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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?

19 Aug 2009

1994 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

by Aaron Schatz

Yes, it's time to add another year to that period of NFL history known to us fondly as "the DVOA Era." Today we are proud to fully unveil all advanced individual and team statistics for the year 1994.

DVOA from the prime years of the 49ers-Cowboys rivalry has proven to be very interesting. The 49ers had the highest DVOA in 1995, but it was the Cowboys who won the Super Bowl. Well, guess what: go back one more year, and the opposite occurs. The Dallas Cowboys had the highest DVOA rating for 1994, but it was San Francisco that took home the Lombardi Trophy.

Now, it seemed a little odd when San Francisco came out as the top team in 1995, but having Dallas as the top team in 1994 seems a lot stranger. After all, that 1994 49ers team is often considered one of the best teams in NFL history. Eddie Epstein ranks them eighth in his book Dominance. What are they doing third in the DVOA ratings for 1994, behind Dallas and Pittsburgh?

The answer is all wrapped up in one game: Philadelphia 40, San Francisco 8 in Week 5. The Eagles outgained the 49ers 437 to 189 yards. Some kid named Charlie Garner made his NFL debut and ran for 111 yards with two touchdowns. This is the game where head coach George Seifert famously benched Steve Young, actually pulling him out of a huddle in the middle of the third quarter. Seifert said it was to prevent injury, since the 49ers were losing by three touchdowns and Eagles' defensive end William Fuller had sacked Young pretty hard on the previous play. Young had only 99 passing yards for the day, with two picks and no passing touchdowns (although he scored one on the ground). San Francisco's DVOA for that game is -113.4%, the worst rating for any single game that season. Philadelphia's DVOA for that game is 141.4%, which I thought was the best single-game DVOA we've ever tracked. That's what we wrote in FOA 2009. Unfortunately, I made a mistake and missed a year when I was figuring out that little bit of trivia, so it turns out Philly's big 1994 win over San Francisco is only second on the list of most dominant games of the DVOA Era. Here's an updated list, noting that the ratings all moved around a little bit when we updated to the new DVOA v6.0 this offseason (I have not yet figured DVOA v6.0 for the playoffs, so those games are missing from the table):


Best Single-Game DVOA (Regular Season), 1994-2008
Year Team DVOA Week vs. Score Opp DVOA
Rank for Year
1999 PIT 145.6% 1 CLE 43-0 31
1994 PHI 141.4% 5 SF 40-8 3
2008 NE 138.3% 16 ARI 47-7 21
2002 ATL 136.7% 12 CAR 41-0 25
2002 KC 133.3% 13 ARI 49-0 30
2004 NE 129.8% 10 BUF 29-6 3
1997 DEN 127.5% 11 CAR 34-0 22
1999 OAK 124.9% 15 TB 45-0 9
2007 DEN 124.0% 14 KC 41-7 25
2001 SF 123.2% 17 NO 38-0 22

Anyway, still a damn impressive performance, and a really awful game that drags the San Francisco rating down for the whole season. The 49ers were 3-2 after that game. The rest of the way, including the playoffs, they went 13-1. The only loss was to Minnesota in a meaningless Week 17 contest, with both Young and Jerry Rice resting for most of the game. Although the 49ers didn't finish the season with the best DVOA rating for 1994, they did go into the playoffs with the highest WEIGHTED DVOA, their loss to the Eagles far in the distant past.

Meanwhile, the 1994 Eagles went on to launch the term "going the full Kotite." They finished eighth in DVOA but went just 7-9, completely falling apart over the second half of the season. After Week 10 of that year, the Eagles were 7-2 and ranked second in DVOA behind 8-1 Dallas. They lost their next seven games in a row. The Eagles' offense ranked sixth in DVOA during the first half of the 1994 season, 23rd in DVOA during the second half of the 1994 season. The defense declined as well, although by a much smaller amount (from third in the first half to ninth in the second half).

Here are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings for 1994, 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 averaged based on situation and opponent in order to determine value over average. (Explained further here.)

DVOA represents adjusted statistics. OFFENSE and DEFENSE DVOA are adjusted for opponent quality and to 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. WEIGHTED DVOA gives a stronger consideration to games late in the season. Remember that, as always, defense is better when it is NEGATIVE.


