Final 2018 DVOA Ratings

Final 2018 DVOA Ratings
Final 2018 DVOA Ratings
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Aaron Schatz

For regular readers of Football Outsiders, the 2018 DVOA champion is no surprise. The Kansas City Chiefs moved into our No. 1 spot after Week 6 -- oddly, they weren't number one until after their first loss of the season -- and they've been on top ever since. At midseason, the Chiefs ranked among the best overall teams we had ever tracked, and although they've faded from that high, they easily take the crown as this year's No. 1 team in DVOA.

The Chiefs also finish the season No. 1 in weighted DVOA, followed by the Saints and Chargers. The Indianapolis Colts look like the hot team going into the playoffs, ranking eighth in total-season DVOA but fourth in weighted DVOA. The opposite, a team that's slowed down in the second half of the year, is the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams move up this week to finish the season No. 2 in overall DVOA, but they are only sixth in weighted DVOA.

2018 was a year of parity. Thanks to reader nat and our own Vincent Verhei for figuring this out last week, but you'll notice that there's only one team this year above 25% DVOA and only one team below -25% DVOA. There's only one other season where that happened, which was 2003. Ironically, the one team above 25% in 2003 was Kansas City, and the one team below -25% was Arizona, the same teams as this year.

This was also a year of consistency, at least consistency from season to season. If you've been reading Football Outsiders for a long time, you know one of our main axioms is that offense is more consistent than defense, while both are more consistent than special teams. You may remember that this was completely switched around in 2017; the correlation from 2016 to 2017 was better for special teams than for defense, and better for defense than for offense.

However, comparing this year to last year in DVOA, you can see that teams stayed surprisingly consistent from 2017 to 2018, except in special teams. That's a bit of a surprise when you consider that only five of 12 playoff teams repeated. But there were a number of teams that missed the playoffs but still had high DVOA ratings more similar to last year. Seven of the top ten teams in DVOA from 2017 repeated in 2018, but that includes non-playoff teams Pittsburgh (dropped from third to ninth) and Minnesota (dropped from fourth to tenth). None of the teams from last year's top ten dropped into this year's bottom ten, although two teams went in the other direction: Chicago from 25th to fifth and Indianapolis from 31st to eighth. Looking at each unit:

  • The top six offenses of 2018 all ranked among the top seven offenses of 2017. The year-to-year correlation of offensive DVOA is usually around .50 and was only .33 from 2016-2017. This year it was .58.
  • The correlation wasn't quite as high on defense, but last year's top three defenses were all in this year's top six, and every one of the defenses in the bottom ten for 2018 was below average in 2017. The year-to-year correlation of defensive DVOA is usually around .38 but this year it was .49.
  • Special teams had almost no similarity from year to year. Four of the top five special teams units of 2018 were among the bottom ten special teams units of 2017. The year-to-year correlation of special teams DVOA is normally around .30 but was a negligible .04 from 2017 to 2018.

All year long, we've been tracking how well the Kansas City Chiefs were doing compared to the best offenses in DVOA history. They finish with the No. 5 offense in DVOA history, which is still pretty remarkable considering how much their numbers are adjusted downward for the overall high offensive level around the league this year.

Year Team DVOA
2007 NE 43.5%
2010 NE 42.2%
2002 KC 35.4%
1998 DEN 34.5%
2018 KC 34.2%
2011 GB 33.8%
2013 DEN 33.5%
2003 KC 33.4%
1992 SF 33.1%
2011 NO 33.0%
2011 NE 31.9%
2004 IND 31.8%

The Chiefs stand out among the best offenses of all-time for their balance, first in passing and fourth in rushing. Note also that the Chiefs put up those incredible offensive numbers against a harder-than-average schedule of opposing defenses, including two top-ten defenses in their division. Kansas City's offensive rating is raised significantly by an absurdly strong 119.2% offensive DVOA against Cleveland in Week 9. However, even if we remove that offensive performance, Kansas City would still finish the year No. 1 in offensive DVOA (29.8%) and total DVOA (28.6%).

We've also spent the year tracking Arizona and Buffalo as they competed for the title of worst offense in DVOA history. Buffalo looked like they were going to win this dubious honor through the first half of the season, but the Bills' offense improved dramatially after midseason. From Week 10 to Week 17, Buffalo had an offensive DVOA of -1.2%, almost average! The same can't be said for Arizona, which actually got worse on offense in the second half of the year. As a result, after adjusting for era, the Cardinals end up with the third-worst offense in DVOA history.

Year Team DVOA
2002 HOU -43.3%
1992 SEA -41.3%
2018 ARI -40.9%
2005 SF -40.4%
2016 LAR -37.8%
2006 OAK -37.0%
2004 CHI -36.5%
2010 CAR -35.8%
2010 ARI -35.6%
1997 NO -35.6%
1991 IND -32.8%
2007 SF -32.2%

With average defense and close-to-average special teams combined with this hideous offense, the Cardinals ended up way, way, way behind every other team in the league in DVOA this year. Arizona was at -40.4%, and the next worst team was Oakland all the way up at -21.0%. The difference between Arizona and Oakland was almost equal to the difference between Oakland and a league-average team such as Philadelphia or the New York Giants (both of whom, rounded to a single decimal, finished at 0.0%).

