.


TEAM TOTAL
VOA
W-L ESTIM.
WINS
RANK PAST
SCHED
RANK FUTURE
SCHED
RANK VARIANCE RANK
1 PHI 44.1% 7-0 6.2 1 3.8% 11 -1.7% 20 6.9% 29
2 NE 31.9% 6-1 5.9 2 3.5% 12 -4.9% 26 20.8% 9
3 PIT 27.3% 6-1 4.6 6 -5.7% 27 7.7% 5 18.4% 13
4 KC 24.2% 3-4 4.7 5 6.3% 8 -4.1% 25 25.4% 6
5 NYJ 22.4% 6-1 5.1 4 -10.6% 30 6.9% 6 14.4% 19
6 BAL 21.7% 4-3 4.5 7 9.4% 3 5.8% 10 19.0% 11
7 SD 17.7% 5-3 5.2 3 -3.4% 25 1.0% 19 16.8% 16
8 IND 14.6% 4-3 4.5 9 -2.1% 22 6.2% 8 3.2% 32
9 NYG 13.0% 5-2 4.0 15 5.2% 9 6.2% 9 25.9% 5
10 DET 11.5% 4-3 4.4 10 7.0% 5 -3.3% 23 36.5% 1
11 SEA 11.0% 4-3 3.5 19 -8.5% 28 -8.3% 31 12.1% 23
12 HOU 10.0% 4-3 4.1 13 0.1% 16 1.1% 18 7.2% 27
13 DEN 8.4% 5-3 4.5 8 -2.6% 24 -5.1% 27 23.4% 7
14 MIN 7.5% 5-2 4.2 11 3.2% 13 1.3% 17 17.7% 14
15 ATL 1.1% 6-2 4.2 12 -1.3% 19 -7.4% 30 27.8% 4
16 DAL -1.7% 3-4 4.1 14 4.9% 10 10.5% 3 12.0% 24
TEAM TOTAL
VOA
W-L ESTIM.
WINS
RANK PAST
SCHED
RANK FUTURE
SCHED
RANK VARIANCE RANK
17 JAC -2.3% 5-3 4.0 16 8.0% 4 -2.4% 22 8.4% 26
18 BUF -3.7% 2-5 3.6 18 -1.4% 21 -1.8% 21 15.8% 17
19 TB -6.6% 2-5 3.2 21 -9.2% 29 -3.6% 24 10.6% 25
20 WAS -8.3% 2-5 2.5 28 0.1% 17 11.2% 2 12.2% 22
21 GB -8.3% 4-4 3.7 17 -1.4% 20 6.4% 7 34.8% 2
22 CLE -8.4% 3-4 3.2 22 12.4% 2 8.9% 4 18.5% 12
23 CHI -9.3% 2-5 2.9 25 0.7% 15 2.5% 15 5.3% 30
24 CAR -9.4% 1-6 3.4 20 14.0% 1 -15.0% 32 7.2% 28
25 CIN -9.6% 2-5 3.1 23 1.8% 14 12.9% 1 12.8% 20
26 ARI -9.7% 2-5 2.8 26 -3.6% 26 -5.4% 28 19.5% 10
27 NO -12.1% 3-4 3.0 24 -12.4% 31 2.8% 13 3.3% 31
28 STL -18.0% 4-3 2.7 27 -12.7% 32 4.8% 12 12.8% 21
29 TEN -21.5% 3-5 2.3 29 -1.0% 18 2.6% 14 32.0% 3
30 SF -35.3% 1-6 1.7 31 -2.1% 23 -5.6% 29 14.7% 18
31 OAK -36.0% 2-6 1.9 30 7.0% 6 5.3% 11 22.3% 8
32 MIA -37.6% 1-7 1.4 32 6.4% 7 2.0% 16 17.6% 15

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 02 Nov 2004

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