TEAM TOTAL
DVOA
WEIGHTED
DVOA
RANK
W-L OFFENSE
DVOA
OFF.
RANK
DEFENSE
DVOA
DEF.
RANK
S.T.
DVOA
S.T.
RANK
1 DAL 33.7% 32.6% 3 12-4 16.9% 3 -15.2% 2 1.6% 8
2 PIT 30.7% 37.0% 2 12-4 10.6% 5 -20.2% 1 -0.1% 15
3 SF 29.2% 41.5% 1 13-3 17.9% 1 -10.1% 6 1.1% 11
4 GB 23.1% 25.4% 4 9-7 11.7% 4 -13.6% 5 -2.2% 22
5 MIA 19.0% 15.7% 5 10-6 17.3% 2 -4.9% 12 -3.2% 26
6 KC 14.0% 11.9% 6 9-7 6.5% 7 -6.9% 9 0.6% 13
7 SD 11.8% 8.5% 8 11-5 7.2% 6 0.1% 16 4.7% 2
8 PHI 11.5% 0.2% 14 7-9 -3.3% 16 -13.6% 4 1.2% 10
9 CLE 10.8% 7.6% 9 11-5 -4.7% 17 -6.8% 10 8.7% 1
10 NE 6.4% 7.3% 10 10-6 -2.4% 12 -8.1% 8 0.7% 12
11 DET 2.5% 9.3% 7 9-7 6.4% 8 3.9% 21 -0.1% 16
12 BUF 1.9% -1.2% 16 7-9 3.5% 10 1.9% 19 0.3% 14
13 MIN 1.4% -2.9% 17 10-6 -6.5% 18 -9.6% 7 -1.8% 21
14 CHI -2.8% -0.5% 15 9-7 -2.5% 13 -0.8% 15 -1.1% 18
TEAM TOTAL
DVOA
WEIGHTED
DVOA
RANK
W-L OFFENSE
DVOA
OFF.
RANK
DEFENSE
DVOA
DEF.
RANK
S.T.
DVOA
S.T.
RANK
15 NO -3.3% -3.7% 18 7-9 5.4% 9 5.8% 23 -2.9% 25
16 LARD -3.4% 1.3% 12 9-7 -10.7% 23 -5.6% 11 1.7% 6
17 NYJ -4.2% 0.5% 13 6-10 -2.6% 14 0.5% 18 -1.1% 17
18 IND -6.2% -4.5% 19 8-8 -7.2% 20 -2.4% 13 -1.4% 19
19 NYG -6.9% -8.2% 21 9-7 -9.5% 22 0.3% 17 2.9% 4
20 DEN -8.5% -6.1% 20 7-9 -0.3% 11 9.8% 26 1.6% 7
21 SEA -9.2% -21.1% 26 6-10 -12.9% 25 -1.2% 14 2.6% 5
22 ARI -10.6% 2.0% 11 8-8 -21.1% 27 -14.5% 3 -4.0% 27
23 LARM -10.8% -11.1% 22 4-12 -3.0% 15 2.9% 20 -4.9% 28
24 ATL -14.8% -14.3% 23 7-9 -6.7% 19 5.9% 24 -2.2% 23
25 WAS -17.8% -18.3% 25 3-13 -11.2% 24 10.3% 27 3.7% 3
26 TB -18.6% -17.2% 24 6-10 -7.8% 21 12.2% 28 1.4% 9
27 CIN -25.9% -24.5% 27 3-13 -18.3% 26 5.3% 22 -2.3% 24
28 HOU -30.8% -26.1% 28 2-14 -22.4% 28 6.9% 25 -1.5% 20

DVOA for 1994 is now listed in the stats pages:

The 1994 data is also now in the Football Outsiders Premium database, and it comes with some other updates. All DVOA numbers in the Premium database are updated to the newest version of DVOA (v6.0). The only exception is the "DVOA Week-by-Week during the season." That requires me to re-run every season week-by-week, and I hope to get to that soon, but for now those numbers are not updated (and 1994 is not yet included). Adjusted Line Yards numbers are also updated with the new formula that accounts for the difference between shotgun and non-shotgun plays, and ALY/ASR now goes back one more year, to 1996.

Steve Young is the top-rated quarterback of 1994, with one of the top quarterback seasons in recent memory. Young completed 70.3 percent of his passes that season, the only quarterback in NFL history with a completion rate over 70 percent on at least 400 pass attempts. (In FO numbers, with spikes removed, Young's completion rate is even higher.) Young's advanced stats are hurt by the fact that San Francisco played an extremely easy schedule in 1994. If we don't adjust for schedule, he comes out with 1,851 YAR, which would be the fifth best passing season of the DVOA Era. After adjusting for schedule, he comes out with 1,687 DYAR, which is tied with Kurt Warner's 2001 season for tenth in all-time DYAR.  The list of top quarterbacks in 1994 is basically a Hall of Fame rundown -- including the first-ever DYAR for Joe Montana -- but there's one big exception in the top seven:


Player Team DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Passes Yards TD FK FL INT C%
S.Young SF 1,687 1 40.4% 2 502 3,901 35 2 1 10 70.6%
D.Marino MIA 1,421 2 23.4% 6 636 4,458 30 6 2 17 63.0%
J.Everett NO 1,183 3 20.9% 7 574 3,934 22 1 1 18 64.2%
B.Favre GB 1,045 4 15.7% 9 613 3,780 33 2 3 14 62.8%
T.Aikman DAL 928 5 27.0% 5 386 2,755 13 0 2 12 64.9%
J.Montana KC 809 6 13.3% 10 516 3,229 16 2 5 9 61.1%
W.Moon MIN 695 7 6.3% 14 634 4,056 18 6 2 18 62.2%
D.Bledsoe NE 683 8 3.7% 19 711 4,447 25 5 4 25 58.7%
D.Krieg DET 640 9 34.7% 3 231 1,581 15 3 1 3 61.8%
S.Humphries SD 613 10 9.2% 12 485 3,117 17 2 2 12 58.4%

Wait, Jim "Chris" Everett? For the 7-9 New Orleans Saints? Actually, yes. Everett didn't make the Pro Bowl -- look at the NFC competition, for crying out loud -- but he played very well in his first season in New Orleans. The Saints signed him after he had a horrible 1993 for the Rams, completing less than 50 percent of his passes.

