by Aaron Schatz
A wild Week 14 in the NFL ended up with every team in last week's DVOA top five dropping a little bit. The most important game was Sunday night's Bears win over the Rams, which put the Bears back into the top five with a defense that's getting near historic levels and also set up DVOA Bowl XIX on Thursday night. It's the second game this season matching the top two teams in our ratings.
Kansas City is still at No. 1 despite having their first game all season with negative single-game DVOA (-13.1%) in a narrow overtime win over Baltimore. The Chiefs saw their DVOA decline in all three phases of the game. That still leaves them among the best offenses we've ever tracked, but they do drop out of the No. 1 spot in special teams for the first time all season. Your new No. 1 special teams unit belongs to the New York Jets, powered by outstanding seasons from kicker Jason Myers (30-for-32, including 6-for-7 from 50+ yards) and return man Andre Roberts (first in punt return value, fourth in kick return value).
The No. 2 and No. 3 spots are still part of the Fight for L.A., but now switched. The Los Angeles Chargers dropped slightly in DVOA after a narrow win over the Cincinnati Bengals, but the Los Angeles Rams dropped more after the Bears completely shut down their offense, and that means the Chargers move up a spot to No. 2 in total season DVOA. (They were already No. 2 in weighted DVOA, which lowers the strength of games from early in the season.) We reviewed the history of DVOA Bowl games four weeks ago before that fantastic Chiefs-Rams game. The No. 2 team has now won the last six DVOA Bowls, although this probably has the predictive importance of a coin flip coming up heads six straight times.
Unfortunately, the Chiefs-Chargers DVOA Bowl is not quite as important as it would have been if the Chiefs had lost to Baltimore on Sunday. The problem is that the Chiefs will still have the tiebreaker even if they lose to Los Angeles Thursday night; that will give the Chiefs a 4-1 division record compared to 3-2 for the Chargers. The Chargers would need to win out (home vs. Baltimore, at Denver) and have the Chiefs lose one of their last two games, either against a Seattle team that may have nothing left to play for or against an Oakland team that seems to have had nothing to play for all year long. In our simulations where the Chargers beat the Chiefs this week, the Chargers still have only a 20 percent chance of winning the division, and that doesn't account for the possibility of opponents sitting players at the end of the year.
We still have three AFC West teams in our weighted DVOA top five, but not our total season top five. Denver's loss to San Francisco drops the Broncos to seventh as the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens move up. The Bears offense got worse, but boy did their defense get better. Chicago's defense has been good all year, but they are peaking right now. The Bears had -16.7% defensive DVOA in their first seven games, but -36.0% defensive DVOA in their last six games. Thanks to opponent adjustments for playing the Rams defense, the Bears had -84.1% defensive DVOA for Sunday night's game, the best defensive performance of the season so far. Here's a list of the best single games on defense this year:
- Chicago vs. Los Angeles Rams, Week 14 (-84.1%, win 15-6)
- Buffalo at Houston, Week 6 (-76.1%, loss 20-13)
- Dallas vs. New Orleans, Week 13 (-75.7%, win 13-10)
- Baltimore at Tennessee, Week 6 (-70.5%, win 21-0)
- Philadelphia vs. Atlanta, Week 1 (-58.2%, win 18-12)
Chicago's defensive DVOA is now at -26.3%, which is enough to put the Bears just on the verge of one of those "top 12 all-time" lists that I like to run. I don't need to run it here because I already ran a top 20 on Twitter earlier today. Click here for the full top 20 list, and excuse my typo about last night's game (Seattle of course played Minnesota, not Chicago):
For all you #DaBears fans, here's an expanded version of the best defenses in DVOA history (since 1986). Five Bears teams, although opponent adjustment changes after SEA-MIN moved 2018 Bears out of the top dozen to No. 13. pic.twitter.com/ccB20mnuEM
— Aaron Schatz 🏈 (@FO_ASchatz) December 11, 2018
What's really remarkable isn't how good the Bears defense is historically but how much better it now rates compared to all the other teams in 2018. Baltimore has the No. 2 defensive DVOA at -13.3%. The difference between the Chicago and Baltimore defenses is roughly equivalent to the difference between Baltimore's defense and a league-average defense this season. To find a similar gap, you have to go all the way back to 2002, when the Bucs were at -31.8% to end the season and the Dolphins were No. 2 at -15.0%. The Vikings in 1988 were similarly dominant.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the Bears victory was the way they completely bottled up Todd Gurley and the Rams running game. Gurley had 11 carries for 28 yards, with only three carries that gained more than two yards. This is particularly impressive because the Rams are on their way to setting an all-time record for adjusted line yards on offense. For those unfamiliar, adjusted line yards is our metric that cuts off runs at specific distances to better gauge how much of the running game is coming from blocking rather than from running backs in the open field. Even after this week's poor performance, the Rams are easily leading the league with 5.53 ALY per carry.