The only season with a bigger difference between the worst team and the next-worst team was 2005, when the 49ers had the worst total DVOA in history.

On defense, our clear leaders this season were the Chicago Bears. Their big win over Minnesota moves them down to -25.6%, which is close to the best defenses in DVOA history. (The Bears end up 12th.) There's a hefty gap between the Bears and the No. 2 defense, which surprisingly belongs to the Buffalo Bills. The gap between the Bears and the Bills is roughly equal to the defensive gap between the Bills and No. 10 Indianapolis.

The Bears stand out because they excelled against both the pass and the run. However, they were not the most historically great run defense this season. That title belongs to the Houston Texans. The Texans were only 18th against the pass but finished first against the run with one of the top ten run defenses in DVOA history. We'll extend this table a couple more teams so we can get the Bears on here too:

Year Team DVOA
2000 BAL -36.6%
1991 PHI -34.9%
2015 NYJ -33.3%
1998 SD -32.9%
2014 DET -31.4%
2006 MIN -30.5%
1995 KC -30.5%
2018 HOU -30.1%
2010 PIT -29.0%
2008 BAL -28.6%
2016 NYJ -28.1%
2000 TEN -27.4%
2018 CHI -27.3%
2007 BAL -27.3%

The worst defenses of the year were in the NFC South, Tampa Bay and Atlanta, but once again this year, no team particularly stood out as horrible on defense. Last year, Tampa Bay had the best defensive DVOA ever for a team that finished in last place on defense. This year, Tampa Bay has the seventh-best defensive DVOA ever for a team that finished in last place on defense.

At one point it looked like the Kansas City Chiefs were going to end up with the worst run defense in at least a decade, but they improved at the end of the season, so while they end up dead last in run defense, they aren't historically bad. The Chiefs were one of several teams with a really strong dichotomy between run defense and pass defense:

  • Kansas City was No. 32 vs. the run but No. 12 vs. the pass
  • Arizona was No. 29 vs. the run but No. 8 vs. the pass
  • Los Angeles Rams were No. 28 vs. the run but No. 9 vs. the pass
  • Cleveland was No. 25 vs. the run but No. 7 vs. the pass

On the other hand...

  • Houston was No. 1 vs. the run, No. 18 vs. the pass
  • New Orleans was No. 3 vs. the run, No. 22 vs. the pass
  • Indianapolis was No. 4 vs. the run, No. 24 vs. the pass

The New York Jets are the top special teams unit of 2018 with 8.1% DVOA. They led the league in punt return value and were second in kick return value, both thanks to Andre Roberts, and they finished fourth in both field goal value and kickoff value thanks to Jason Myers. The Chiefs had the best special teams early in the season, then faded at midseason, but rebounded with strong games in both Week 15 and Week 16. They finish second. The Buffalo Bills end up with the worst special teams unit in the league, 21st or lower in all five phases.

But perhaps the most interesting special teams finish is right in the middle. The New England Patriots somehow ended up dead last in the net kickoff value despite having Stephen Gostkowski, historically one of the top kickoff men in the league. But the Patriots got enough value out of kick returns and punts to finish just barely over average, 16th at 0.1%. And that finish makes this the mind-boggling 23rd straight season where the New England Patriots had above-average special teams, a streak that goes back before Bill Belichick to the end of the Bill Parcells era and the 1996 Super Bowl team.

Almost as impressive: Baltimore finished sixth in special teams, making this the seventh straight year for the Ravens in the special teams top six. The Ravens have finished eighth or higher in special teams DVOA in nine of the last ten seasons.

* * * * *

All player/team DVOA stats pages are now updated through the end of the regular season, as are our playoff odds. Snap counts and the premium DVOA database should be updated by the end of tonight.  Drive stats and pace stats are updated with final numbers. Matchup View in FO Standard Premium will be added for the four wild-card games sometime on Tuesday.

With New Year's Day stuck on Tuesday, a lot of our usual Tuesday material will be moved to Wednesday this week. Vincent Verhei will discuss which players had the best and worst seasons by FO stats in Quick Reads Year in Review on Wednesday. Loser League results will be announced in Scramble for the Ball on either Wednesday or Thursday, depending on when we finish the annual Staff Playoff Fantasy Draft. The Playoff Challenge game will also go up on Wednesday. Our December players for Madden 19 will be announced Wednesday in a special Extra Points post and from our Twitter account, @fboutsiders.

Please note that while this article is called "Final 2018 DVOA Ratings," we will continue with our unofficial postseason weighted DVOA ratings each Monday through the playoffs.