Krieg's top ten ranking is a good example of how 1994 was a very good year for part-time quarterbacks putting up great DVOA ratings with a small sample size. Krieg took over when Scott Mitchell (DVOA: -7.1%) was injured at midseason and led the Lions into the playoffs. Chris Chandler started six games for the otherwise-dismal Los Angeles Rams and put up a DVOA rating of 27.9%, with seven touchdowns and only two interceptions. Of course, the Rams couldn't do anything else right so they still went 2-4 in those games, including an 8-5 loss to Atlanta on October 2. The best of the short-term quarterbacks was Mike Tomczak, who started two games when Neil O'Donnell was injured at midseason and had 45.8% DVOA with just 100 pass attempts, converting nearly half of his third-down opportunities.

Down at the bottom of the ratings you'll find David Klinger in his last attempt to start in the NFL, along with fun names like Dan McGwire and (Congressman) Heath Shuler. Also, filed under "it's probably the team not the quarterbacks" were the three men who attempted to replace Warren Moon as quarterback of the Houston Oilers. Bucky Richardson, Cody Carlson, and B.J. Tolliver were all in the bottom five for passing DYAR in 1994.

In rushing, 1994 is a year where DVOA definitely comes down on the Emmitt Smith side of the Emmitt Smith-Barry Sanders debate. Sanders had 1,883 rushing yards that year, but his Success Rate of 46 percent was just 19th among backs with at least 100 carries. Smith had "only" 1,484 yards, but with a 52 percent Success Rate (sixth) and 21 touchdowns, he far surpasses Sanders in DYAR.

One shocking name on the rankings for running backs is the one way down at the bottom: Jerome Bettis. As a rookie in 1993, Bettis averaged 4.9 yards per carry, but things collapsed in his second season. Bettis had barely over 1,000 yards despite 319 carries, which worked out to 3.2 yards per carry and -183 DYAR. He also had more fumbles (five) than touchdowns (four). Despite this, Bettis somehow made it to the Pro Bowl. I'm guessing he made it as an injury replacement -- he's listed on the roster according to pro-football-reference but other sites don't list him on the roster for that season. Even if he was an injury replacement, that has to be one of the worst Pro Bowl picks ever. The next year, the Rams moved to St. Louis and Bettis finished 38th in DYAR instead of 39th. But in 1996, once he was in Pittsburgh, Bettis blossomed (thanks in large part to his offensive line, one would think) and ranked first and fourth in rushing DYAR in 1996-1997.

The best wide receiver of 1994? Well, we had a bit of a shock when we tabulated DYAR for 1995 and Michael Irvin came out ahead of Jerry Rice, but there's no such shock in 1994. Rice is easily the top-rated wide receiver, with 546 DYAR. He also led the league that year by catching 75 percent of intended passes. Rice now has two of the top four wide receiver DYAR seasons of all-time. The only players ahead of him are Irvin (1995) and Randy Moss (2007).

The most interesting wide receiver of 1994 is probably not Rice but the one receiver who had more receptions that season: Cris Carter. Carter caught 122 passes with seven touchdowns and a very good 65 percent catch rate. He was chosen first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press. Yet he still ends up ranking 60 out of 68 receivers with -12.1% DVOA. Huh? The issue isn't schedule strength, since his non-adjusted VOA rating isn't much better. Why is Carter so low that year? Part of the issue was butterfingers, although it wasn't the main reason for the low rating. Carter fumbled four times that season, which is very high for a wide receiver. The bigger problem seems to be short routes. Carter averaged only 10.3 yards per reception, the second lowest figure of any receiver with at least 50 passes (Ricky Sanders averaged just 8.9 yards per reception) and much lower than his career average of 12.6 yards per reception. More than 30 percent of his receptions were for five yards or fewer, the highest rate of any receiver with at least 30 pass targets. He also had a weird year where he kept just missing the sticks -- six different times he caught a pass on third-and-long and was stopped one yard short of a new first down.

Ben Coates was the top-rated tight end of 1994, although Brent Jones was a close second. Ricky Watters was the top receiving running back, followed by Larry Centers and Ronnie Harmon.

Some other comments on the 1994 season:

  • I'm planning on improving special teams ratings sometime in the near future, but for now, the 1994 Cleveland Browns have the third highest special teams rating of the DVOA Era, trailing only the 2002 Saints and the 2007 Bears. The Browns ranked in the top seven of all five special teams categories, although they were not first in any of them. Matt Stover, then a wee lad at 26 years of age, led the league by hitting 93 percent of his field goals. His kickoffs were just average, and punter Tom Tupa was slightly above average. However, the Browns had awesome coverage teams, allowing only one kick return to end on the Cleveland side of the field (a 54-yarder by recent HOF inductee Rod Woodson) and allowing just one punt return of more than 20 yards. Eric Metcalf brought two punts back for touchdowns and would rank higher if not for three fumbles. Kickoff returner Randy Baldwin had a touchdown of his own and averaged nearly 27 yards per return.
  • 1994 includes some great data points for the "third-down rebound" effect. Atlanta ranked 28th in offense on third downs, but 19th overall. In 1995, the Falcons improved to seventh in overall offense. New England was second in defense on third downs, but eighth overall. In 1995, the Patriots defense plummeted to 29th in the league. Seattle ranked fifth in defense on third downs, 14th overall. In 1995, the Seahawks defense plummeted to 25th in the league.
  • The Oilers had one of the biggest differences in history between offensive DVOA passing (-33.6%, last) and rushing (0.3%, seventh). They used a committee featuring Lorenzo White and Gary Brown. Brown was a short-yardage specialist, a lot like what LenDale White was last year -- he was 10th among all running backs with 50 percent Success Rate even though he averaged fewer than 4.0 yards per carry.
  • We all know that usage of the shotgun has skyrocketed over the last few years, right? Want to know just how much things have changed? Last year every team except Seattle ran at least 10 percent of its plays from shotgun. Well, back in 1994, only 11 teams ran at least 10 percent of plays from shotgun, and 11 different teams didn't use shotgun on a single snap. Denver was the team that used shotgun the most that year, 41 percent of offensive plays. The Broncos' offensive DVOA was 31.3% in shotgun and -18.0% with John Elway under center, and they gained nearly two more yards per play from shotgun.

One of the most notable things about these early seasons of DVOA is how team performance was much, much closer bunched together. Remember, 1994 was only the second season with a salary cap and total free agency. Yet compared to today, the best team and worst team were much closer together in terms of results, particularly on defense. Last year, the gap between the best defense (Pittsburgh) and the worst defense (Detroit) was 56.1% DVOA. In 1994, the gap between the best defense (Pittsburgh, because the Steelers never change) and the worst defense (Tampa Bay) was just 32.4% DVOA.

Schedule strength is another good example of this trend. In 1994, the difference between the hardest schedule (Detroit, 4.4%) and the easiest schedule (Pittsburgh, -3.1%) was just 7.5% DVOA. In 2008, the difference between the hardest schedule (Cleveland, 11.0%) and the easiest schedule (New York Jets, -5.9%) was 16.9%, more than twice as big a gap. Sure, last year was a really extreme year for schedule strength because the western divisions were so poor, but the gap was even bigger back in 2005 when those divisions weren't nearly as bad. That year, the gap between the hardest schedule (San Diego, 10.9%) and the easiest schedule (Seattle, -10.5%) was over 20 percentage points of DVOA.

Looking at this historical trend, it isn't surprising that the last two seasons have seen the first 16-0 team and the first 0-16 team in NFL history. The question is: Why? Why has competitive balance in the NFL apparently worsened over the past few years?

We have to thank all the readers who participated in the 1994 transcription project: Bryan Knowles, Stan Buck, Michael Bonner, Sergio Berrecil Lopez, Jeremy Billones, Tom Gower, Kevin Mayo, Moshe Dachs, Ron Berns, James Doyle, Frank Pelkofer, and especially Jeremy Snyder. Jeremy not only did more games than anyone else, he also took care of translating the gamebooks for various teams whose official scorers were using non-standard play descriptions back in the pre-Internet Stone Age. He also went through when all was done and changed play-by-play IDs so that multiple players with the same first initial and last name would not be listed with the same IDs. It was a ton of work.

So what's next? Things have actually speeded up a bit when it comes to transcribing old play-by-play, and we already have 1993 about 80 percent complete. However, we've also hit our first stumbling block: The Week 17 New Orleans at Philadelphia game apparently is the first gamebook that no longer exists. The Hall of Fame can't find it, the Saints lost their old gamebooks in some sort of storage mishap, and the Eagles have great archives except that they are missing the 1993 season. I'm actually contacting NFL Films to see if I can get footage of the game to create my own gamebook. I know there are people in the industry who read FO... if any of you might have access to the television broadcast of this game, please e-mail us. I know we'll eventually hit a season where we can't do every single game, but I was hoping that season would be somewhere in the 1970's, not the 1990's.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 19 Aug 2009

59 comments, Last at 26 Aug 2009, 3:52pm by Jerry

Comments

1
by Temo :: Wed, 08/19/2009 - 3:49pm

Michael Irvin ftw

2
by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 08/19/2009 - 4:07pm

Great stuff.

3
by Jim Kimber (not verified) :: Wed, 08/19/2009 - 4:12pm

1994 was when I tried spread betting and I thought that betting on San Francisco in that game vs Philly (giving up about 10) was a pretty safe investment with minimal downside - worst case scenario was if they only won by a field goal or so. The 32-point loss, added to the 10 points I gave away meant a loss of 42x my stake, which i am not going to post here in case my mum reads this. I gave up spread betting pretty soon after that.

4
by Bjorn Nittmo (not verified) :: Wed, 08/19/2009 - 4:35pm

Interesting that the '94 Giants, who finished the season with 6 straight wins, ended with a weighted DVOA 8.4 points lower than the Eagles, who finished with 6 straight losses. Not that I'm necessarily skeptical, since the Giants were eminently mediocre that year and beat mostly lousy teams during that streak -- except of course for beating the Eagles in Philly. (They also beat Dallas on the last week, but Dallas absolutely didn't care about that game and rested Aikman and Smith; I think they may have left at halftime to beat traffic on the NJ Turnpike. But I'm not sure how DVOA would know this.)

