Our thoughts on the Super Bowl rematch, early MVP contenders, and tactics to avoid on third-and-long.
01 Oct 2013
by Aaron Schatz
As we've noted many times in the last few years, a recent wave of "surprise" Super Bowl champions has obscured the fact that parity during the regular season has actually been getting weaker. And boy, are we feeling that this season. Opponent adjustments are applied to our DVOA ratings this week for the first time in 2013, but that doesn't do much to help the Jacksonville Jaguars, who currently register as the worst team Football Outsiders has ever tracked through four games.
| WORST TOTAL DVOA
THROUGH 4 GAMES, 1989-2013*
|x|| WORST OFFENSIVE DVOA
THROUGH 4 GAMES, 1989-2013*
|*For teams with Week 5 bye, we listed ratings with adjustments through Week 4 rather than Week 5.|
How bad is it for the Jaguars' offense? In pass offense, the gap between Jacksonville (-74.2% DVOA) and the No. 31 New York Jets (-19.9% DVOA) is larger than the gap between the Jets and the Seattle Seahawks, who rank fifth in the league in passing offense (31.7%). That's just mind-boggling. In our latest playoff odds simulation, the Jaguars end up with the No. 1 overall pick more than two-thirds of the time.
And on the other side of things, we have the Denver Broncos. Remember when we wrote in Football Outsiders Almanac 2013 that the Broncos' defense would probably regress heavily towards the mean this year? That prediction has turned out absolutely right, although it certainly has been helped along by the injury to Champ Bailey and the suspension of Von Miller. The Broncos are currently just 19th in defense. Does it matter? Not so far, because the Broncos lead the league in special teams and have the second-best offense we've ever tracked through four weeks.
| BEST TOTAL DVOA
THROUGH 4 GAMES, 1989-2013
|x|| BEST OFFENSIVE DVOA
THROUGH 4 GAMES, 1989-2013
To answer your question: Yes, that really is Washington in 1999 listed with the best offensive DVOA through four games, led by not-even-close-to-Hall of Famer Brad Johnson. We don't think of this as one of the great offenses in history because a) they slowed down and b) the defense wasn't good -- it finished the year 24th in defensive DVOA -- so it wasn't like the team was winning big every week. Washington lost its first game in overtime, then won the next three. In those four games, they averaged 32.5 points per game, although they allowed 28. That was the season Stephen Davis went crazy, with 1,405 yards and 17 touchdowns (nine of which he got in the first four weeks). For the full season, that team also got over 1,100 yards with 18.3 yards per reception from both Michael Westbrook and Albert Connell.
Back to Peyton Manning and this year's Broncos... I got an e-mail in the mailbag yesterday about Denver's ridiculous pace so far this year.
Bill Herman: Peyton Manning and the Broncos are headed for breaking a fistful of major all-time-records, including (but not limited to): most points in a season, biggest point differential, most passing yards, most passing touchdowns, and best passer rating. I'm wondering if you and/or others at FO have opinions on which of these (or other major records) are mostly likely to be broken by the end of the season.
So I e-mailed Bill back and pointed out the problem with reporting that "Player X is on pace for..." There usually were other players in the past who also were on similarly ridiculous paces early on in the season. Those players mostly trailed off a bit, as you might expect. It's hard to keep throwing four touchdowns a game. So the best way to determine if a team/player is likely to break a record is not to look at their current pace compared to the record, but to look at their current pace compared to the best teams/players in the past at a similar point in the season. That we do above with the "best/worst teams in DVOA" tables. These tables only look at the first four weeks of the season, with opponent adjustments based only on the data we had at the time (and only at 40 percent strength, same as now).
So, let's look at where the Broncos sit compared to other teams through four weeks.
Most points for an NFL team, season: 589
1966 Cowboys: 183
Broncos, so far: 179 (on pace for 716)
2002 Raiders: 160
1968 Cowboys: 159
Biggest point differential, season: +315
Broncos, +88 (on pace for +352)
Amazingly, the Broncos don't even have one of the top dozen "through four games" point differentials since 1960. The 1966 Cowboys were +138. The 1968 Cowboys were +116. Other recent higher (or equal) numbers:
1992 Bills: +108
2007 Patriots: +100
1999 Rams: +95
1997 Patriots: +90
1991 Redskins: +88
Most passing TDs, season: 50
Manning, so far: 16 (on pace for 64)
Kurt Warner, 1999: 14
Tom Brady, 2007: 13
Daunte Culpepper, 2004: 13
Most passing yards, season: 5,476
Kurt Warner, 1999: 1,557
Tom Brady, 2007: 1,553
Manning, so far: 1,470 (on pace for 5,880)
Kyle Orton, 2010: 1,419
Yes, Kyle Orton really is fourth all-time in passing yardage through four games, in a season where the Broncos went 3-10 with him as the starter. He had 476 yards on 57 passes in a ridiculous Week 3 loss to Indianapolis that year.