* * * * *

These are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through the entire 2018 regular season, 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. 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. As always, positive numbers represent more points so DEFENSE is better when it is NEGATIVE.

LAST WEEK represents rank after Week 17, while LAST YEAR represents rank in 2017.

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>

1 KC 33.0% 10 1 31.2% 1 12-4 34.2% 1 6.8% 26 5.6% 2
2 LAR 23.7% 2 4 19.0% 6 13-3 24.6% 2 0.8% 19 -0.2% 17
3 LAC 22.7% 11 2 23.7% 3 12-4 20.8% 3 -4.7% 8 -2.8% 25
4 NO 20.7% 1 3 26.0% 2 13-3 15.9% 4 -3.1% 11 1.7% 9
5 CHI 19.0% 25 6 19.9% 5 12-4 -3.4% 20 -25.6% 1 -3.2% 26
6 BAL 17.0% 7 5 18.7% 7 10-6 0.9% 15 -13.1% 3 2.9% 6
7 NE 14.2% 6 7 17.7% 8 11-5 14.5% 5 0.4% 16 0.1% 16
8 IND 12.6% 31 9 22.1% 4 10-6 8.2% 10 -3.4% 10 0.9% 12
9 PIT 11.2% 3 8 12.5% 10 9-6-1 13.8% 6 -0.9% 13 -3.5% 27
10 MIN 8.1% 4 11 15.6% 9 8-7-1 -1.4% 18 -10.3% 4 -0.9% 19
11 HOU 7.1% 28 13 7.9% 13 11-5 -3.6% 21 -7.1% 7 3.5% 5
12 SEA 6.7% 14 10 6.1% 14 10-6 8.8% 9 -0.2% 14 -2.2% 24
13 DEN 6.6% 29 12 8.7% 11 6-10 1.1% 14 -9.7% 5 -4.2% 31
14 CAR 0.5% 9 16 -3.0% 20 7-9 6.1% 11 5.4% 22 -0.2% 18
15 NYG 0.0% 30 15 4.8% 15 5-11 1.3% 13 5.8% 24 4.5% 3
16 PHI 0.0% 5 18 3.6% 16 9-7 -0.3% 16 0.0% 15 0.2% 15
17 ATL -3.0% 15 17 1.8% 17 7-9 8.9% 8 13.2% 31 1.4% 10
18 CLE -3.0% 32 19 8.5% 12 7-8-1 -1.4% 17 -2.5% 12 -4.2% 30
19 GB -3.1% 17 14 -5.5% 21 6-9-1 11.0% 7 10.1% 29 -4.1% 29
20 TEN -4.9% 18 20 -0.1% 18 9-7 -5.2% 22 0.6% 18 0.8% 13
21 DAL -5.2% 13 22 -2.5% 19 10-6 -6.5% 24 -3.5% 9 -2.1% 23
22 JAX -8.1% 8 21 -15.1% 25 5-11 -22.0% 30 -9.5% 6 4.4% 4
23 CIN -9.7% 24 23 -17.7% 27 6-10 -3.3% 19 9.0% 27 2.6% 7
24 TB -13.0% 23 26 -10.6% 24 5-11 5.9% 12 14.8% 32 -4.1% 28
25 NYJ -14.8% 26 24 -17.4% 26 4-12 -19.6% 29 3.3% 21 8.1% 1
26 DET -15.2% 12 30 -5.8% 22 6-10 -5.2% 23 9.0% 28 -0.9% 20
27 MIA -16.5% 27 25 -29.6% 31 7-9 -8.9% 26 6.5% 25 -1.1% 21
28 BUF -18.4% 21 31 -7.2% 23 6-10 -27.8% 31 -14.5% 2 -5.1% 32
29 WAS -18.6% 16 27 -25.4% 30 7-9 -19.4% 28 1.7% 20 2.5% 8
30 SF -20.3% 20 29 -19.0% 28 4-12 -14.9% 27 5.6% 23 0.3% 14
31 OAK -21.0% 19 28 -19.6% 29 4-12 -7.1% 25 12.3% 30 -1.6% 22
32 ARI -40.4% 22 32 -44.8% 32 3-13 -40.9% 32 0.5% 17 1.0% 11
  • NON-ADJUSTED TOTAL VOA does not include adjustments for opponents and for measuring all fumbles equally no matter who recovers.
  • 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.
  • 2018 SCHEDULE lists average DVOA of opponents played this season, ranked from hardest schedule (#1, most positive) to easiest schedule (#32, most negative).
  • PYTHAGOREAN WINS represent a projection of the team's expected wins based solely on points scored and allowed.
  • 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).