11
by chemical burn :: Wed, 08/19/2009 - 5:34pm

Man, I was thinking the sorta inverse thing - watching the Eagles in early 90's was so painful because they had these good teams that seemed to play well (I mean they didn't just look good on paper) and they still couldn't win anything. They'd do things like the beat the future SB champs by ungodly margins (we also did to Dallas one year) and then miss they playoffs or get bounced by a team they had slaughtered earlier in the season. I remember that losing streak, but I had forgotten they started the season so strong and that the streak lasted SEVEN games to close out the season.

That's the Eagles for ya: good teams, no results.

21
by chemical burn :: Wed, 08/19/2009 - 7:35pm

Gah - I also just realized I was at that Eagles/Giants game you mentioned, one of only a dozen or so Eagles games I've been to in person. We lost on a last second field goal and, as a youngster, I was really convinced that icing the kicker would work, so I was stunned when the Giants kicker put it through... Ugh, not a fond memory...

32
by E :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 10:15am

some things never change. You could just as easily have just described the 2008 Eagles.

36
by chemical burn :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 11:37am

Don't I know it - they manhandled both the Steelers and the Cardinals during the regular season...

5
by MJK :: Wed, 08/19/2009 - 4:39pm

Wow. Ben Coates. There's a name I haven't heard in a while. The only receiving threat the Patriots had in the early '90's.

Question on the third down rebound effect. In the original article (I think it was a DVOA predictions analysis that Aaron wrote a few years ago) where this effect is identified, I'm pretty sure that Aaron said at the time that it only applied to the offensive side of the ball...teams that are out of kilter on offense on 3rd down tend to reset, but teams that are out of kilter on defense do not.

Was this notion later disproved and now it has been established that it happens on both sides of the ball? What goes into the "modern" DVOA projections these days?

6
by Bobman :: Wed, 08/19/2009 - 4:39pm

in our laps!

So I will make just three:
1) Ah, the days of the Colts perpetual mediocrity. Always on the verge of the WC race in late December, fate always in the hands of someone else, Bob mumbling novenas in vain...

2) Buffalo was ranked #3 in DVOA in 2004? Are you shitting me? Have I been living under a rock?

3) Bucky Richardson, for me, invented the QB wrong-hand throw. I've only seen it twice, more famously by Manning in a 2004 game vs the Vikes (clip is on NFL.com), but Richardson did it as a rookie in a preseason game sprinting to the left to avoid a solid pass rush, running up the sideline, then switching hands and somehow throwing for a completion--one of those "everything out of bounds except the WR's toes" catches IIRC. I didn't realize he ever played a regular season down....

okay, a 4th: DVOA compression in the second year of salary cap suggests the cap did what it was supposed to do in the short run (like movement along supply and demand curves, where there's always a reaction that moves the lines again), but people adapted and the cream rose to the top, like in evolution.

49
by DFJinPgh (not verified) :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 3:40pm

2) Buffalo was ranked #3 in DVOA in 2004? Are you shitting me? Have I been living under a rock?

I noticed that too. Typo? Anyone have the scoop?

51
by chemical burn :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 4:41pm

It's a weird thing they've mentioned before: 9-7 Buffalo had a huge DVOA - remember, there was a stretch of years there were they had good defenses and outrageously great special teams... In DVOA, they were first by a good margin in both D and ST. The D was anchored by an "in their prime" Takeo Spikes, Nate Clements and Terrence McGee. Sam Adams and Lawyer Milloy also had great years. They lost 3 games by 3 or less points and finished 3rd in the AFC East... But, yeah, weird, right? Buffalo trumps my beloved Eagles for good teams, no rings, no respect...

7
by mcheshier :: Wed, 08/19/2009 - 4:42pm

Regarding competitive balance, do you think that the freedom of free agency has given incompetent front offices (Think Millen, Davis, the guys who ran the 49ers into the ground, etc) more rope to hang themselves?

13
by Led (not verified) :: Wed, 08/19/2009 - 5:47pm

More likely that ability to wisely manage personnel under a salary cap is even less widely dispersed than the ability to play in the NFL. And a poor cap position makes it harder to rebound than just a weak roster, particularly given the cost of early first round draft picks and the crapshoot nature of those picks.

20
by BucNasty :: Wed, 08/19/2009 - 6:58pm

I was thinking it has to do with the rising cap allowing teams to use the franchise tag to prevent players from leaving in free agency and still being able to go out and sign what marquee players do hit the market.

42
by Eli (not verified) :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 12:47pm

Also the effect of poor cap management compounds over time. You can muddle through for a few years with bad drafts, over the hill free agents and no depth but eventually you will have to pay the piper.

43
by Jacob Stevens (not verified) :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 1:28pm

Nah, it's got to be league expansion. A lot of us have thought of free agency as the culprit, we've pored over it so much to analyze its affect, and I think that has come and gone, as others have already discussed.

League expansion. Think about it. On a macro level, what else comes close to the significance of league expansion, in this timeframe? Since 1996, we've had 4 expansion teams. Realignment in 2001, and free agency FO competency + standout QBs in Manning, Brady, Roethlisberger, caused temporal inbalance of power across divisions. But over these 2 decades, 4 new teams, plus at least 2 roster expansions (and Polian wants another, which means we'll see it within 4 years) has led to the disparity.