Best passer rating, season: 122.5
Manning, so far: 138.0
Kurt Warner, 1999: 136.0
Tom Brady, 2007: 134.7
Looking at these numbers, I think it's clear that the record most in danger is Tom Brady's record for passing touchdowns in a season. The other records are certainly possibilities, but passing touchdowns is the most likely. Point differential is the least likely, in part because you really can't expect the Broncos to be scoring this many points off special teams for the entire season.
As long as we're looking at teams that rank among the best and worst through four weeks, let's look at one more table. We all know the Giants have no running game this year, their offensive line is a mess, and the defense isn't playing well. You may not know that the special teams have been even worse than the offense or defense. The biggest issue is giving up two punt returns for touchdowns, but even if we remove those two returns, the Giants' average of 9.5 yards allowed on ten other returns would rank 23rd in the NFL. In addition, Josh Brown has missed two makeable field goals (38 and 44 yards), and Giants punt returners have muffed two punts. As a result, the Giants end up with the second-worst special teams we've ever tracked through four weeks.
| WORST ST DVOA
THROUGH 4 GAMES, 1989-2013
Applying opponent adjustments this week means we can get our first good look at schedule strength. As you might expect this early in the season, the best teams come out with the easiest schedules and the worst teams with the hardest schedules. It is hard to tell at this point whether Kansas City is really this good, and that's why opponents like the Eagles and Giants have struggled, or whether the Eagles and Giants are awful and so Kansas City looks better than it truly is. (This is kind of kooky, but even though Denver has blown away the rest of the NFL this year, their playoff odds actually dropped by 0.2 percent this week because the Chiefs went to 4-0 and rank third overall.) However, it is interesting to note a pack of teams near the bottom of the DVOA rankings who have played easier than normal schedules so far. Washington, Oakland, and St. Louis rank between 28th and 30th in DVOA with schedules ranking between 21st and 26th.
We also can start to get a good idea of future schedules at this point. The Patriots may have started 4-0, but things are going to get a lot harder. Not only did they just lose their best defensive player -- you can argue for Aqib Talib, but I'll still say Vince Wilfork -- but they have the league's hardest remaining schedule. The issue is less that they have a lot of hard games left, and more that they have no "gimmes." The worst teams still on New England's schedule are the AFC North teams other than Cincinnati, which currently rank 23rd, 24th, and 25th. The Chiefs may look good now, but they've had the league's easiest schedule so far and rank third going forward. Meanwhile, if you are looking to figure out who is going to win the NFC East, be aware the Eagles come out with the easiest remaining schedule out of all 32 teams, although Dallas is only 24th. There's a pretty good chance the NFC ends up with two wild cards with double-digit wins, because Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay, Chicago, and Detroit all rank among the seven easiest remaining schedules.
When comparing DVOA and VOA, also remember that the difference isn't entirely based on schedule strength; that difference also accounts for fumble recovery luck and the difference between special teams with (DVOA) and without (VOA) weather and altitude adjustments. Tennessee so far this year has recovered three of their own four fumbles on offense, and all four opponent fumbles on defense. On the other hand, the Steelers have lost five of their seven fumbles, and haven't recovered any of the three fumbles they've forced on defense.
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Each week during the 2013 season, we'll be partnering with EA Sports to bring special Football Outsiders-branded items to Madden 25 Ultimate Team. Each week, we'll be picking out a handful of players who starred in that week's games. Some of them will be well-known players who stood out in DVOA and DYAR. Others will be under-the-radar players who only stood out with advanced stats. We'll announce the players each Tuesday in the DVOA commentary article, and the players will be available in Madden Ultimate Team packs the following weekend.
The Football Outsiders stars for Week 4 are:
For those who are curious about some other players, we try not to add players who were updated in recent weeks. For example, we considered both Alterraun Verner and Zack Brown of Tennessee, but they were both part of the Week 1 "Team of the Week." We also considered Seattle's Chris Clemons, but he was recently added in a player update, so the guys from Madden Ultimate Team want to wait a few weeks before they put a newer, boosted version of Clemons out there.
Also, the Talib stats listed here are based on a graphic from the NBC broadcast; we're doing our own charting to determine our take on how many passes Talib was targeted on/allowed completions on.
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These are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through four weeks of 2013, 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 strength of schedule 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.
Because it is early in the season, opponent adjustments are only at 40 percent strength; they will increase 10 percent every week through Week 10. As always, positive numbers represent more points so DEFENSE is better when it is NEGATIVE.
DAVE is a formula which combines our preseason projection with current DVOA to get a more accurate forecast of how a team will play the rest of the season. Right now, the preseason projection makes up 45 percent of DAVE (55 percent for Carolina and Green Bay). The projection portion of DAVE has been adjusted for some teams with major injuries or personnel changes.
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>
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