RANK 2018
1 KC 33.0% 12-4 31.9% 13.1 1 0.5% 12 11.0 4 9.8% 8
2 LAR 23.7% 13-3 27.7% 12.4 2 -2.3% 24 11.2 3 7.5% 2
3 LAC 22.7% 12-4 23.6% 11.0 4 -0.1% 14 10.6 7 7.6% 3
4 NO 20.7% 13-3 22.5% 11.1 3 -0.5% 17 11.5 2 11.7% 11
5 CHI 19.0% 12-4 22.4% 10.6 6 -6.2% 31 11.6 1 12.1% 12
6 BAL 17.0% 10-6 14.5% 11.0 5 1.3% 9 10.8 5 13.8% 15
7 NE 14.2% 11-5 15.5% 10.0 8 -2.5% 25 10.8 6 15.0% 18
8 IND 12.6% 10-6 18.7% 10.0 7 -6.4% 32 10.3 9 14.2% 17
9 PIT 11.2% 9-6-1 6.5% 9.2 9 3.8% 4 9.7 11 13.0% 14
10 MIN 8.1% 8-7-1 4.9% 8.9 11 -2.7% 27 8.5 12 8.8% 5
11 HOU 7.1% 11-5 12.7% 9.1 10 -3.5% 29 10.3 8 6.6% 1
12 SEA 6.7% 10-6 10.2% 8.9 12 -1.8% 20 10.1 10 9.9% 9
13 DEN 6.6% 6-10 8.7% 8.8 13 2.9% 6 7.4 18 19.3% 26
14 CAR 0.5% 7-9 4.6% 7.8 17 -0.5% 16 7.8 16 17.9% 23
15 NYG 0.0% 5-11 -1.2% 7.9 16 -2.3% 23 6.9 22 15.4% 20
16 PHI 0.0% 9-7 -1.3% 8.0 15 -0.2% 15 8.5 13 14.0% 16
17 ATL -3.0% 7-9 -0.1% 7.5 19 -2.2% 22 7.8 17 8.6% 4
18 CLE -3.0% 7-8-1 -1.4% 7.5 20 4.7% 3 7.1 20 12.1% 13
19 GB -3.1% 6-9-1 -6.2% 8.0 14 -4.0% 30 7.4 19 20.0% 27
20 TEN -4.9% 9-7 -3.4% 7.7 18 0.2% 13 8.2 15 18.9% 25
21 DAL -5.2% 10-6 -0.2% 7.0 22 -2.1% 21 8.4 14 9.4% 6
22 JAX -8.1% 5-11 -9.4% 6.1 25 0.9% 11 5.7 26 9.8% 7
23 CIN -9.7% 6-10 -13.2% 7.2 21 5.8% 2 5.9 24 17.0% 21
24 TB -13.0% 5-11 -16.4% 5.5 28 1.7% 7 6.4 23 11.5% 10
25 NYJ -14.8% 4-12 -17.9% 5.9 27 -1.4% 18 5.3 28 20.9% 28
26 DET -15.2% 6-10 -14.3% 6.1 24 -1.4% 19 7.0 21 24.5% 32
27 MIA -16.5% 7-9 -19.7% 5.0 29 -3.3% 28 5.1 29 21.8% 30
28 BUF -18.4% 6-10 -21.5% 6.5 23 1.3% 8 5.0 30 24.4% 31
29 WAS -18.6% 7-9 -14.0% 6.0 26 -2.6% 26 5.7 25 18.0% 24
30 SF -20.3% 4-12 -23.1% 4.9 30 1.1% 10 5.6 27 17.4% 22
31 OAK -21.0% 4-12 -27.1% 4.7 31 6.6% 1 3.7 31 21.4% 29
32 ARI -40.4% 3-13 -41.7% 2.5 32 3.0% 5 2.8 32 15.0% 19


48 comments, Last at 04 Jan 2019, 3:41pm

#1 by Will Allen // Dec 31, 2018 - 6:18pm

Ugh, hate seeing the Vikings at a higher rank than the Seahawks and Eagles, tied with Seahawks in estimated wins, more estimated wins than the Eagles. They made their own mess to a significant degree, but had some crappy luck as well.

Points: 0

#12 by Cythammer // Jan 01, 2019 - 1:56pm

I think the Vikings were certainly better than the Eagles. Philadelphia really had a very disappointing season and are nowhere close to the elite team they were last season. The last few games has got the hype train rolling for them again, but I don't think it's warranted. This recent surge is disguising how far they've fallen off from last year.

Points: 0

#2 by mathesond // Dec 31, 2018 - 8:00pm

I can't believe how close to perfectly average the Eagles ended up in all of off/def/st.

Points: 0

#3 by dank067 // Dec 31, 2018 - 8:10pm

Their ratings for each of offense, defense and special teams beginning with a 0 is pretty wild! I wonder if that's ever happened before

Points: 0

#28 by Aaron Schatz // Jan 02, 2019 - 11:50am

Believe it or not, it has never happened before. I can't believe that I missed this! Philadelphia is the only team to ever come within 1.0% of average in all three phases.

Points: 0

#4 by scraps // Dec 31, 2018 - 11:37pm

Man: Seahawks special teams dropped catastrophically in the last week, from 16th to 24th.