I'm sure this can be confirmed, measured, by someone smarter than me. But for now, let this be a case for moving the Vikes or Saints to LA rather than expanding with a new franchise (which would mess up the symmetry of realignment anyway.

8
by James-London :: Wed, 08/19/2009 - 4:53pm

Got to love the Dolphins. 2nd in Offensive DVOA, 12th in Defensive DVOA, put 3TDs and no turnovers on San Deigo in the divisional round, and still lost 22-21...

That list of QBs is impressive.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

52
by johonny (not verified) :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 6:13pm

Isn't that the game the kicker wiffed as time ticked off the clock:( Only been

9
by The Ninjalectual :: Wed, 08/19/2009 - 5:06pm

Only 2 more years until we get to 1992, the year of TECMO SUPER BOWL!!!

----------------------------------
"Just look at that pumpkin."
-John Madden, looking at the moon.

12
by c_f (not verified) :: Wed, 08/19/2009 - 5:36pm

QB Eagles ftw!

14
by The Anti-Dave (not verified) :: Wed, 08/19/2009 - 5:48pm

1991 is the season featured in the original Tecmo Super Bowl, based on 1990 rosters and player performance.

I do hope to see ample TSB references and comparisons for that season, with special focus on Wayne Haddix, Bob Nelson, and the Patriots' pink uniforms.

15
by Vincent Verhei :: Wed, 08/19/2009 - 5:51pm

Wasn't Seattle in pink?

26
by c_f (not verified) :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 12:28am

That's in the original, easily-confused-with-the-sequel, originally-for-Game-Boy "Tecmo Bowl". (as opposed to "Tecmo Super Bowl") Which featured the mighty Lawrence Taylor blocking every single FG. And Jack Trudeau's womanly arm. And the 'boys with Herschel Walker and not much else.

35
by Steve (not verified) :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 11:35am

It was actually originally for NES and ported over to Game Boy a year or so later. Great classic game.

27
by thedmg :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 12:53am

Actually, both of you are correct.

You are correct that the original Tecmo Super Bowl for the Nintendo was released in '91, based on '90 rosters. This is the game with the insane Bo Jackson.

But the Super Nintendo version, also called Tecmo Super Bowl, was released in '93 and appears to be based off of '92 performance but with '93 rosters and schedule (it was released in November of 1993). So, there's also truth to the claim that '92 is the year of Tecmo Super Bowl. This was the first to feature a three-season franchise.

Ironically enough, my favorite of the three games, Tecmo Super Bowl III: Final Edition, is based on the stats for this year of DVOA - 1994.

10
by JCRODRIGUEZ (not verified) :: Wed, 08/19/2009 - 5:14pm

Good Lord, after watching those rankings is even more painful to remember that AFCCG at Three Rivers...I really wanted a shot at the Niners then...but, hey, that's what happens when Neil O'Donell is your "franchise qb"...

16
by Jerry :: Wed, 08/19/2009 - 5:52pm

It wasn't O'Donnell who left Alfred Bleeping Pupunu wide open.

17
by Tom Gower :: Wed, 08/19/2009 - 6:18pm

Looking at the box score of that Eagles-Saints game in 1993, I blame Roger Ruzek and/or the Eagles' special teams coach. 3 failed XPs!?! Then again, maybe it was the immortal Mike Buck, who went 1-7 for 14 yards in his only NFL start. Or Steve Walsh, who relieved Buck but ended up with a fewer AdjPassYds.

23
by Obvious (not verified) :: Wed, 08/19/2009 - 11:18pm

Buck was one of the best ever QBs.

From Maine.

29
by dryheat :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 8:36am

Yet in his rookie year, I remember him coming off the bench (for the Saints, IIRC) to throw a end-of-half Hail Mary touchdown pass. On the penultimate play of the half, the Saints(?) QB faked a hand injury so the defense wouldn't think anything of the stronger-armed Buck coming into the game.

33
by Tom Gower :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 10:28am

I'm guessing the game you remember is this one. Rookie year, one pass for 61 yards. Of course, this being the Saints, it wasn't actually a touchdown and the Saints went on to lose to the Falcons in OT. Had they won that game, they would've beaten out the Lions for the #2 seed.

34
by Travis :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 10:44am

According to this Saints forum, it was a flea-flicker, not a Hail Mary. After the play, Steve Walsh came back in.

Edited:

USA Today, 11/25/1991

New Orleans led 7-3 at halftime on Gill Fenerty's 2-yard TD run after a 61- yard flea-flicker pass from Mike Buck to Floyd Turner.

Buck, a second-year quarterback appearing in his first NFL game, came on late in the second quarter as Steve Walsh, feigning injury, came off acting as if he had jammed a finger.

Buck handed off to Stanford Jennings, who started running left and then handed off to rookie receiver Wesley Carroll on a reverse right. Carroll tossed back to Buck, who stepped up into the pocket and fired deep.

18
by Clacey :: Wed, 08/19/2009 - 6:44pm

I thought... wow, I didn't realise Spread betting was a multiplier!

47
by jebmak :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 2:03pm

He must have bought a shiite-load of points. That sounds pretty rough.

58
by David :: Wed, 08/26/2009 - 3:35pm

Spread betting is not the same as betting against the spread

59
by Jerry :: Wed, 08/26/2009 - 3:52pm

OK. Please enlighten those of us who aren't gamblers - what's spread betting?