Here's a look at the top ALY figures for offensive lines, going back to 1996. For each team, I'm also listing their actual yards per carry average for running backs. You'll notice three current teams are in the top dozen, although the other numbers here are for full seasons. Also, numbers for past years may not be the same as the numbers on the free OL stats pages, because we made a change in our method for computing ALY last offseason and we haven't had a chance to propagate the change across all our OL/DL pages yet.
|HIGHEST ADJUSTED LINE YARDS
PER CARRY, 1996-2018
One other team that I want to address for this week is the Dallas Cowboys. They're being hyped as the hottest team in the NFL thanks to a five-game winning streak that has all but clinched them the NFC East title. So you may be curious why the Cowboys are 17th in both total and weighted DVOA. The problem is that the Cowboys' winning streak really includes just one very impressive win: last week's defensive shutdown of the New Orleans Saints. All five of the Dallas wins have come by just one score, but at least the Saints win was over a really good opponent. The other four opponents Dallas has played over this winning streak all rank 20th or lower in total DVOA.
So, the Cowboys start the wining streak ranked 24th in DVOA at -11.3% after Week 9's loss to Tennessee. For the first two wins, the Cowboys actually ended up with negative single-game ratings. The rating for this week's game against the Eagles was close to zero. The rating for Week 13 againts the Saints is way up at 72.3%, but that one game is not enough to lift the Cowboys past 17th for the season so far.
In fact, by DVOA, the more impressive five-game streak belongs to the Cowboys' division rivals in New York. It's getting less attention because the Giants lost one of the five games, blowing a 19-3 lead and falling to Philadelphia by a field goal. They didn't have a big statement win on national television, and their recent streak of good play doesn't align with an important trade, and they're just 5-8 and basically out of the playoff race because they were 1-7 before this streak of good play. Nonetheless, check out the DVOA ratings for both teams since Week 10. (SCHEDULE is the average season DVOA for the five opponents during this period.)
Obviously, there's a little bit of an asterisk on the defensive rating for the Giants because they got to face the Mark Sanchez third-string craptacular but get opponent adjustments based on how Washington has played all year. Take that game out, and the Giants have 0.0% defensive DVOA in Weeks 10-13. So that makes up for some of the difference, but it doesn't explain what the Giants have been doing on offense and special teams. Let's hope for the sake of Giants fans that the Giants do not see this improved play over a small five-week sample and decide it's a sign they don't need a youth movement at the quarterback position.
It's kind of amazing the Giants even still have a tiny (1.4 percent) shot at the playoffs, but that's what happens when the race for the second NFC wild card is such a festival of mediocrity. I ran some queries on our simulations this week and while we're probably not getting a wild card with a losing record, there's a very good chance only five teams in the entire NFC will make it to 9-7.
- Odds of NFC wild card being 8-7-1 or worse: 67%
- Odds of NFC wild card being 8-8 or worse: 28%
- Odds of NFC wild card having a losing record: 5.5%
Finally for this week, let's update our tracking of the best and worst offenses we've ever measured. A reminder that because these are DVOA numbers, adjustments for era and rules changes are already baked into the numbers. If we didn't adjust for era, the Chiefs would rank higher among the best offenses and the Cardinals and Bills probably wouldn't appear at all on a list of worst offenses. The Bills are one more good week away from not appearing on our list anyway.
|BEST OFFENSIVE DVOA
THROUGH 13 GAMES, 1986-2018
|WORST OFFENSIVE DVOA
THROUGH 13 GAMES, 1986-2018
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These are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through 14 weeks of 2018, 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 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. As always, positive numbers represent more points so DEFENSE is better when it is NEGATIVE.
WEIGHTED DVOA represents an attempt to figure out how a team is playing right now, as opposed to over the season as a whole, by making recent games more important than earlier games.
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>
- NON-ADJUSTED TOTAL DVOA does not include the adjustments for opponent strength or the adjustments for weather and altitude in special teams, and only penalizes offenses for lost fumbles rather than all fumbles.
- 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. Teams that have had their bye week are projected as if they had played one game per week.
- PAST SCHEDULE lists average DVOA of opponents played this season, ranked from hardest schedule (#1, most positive) to easiest schedule (#32, most negative). It is not adjusted for which games are home or road.
- FUTURE SCHEDULE lists average DVOA of opponents still left to play this season, ranked from hardest schedule (#1, most positive) to easiest schedule (#32, most negative). It is not adjusted for which games are home or road.
- VARIANCE measures the statistical variance of the team's weekly DVOA performance. Teams are ranked from most consistent (#1, lowest variance) to least consistent (#32, highest variance).