In three weeks, starting at 8th, they plummeted to 11th, 16th, and finished 24th.


Points: 0

#5 by jacobk // Jan 01, 2019 - 2:39am

Two blocked punts and another 50+ yard punt return allowed will do that to you.

Last week Janikowski got dinged up. That led to a wonderful Dickson drop kick kickoff but also a drop kick kickoff that went out of bounds. There was also a kickoff return to their own thirty. The previous week there was a kickoff returned for a touchdown and a missed extra point.

What I'm saying is, it sure felt like a whole season's worth of bad plays got packed in to the last few weeks.

Points: 0

#7 by Sixknots // Jan 01, 2019 - 11:29am

Some of that was luck but a good deal of the problems sure look like poor special teams coaching.

Points: 0

#11 by scraps // Jan 01, 2019 - 1:47pm

Ayup. Not for the first time, or the first year. I’m careful about calling for coaches heads, but if Brian Schneider (the Seahawks special teams coach) got fired, I would be comfortable with that.

Points: 0

#6 by big10freak // Jan 01, 2019 - 9:30am

Boy did GB crash and burn the last month of the season. Blech.

Points: 0

#9 by ammek // Jan 01, 2019 - 1:01pm

The zero-intensity performance against the Lions dropped the offense from a historically low variance (I think it was at 1.5% last week, ranked #1 for the season by a considerable distance) to the league-average (7%: ranked 16th). Whatever Variance is set up to measure, I'm sure it's not one week of out and out nonchalance in a game that doesn't count.

But mostly it was the defense that crashed. Mike Pettine was getting plaudits for the way he conjured pressure in the first half of the season despite the Packers having no edge rushers worth a whistle. Eventually the scheme got figured out. There's only so much a coordinator can do.

I expected this to be a rebuilding year, but I had hoped to see improvement as the season went on. For the most past, the opposite happened. The schedule ended up ranking #30, with fully half of their opponents in the bottom eight by DVOA. The Packers went 4-4 against those teams, with one of the victories coming in overtime and another via a field goal as the fourth quarter expired. This was a season to forget.

The roster is pretty ordinary, and it should be remembered that Rodgers's six best years by ANY/A were the six years from 2009 to 2014. He has not quite been the same player since. It's worth wondering whether a new coach can return him to his peak; it seems quite plausible, and supported by four years of data, that we have already seen the best of #12.

Points: 0

#8 by Yu Narukami // Jan 01, 2019 - 12:54pm

Here are the final numbers for Game-Scripts-Opponent-Adjusted-Average.
(difference with DVOA rank on parenthesis)

1 KC 6,54 (=)
2 CHI 4,94 (+3)
3 LARM 4,24 (-1)
4 NWE 3,69 (+3)
5 NO 2,72 (-1)
6 BAL 2,32 (=)
7 LACH 2,21 (-4)
8 PIT 2,15 (+1)
9 SEA 2,13 (+3)
10 HOU 1,84 (+1)
11 DAL 1,66 (+10)
12 IND 1,41 (-4)
13 CAR 0,39 (+1)
14 PHI 0,02 (+2)
15 NYG 0,00 (=)
16 DET -0,23 (+10)
17 MIN -0,23 (-7)
18 ATL -0,44 (-1)
19 CLE -1,15 (-1)
20 TEN -1,27 (=)
21 GB -1,37 (-2)
22 DEN -1,52 (-9)
23 JAX -1,97 (-1)
24 TB -2,17 (=)
25 WAS -2,26 (+4)
26 SF -2,32 (+4)
27 BUF -2,45 (+1)
28 NYJ -2,78 (-3)
29 CIN -3,14 (-6)
30 MIA -3,40 (-3)
31 OAK -3,76 (=)
32 ARI -5,79 (=)

NYG is really the king of mediocrity.

This sistem really loves Chicago (and Dallas and Detroit), but is no wonder since they have these 4 L on the season:
- @GB on opening week, when team was not derailing
- NE, Chicago had a hail mary stopped at the 1yd line
- Two away overtime losses

2017 best and worst: LARM +6.01 and CLE -5.56. SB winner Eagles were #2 with +4.84
2016 best and worst: NE +6.58 and NYJ -4.68.

Points: 0

#10 by ammek // Jan 01, 2019 - 1:30pm

Always fun to look back on the DVOA projections at the end of the season. I think FO was one of the few outlets to consider the Texans a threat in the AFC South, and to be skeptical about Jacksonville, especially on offense where it turned out to be in fact not skeptical enough. I don't think any system could have foreseen the Mahomes Effect, and the remainder of the Chiefs projection was accurate, but the rest of the AFC West projections looked wrong at the time and, lo, they were. The big miss was, of course, Chicago, the third-least likely team to make the playoffs, a projection which some of the FO staff flagged up as problematic. Part of the explanation might be that DVOA had (to my mind obviously) over-rated division rivals Green Bay (in all three phases) and Detroit (especially on offense). But whatever it saw to expect a decline in the Bears defense must be worth investigating.