19
by JSap :: Wed, 08/19/2009 - 6:47pm

Sorry, I just missed being able to help you - I have (almost) the entire 1992 Eagles season on tape - 1993 went bad to quick, and I didn't keep recording all of the games...

22
by dbrude@gmail.com :: Wed, 08/19/2009 - 11:17pm

Ahh my 1994 Niners. The only great 90's Niners team that actually won a ring. They WERE on a roll the end of the season. It would have been a shame to come out of the 90's with zero super bowls with the run of great teams we add.

Speaking of spreads, the line for the Niners/SD Super Bowl was the largest spread in superbowl history at an amazing -18. And the niners as we all know covered with ease.

24
by dbrude@gmail.com :: Wed, 08/19/2009 - 11:34pm

A couple thoughts about this question

"Looking at this historical trend, it isn't surprising that the last two seasons have seen the first 16-0 team and the first 0-16 team in NFL history. The question is: Why? Why has competitive balance in the NFL apparently worsened over the past few years?"

The definition of competitive balance isn't well defined in that paragraph. I don't really think it has worsened. Last year was a random statistical blip that will happen from time to time. I mean in 2007 the difference between the best and worse defenses was only 29% DVOA. WOW teams are actually more competitive...uhh no.

If there is any real difference in competitive balance, which i'm not going to spend time trying to rigorously analyze, the simple answer would be expansion. 1994 was the last time the league had only 28 teams. If you shrank the the current NFL back to 28 teams, you would think teams on average would be more competitive.

25
by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 12:20am

"He also had a weird year where he kept just missing the sticks -- six different times he caught a pass on third-and-long and was stopped one yard short of a new first down."

I think every single time this happened, my dad probably shouted "That's a Viking play! Throw a nine yard pass on 3rd and 10!"

These were very formative years.

28
by t.d. :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 12:57am

Don't know if this is why the schedule imbalance is occurring, but the formula for who teams play has changed repeatedly. I don't really remember any of the old five team divisions having all mediocre teams (though even then the four team divisions sometimes stunk)

30
by dryheat :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 8:40am

I find it slightly amazing that Ricky Proehl was the 66th ranked WR in 1994, and 15 years later is still in the league (is he?)

Also, in the name of accuracy, I think John Burke was a backup tight end for the Patriots, not a WR. I remember in an old PlayStation game I would often use double TE set, and Burke was always open on the out pattern, and went two seasons dropping literally every pass I threw. Yet I kept throwing it, since the nearest defender was seven yards from him. The compterized defenders were smarter than me. The anti-Bo.

44
by J. Morse (not verified) :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 1:43pm

Chris Gedney and Ryan Wetnight of the Bears were also TEs, not WRs.

48
by Aaron Schatz :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 2:29pm

Oddly, I have all three guys as TE in our new "master player DB" so I don't know why I have them as WR in the player stats. I'll change that shortly.

31
by bowman :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 8:51am

Can we keep LARD as an abbreviation for the Raiders? It seems much more appropriate than OAK these days. As in, "Cable hit a LARD Ass. Coach last week".

39
by ammek :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 12:06pm

I don't know. From my window I can see a craggy old OAK, imperiously spreading its brittle branches over a narrow stream. The leaves are thick and green in August, but come September they will yellow and droop. By midseason, OAK will be left naked, though somehow unembarrassed, its wide-borne branches emblems of a bygone grandeur, now dangling pitifully and rather ridiculously beside the ever-quickening stream. Sat against OAK's trunk you may discern the tragic figure of Raiderjoe, sheltering from the breeze with a six-pack of Sierra Nevada and staring into a crystal ball, whose crazy distorted optics promise a world where it is always summer, and usually 1976.

46
by chemical burn :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 1:51pm

ammek, that is the most poetic, tragic and true thing ever committed to an internet message board.

37
by Temo :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 11:42am

By the way, I find it amusing that Jerry Jones' proclamation that anyone could win those Cowboys teams turns out to be proven by DVOA. I mean, Barry freakin' Switzer was the coach of the best team in the NFL in 1994? Really?

It really is all about the talent (though Johnson was the one that acquired most of them).

40
by tuluse :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 12:14pm

A large part of coaching is a using your players correctly. When Switzer came in, they had established systems that were working. They also had their assistants from the Johnson regime. The 90s Cowboys are an exception to bad coaching not the rule.

38
by mrh :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 12:00pm

How far in the past is 1994? I think this line captures it:

"...and led the Lions into the playoffs."

41
by ammek :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 12:41pm

Love these articles: can't wait for next year's (ie, 1993's). Chance for some nostalgia (Reggie Cobb! Barry Foster!), but also provides early context for a lot of future-great NFL careers. There's always someone that I felt wasn't as bad as the press he got -- this time it's Craig Erickson -- for whom DVOA comes to my rescue.

Why has competitive balance in the NFL apparently worsened over the past few years?

The most striking thing about the stats is the run-pass dichotomy. On defense, for instance, fully 27 of the league's 28 teams have a negative (ie, above 'average') rushing DVOA. Merely seven defenses are negative against the pass. Although the number and ratio of runs and passes has barely changed, NFL teams averaged an extra 12 yards per game on the ground in 2008 compared with 1994.