Points: 0

#15 by Will Allen // Jan 01, 2019 - 3:23pm

A player like Mack really has a multiplier effect for a team, like the Bears, which already has players that create matchup problems. Good fortune for a football team doesn't come packaged any better than a young great player being discarded for bad reasons by a badly managed team, with the receiving team being uniquely situated to execute the trade. A team has to make some good moves to get into that situation, however.

Points: 0

#16 by Thomas_beardown // Jan 01, 2019 - 3:30pm

The Bears have also had tremendous injury luck this year. Mack missed a few games but came back not missing a beat, and a few games missed in the secondary.

Points: 0

#17 by Raiderfan // Jan 01, 2019 - 9:54pm

They may be badly managed, but I do not think trading Mack was for bad reasons. They would have had over a quarter of the cap tied up in two players, and the defense sucked last year while Mack was with them. Throw in the cost of the Oline (which I think is always a great place to invest resources in) and they would have been capped out and had no hope of getting better. At least now they have some cap space flexibility and multiple high picks, so it seems to be there is a much better chance of improving.

Points: 0

#18 by Will Allen // Jan 01, 2019 - 11:11pm

When your roster construction plan includes trading a 27 year old player who is a strong contender for DPOY every year, for a 1st rounder which was unlikely to be a top 10 pick, a swap of a 2nd for a 1st, and a 3rd rounder, then you have a bad plan. Getting rid of a young great player, in hope that you'll hit on a 1st and third ( and if you are so damned confident in your drafting ability, why the hell would you give up a 2nd round pick?), is just a bad bet.

Points: 0

#29 by Pat // Jan 02, 2019 - 11:57am

To be fair, the original poster didn't say that the *specific trade* was good, just that trading Mack wasn't necessarily a bad thing. I think it's also possible that Mack just caught the Raiders off-guard, as in, they thought he would be signable, and by the time it became obvious that

"When your roster construction plan includes trading a 27 year old player who is a strong contender for DPOY every year,"

I'm missing something - where exactly is the idea that a 27-year old defensive player is a good long term investment coming from? I mean, Watt lost his 27 and 28 year old seasons to injury, and while he had a very strong year this year, obviously the jury's still out. Obviously Suh wasn't a good investment for the Dolphins, either. And historically, the Broncos shifted their salary cap spending from offense to defense *heavily* after 2015, and I'm not sure I'd say it was a good investment there, either.

If the Raiders thinking was that it doesn't really make sense to dedicate that much salary on the defensive side - especially to one player - I'm not sure I could find a ton of fault in that reasoning.

Points: 0

#30 by Will Allen // Jan 02, 2019 - 12:30pm

What happened to Watt could happen to any player at any age. If signing great players to big contracts is suspect because the great player might get injured, then no great player should be on your roster after their rookie contract. This would be a problematic approach.

The signifigance of Mack's age lies in the fact that a 27 year old is not likely to experience a steep decline in performance, due to age, relative to a player who is already past 30. Making bad trades, in the effort to avoid having to pay a 27 year old likely future first ballot HOFer, is poor management, and you really can't seperate the reason for a trade from what the actual trade details were. Obviously, if the Bears had offered their 1st and 2nd round picks in 2019 and 2020 for Mack, then trading Mack because of the salary he demanded would be reasonably wise. Trading Mack for what was likely to be a mid 1st rounder at best, and a minor swap of a 2nd for a 1st, and a third, to avoid paying Mack, is insanity. At the very least, you roll the dice on what he might bring just after the 2019 business season begins, when more teams have cap flexibility.

Points: 0

#36 by Pat // Jan 02, 2019 - 3:15pm

"Obviously, if the Bears had offered their 1st and 2nd round picks in 2019 and 2020 for Mack, then trading Mack because of the salary he demanded would be reasonably wise. Trading Mack for what was likely to be a mid 1st rounder at best, and a minor swap of a 2nd for a 1st, and a third, to avoid paying Mack, is insanity."

That's... not a huge difference. I mean, it's 3 2nd round picks instead of 1 3rd, which I get that some people can see as a big improvement. But I'm not sure I'd call it the difference between "reasonably wise" and "insanity."

I mean, splitting the difference or so, if the Raiders would've held out and gotten the Bears second round pick in 2019 as well, it almost seems like you'd be on the fence on that.

"At the very least, you roll the dice on what he might bring just after the 2019 business season begins, when more teams have cap flexibility."

I think the Raiders trade leverage goes down a ton in that case. If Mack doesn't report, teams could decide to roll the dice on waiting for him to get cut. If he does report, his contract tolls and the Raiders would've had to franchise him to trade him.

Points: 0

#38 by Will Allen // Jan 02, 2019 - 3:34pm

We will agree to disagree that 4 players in the top 64 is not much different than 2 players in the top 96, plus a minor switching of position within the top 64.

Yes, you franchise him, or at least threaten to, in order to trade him. The point is to attempt to trade him when there are more teams with cap flexibility to offer him a market contract.

Points: 0

#33 by Steve in WI // Jan 02, 2019 - 2:30pm

I was a bit skeptical about trading for Mack because of how expensive he was going to be...he basically has to be the otherworldly player he has been this year to be worth it. If he fades to a very good but not great player, he takes up too much of the cap.

I am also very happy that the Bears are making use of him right away in terms of putting together a great season...if he helps them win a Super Bowl this year, then whether or not he continues to live up to the contract becomes less of an issue.

Points: 0

#35 by Will Allen // Jan 02, 2019 - 3:00pm

If they win a Super Bowl, the contract is easily worth every penny, since they can get out of it with a 6.8 million dollar cap hit when Trubisky's rookie contract expires.

Points: 0

#42 by dank067 // Jan 02, 2019 - 11:47pm

Yeah, I was skeptical of the Mack trade counting the cost of the draft picks and the contract, but they've been able to realize a near-total best case scenario for at least one season in terms of benefits of having Mack on a healthy, loaded defense, which also works to reduce the value of what they sent away to Oakland. And some of the downside risk is mitigated simply by the fact that Trubisky is on his rookie contract and so they don't really have cap concerns.

Saw on twitter today one bit of good fortune that I personally, perhaps bitterly, think they lucked into. Last offseason, they transition tagged Kyle Fuller and then ended up matching an offer sheet for a long-term contract from the Packers. The use of the transition tag seemed completely silly - if you were willing to sign him to the extension that he was able to negotiate with another team, why open him up for bidding? I mean, if no one had offered him a contract and they kept him on a cheap one-year rental and he turned back into a pumpkin, they would not have been saddled with any future salary. But they *were* willing to give him a long-term contract. And if no one else had offered him a contract, and he did have an excellent year, it would have substantially raised the price to keep him after this season. In the end, he had a great year and now they have him locked up on a contract that they allowed him to negotiate with other teams and thus was probably inflated, but yet can probably now be considered a below-market deal. Bad process, good outcome. Ugh.

Points: 0

#27 by Bright Blue Shorts // Jan 02, 2019 - 11:43am

I don't think the Raiders were wrong to trade Mack once they got to the point where he wanted to be the highest paid defensive player in the league and they wanted to keep their salary cap under control. The negotiation was too far apart, so getting some value back from him than just letting him walk in free agency was their best option available.

I do wonder whether they could have extended him last season, or even the year before, to avoid having to top Aaron Donald's contract.

Paying two guards to be pretty much the highest paid in the league isn't so smart. From what I've seen tackles are worth a premium, guards much less so.

And maybe paying Derek Carr wasn't quite such a good investment as keeping Mack might have been.

Easy to second guess with hindsight.

Points: 0

#31 by Will Allen // Jan 02, 2019 - 12:38pm

At the very least, you let Mack sit out 2018, the trade him just after the 2019 business season starts, when more teams have cap flexibility. Trading him just before the season opener, when teams with cap flexibility has shrunk to the near minimum, is just dumb, and puts the team purchasing Mack in the driver's seat.

Points: 0

#45 by Richie // Jan 04, 2019 - 2:54pm

It's not a risk-free decision though. Does a player lose trade value when he misses a full season, and there is a little more question about where he is in terms of performance? Also, it's possible that Mack decides to report, and then either plays poorly or gets injured and his trade value goes down.

Points: 0

#48 by Will Allen // Jan 04, 2019 - 3:41pm

Of course it isn't risk free, but the way to bet is that a great player with a new contract to play for will perform well. I don't think his trade value would be hurt at all by sitting out.

Points: 0

#32 by Steve in WI // Jan 02, 2019 - 2:27pm

I haven't seen anyone talking about it since shortly after the trade, but I think there was speculation that the Raiders literally didn't have the cash on hand to sign Mack to a long-term deal. If you operate under the assumption that one way or another, he was going to be gone after this year (and maybe sooner...who knows if he might have sat out like Bell), trading him doesn't seem quite so bad. Certainly better than losing him for essentially nothing.

Of course, running an NFL franchise in such a way that you can't afford to pay one of the best players in the league is inexcusable.

Points: 0

#44 by Mountain Time … // Jan 03, 2019 - 10:39pm

Don't forget why they didn't have the cash on hand: $100M to Jon Gruden! They may have literally chosen Gruden over Mack.

Points: 0

#46 by Richie // Jan 04, 2019 - 2:55pm

I assume teams don't have to escrow money for coaches, like they do for the guaranteed portion (?) of the player contracts.

Points: 0

#34 by TomC // Jan 02, 2019 - 2:34pm

I think that glib reply ("Khalil Mack") misses the original poster's point and derails what I think is a potentially interesting discussion. Sure, the Bears would not have been a historically good defense without Mack, but why did FO think they would be *worse* than last year? They returned all starters (many of whom were young and improving), and they added Roquan Smith.