In addition, turnovers have declined, by nearly one per game in the last 14 years. Scoring reached its nadir in 1994, at 40 points a game, nearly four points fewer than today. On the other hand, we are now treated to an average of one less punt per game now than in 1994.

Seems that in '94 teams were far more inclined to run the ball even when they weren't getting anywhere with it than they are today. They were more careless with the ball. And home-field advantage was more significant.

I think it's also worth emphasizing that we were still in the period of AFC mediocrity. The AFC produced significantly fewer 12+ win teams during 1985-95 than any conference before or since.

It's commonplace to believe that free agency increased parity. That is not the case. Doug Drinen over at PFR demonstrated ages ago that inter-season parity has increased (eg last year's Dolphins and Falcons), but intra-season parity has remained constant for 30 years, with a slight bulge in the early 90s. I'd be tempted to regard the perfect and imperfectly-perfect Pats' and Lions' seasons as flukes, and the low-scoring, 'home-team-wins' early 1990s as the outlier. But it needs more investigation.

45
by jebmak :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 1:43pm

In rushing, 1994 is a year where DVOA definitely comes down on the Emmitt Smith side of the Emmitt Smith-Barry Sanders debate.

Those of us on the Sanders side would argue that Smith's line (and team) gave him an unfair advantage in the head-to-head competition.

50
by Bruce G. (not verified) :: Thu, 08/20/2009 - 4:11pm

As an Eagles fan I can't help but notice that even in 1994 DVOA loved the Eagles. They are the highest ranked losing team in the chart, even ahead of the 11-5 Browns.

Perhaps they are aided by the fact that the NFC East has always been a very tough division so picking up a win against a division foe who is likely better than average helps the statistical rating?

As others have pointed out though some things never change, good DVOA - no SB rings. Sigh, hopefully once before I go......

53
by Marver :: Fri, 08/21/2009 - 12:45am

1994: The beginning of the Buffalo Bills Hamster Dynasty

54
by ammek :: Fri, 08/21/2009 - 10:33am

There's an error in the column containing the Saints' pythagorian wins.

Not only is this the first DYAR for Joe Montana, it's the first for two receivers whose HoF cases provoke discussion: Sterling Sharpe and Art Monk (discounting Monk's three games for Philly in 1995). Monk's stats are true to his legend: his 71% catch rate is third-best among qualifiers, and I'm guessing he's the exception to Bill Barnwell's theory, since he was catching balls from ageing Boomer Esiason and the legendary Jack Trudeau. Sharpe grades out a respectable ninth in YAR, despite playing only fourteen-and-a-half games before suffering a career-ending injury.

Green Bay's fourth-ranking DVOA is a little surprising: it needed to win its last three games in 1994 to scrape a winning record and a playoff berth. This was a frustrating era to be a Packer fan, as the team always seemed to be on the verge of a breakthrough -- Favre, in his second season as a full-time starter, when nobody was sick of him except Bears fans, out-DVOAed Montana and Moon -- but wound up losing too many scrappy games in the tight NFC Central. DVOA proves the point. Ironically the team regressed in 1995 (especially on defense) but got the Yancy-Thigpen-shaped block of good fortune it required to win the division and throw off the curse of John Hadl.

Another indicator of the league's apparent parity: variance. Median variance in 1994 was 11.3%, which compares with nearly 14% five years later and around 17% today.

Finally, I'd been particularly looking forward to 1994 in order to put the skids under my own seething campaign to muddy the name of Bob Slowik, defensive coordinator from hell. You may recall that in seven seasons of DVOA from 1995-2008, Slowik's teams had never finished in the top two-thirds. His reputation, I reasoned, must have been secured from his two "pre-DVOA" years in Chicago, 1993 and 1994, where according to conventional stats he oversaw a top-ten defense. Well, no. Chicago's defense ranked 15th in DVOA in 1994, in a 28-team league. Its DVOA was slightly negative -- by far Slowik's best performance in eight seasons -- but still below average. Clearly the guy has a stupendous ability to sweet-talk himself into a promotion.

55
by Jetspete :: Fri, 08/21/2009 - 11:08am

great stuff. my perspective has changed a bit thanks to this article. As a Jet fan, this season will always be remembered for the fake spike. Perhaps no single play in NFL history has sent a team on such a downward spiral (save "the Catch"). In hindsight, the Jets were just an average team with a brutal schedule. Had they won the fake spike game, they wouldve been in 1st place, instead they lost and went on a 2 year, 4-33 run. But as this article shows, it is unlikely they wouldve stayed in first.

56
by Spielman :: Sat, 08/22/2009 - 12:25pm

"1994 is a year where DVOA definitely comes down on the Emmitt Smith side of the Emmitt Smith in the context of the Dallas offense-Barry Sanders in the context of the Detroit offense debate."

Fixed that for you, Football Outsiders.

57
by scott ford (not verified) :: Sun, 08/23/2009 - 6:38pm

Steve Bono played Well in the 49ers system. I love FO stats.
But I do not believe their QB stats are their best work.
In order to accurately judge QB's you have to take into
account the quality of their Offensive line, receivers, system etc.
Take Peyton Manning out of the dome and put him behind the steelers
Offensive line and lets see how good he is. FO has long
way to go before they get their qB ratings right.