Points: 0

#37 by Thomas_beardown // Jan 02, 2019 - 3:26pm

There are significant factors that all teams face that pull their performance towards league average (injuries, players outperforming their talent level for a single year, schemes being figured out). It's also pretty rare for a rookie to be good. The list of linebackers who made a positive impact their rookie year since I've been watching the team is: Urlacher, Brian; Smith, Roquan. In addition, Urlacher actually had to switch positions (they tried him at WLB and he struggled before their MLB got hurt and he took over the role).

Points: 0

#14 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 01, 2019 - 3:19pm

It’s funny how variable variance is. The Rams were hugely variable last year and the Lions 3rd least.

Points: 0

#19 by Will Allen // Jan 02, 2019 - 8:03am

OK, so of the top 14 run defenses of the past 33 years, 5 of them are from the last 5, a period of pronounced passing success. My guess is that it is easier to have a historically great run defense when fewer offenses emphasize trying to run the ball effectively.

Points: 0

#20 by sbond101 // Jan 02, 2019 - 8:15am

I think it's more fundamental than this - High-low cut blocking was recently made illegal. Double team engage blocking is much less reliable against dominant inside defenders than high-low cut blocking is. In the games I have watched in the last few years I have seen a much higher proportion of totally failed running plays (<1 yard gain or a tackle for loss) and I believe this is a critical reason why. The old strategy for dealing with a dominant inside defender (e.g. Vince Wilfork) was to cut block him and run right at him - the current strategy is to single up and run away from the defender challenging his speed. I think the change is telling with regard to the value of the available blocking tools.

Points: 0

#21 by Will Allen // Jan 02, 2019 - 8:32am

Very good point, and further illuminates why psssing gets more emphasized with each year. If the rules change, or are interpreted differently, to make pass blocking easier, and then are changed again to make run blocking harder, then teams are going to rely on passing more.

Points: 0

#26 by jmaron // Jan 02, 2019 - 10:58am

Just a guess, but I wonder if offensive holding calls are another factor. I've had a sense that offensive holding is called much more frequently on running plays than in the past. Never seen any study about this, but in the past it seemed holding on running plays was very rarely called, now it seems more frequent than on passing plays.

Points: 0

#23 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 02, 2019 - 8:59am

It should be the other way around. DVOA self-calibrates. If everyone's rushing offense is inefficient, it should be really hard to be a great run defense.

Points: 0

#41 by dank067 // Jan 02, 2019 - 11:12pm

The issue here is that I believe passing and rushing DVOA are both calculated based off the average of *all* offensive plays. Hence, because passing is more efficient than rushing, the Titans with a passing offense DVOA of -0.2% ranked 25th in the league in passing, while the Ravens with a rushing offense DVOA of -1.9% ranked 10th in the league in rushing.

Points: 0

#43 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 03, 2019 - 7:52am

Yeah, that occurred to me after I posted.

I know positional DVOA is based on position grouping, but I don't remember if passing and rushing are calibrated together or separately.

Points: 0

#24 by Pat // Jan 02, 2019 - 10:07am

"My guess is that it is easier to have a historically great run defense when fewer offenses emphasize trying to run the ball effectively."

Could just be statistics. Fewer rush attempts on offense mean that rush defense is being determined by fewer plays, which means more variability, which means the highs are higher and the lows are lower.

Specifically, the past 5 seasons are the only years in NFL history that have had under 27 rushing attempts/game on average, and last was the first year under 26. You'll note also that zero of the top 14 run defenses are from before 1991, and 1990 was a massive shift in rushing attempts/game, with the largest single-season drop over that span (1.4 attempts/game difference).

Although by that logic, the 1987 season should also have a jump, since the dataset is so much smaller (about 2/3 the size) but who knows what else is going on there.

Points: 0

#22 by BJR // Jan 02, 2019 - 8:35am

Can anybody who has watched the Cardinals at all comment on quite how and why they were so terrible this year? The personnel doesn't look that bad, and they didn't appear to suffer a ridiculous glut of injuries.

Points: 0

#40 by billprudden // Jan 02, 2019 - 8:22pm

Injuries were a major factor - they lost the entire starting OL. Also, slow but steady talent erosion thorugh free agent exits and weak drafts and eventually, all of a sudden, you fall off a cliff.

Points: 0

#47 by Richie // Jan 04, 2019 - 3:00pm

Did Bruce Arians see this coming, and helped him decide to retire?

Points: 0

#39 by Ravvenkavven66 // Jan 02, 2019 - 6:49pm

Kevin Worthington lets go ravens...

Points: 0

Save 10%
& Support Aaron
Support Football Outsiders' independent media and Aaron Schatz. Use promo code SCHATZ to save 10% on any FO+ membership and give half the cost of your membership to tip Aaron.