2020 DVOA Projections
Here are our DVOA projections for 2020, updated from the season forecasts in Football Outsiders Almanac 2020.
For those new to our website, you can find an explanation of DVOA here. Note that there's a big difference between DVOA and projected DVOA. The DVOA ratings that appear on the website during the season are based on the actual play-by-play that happens during the season, with no future projection whatsoever. The numbers here are a forecast, with offense, defense, and special teams DVOA all projected separately using a system based on looking at trends for teams going back to 2003. Our system starts by considering the team's DVOA over the past three seasons and, on offense, a separate projection for the starting quarterback. Then we look at a number of other variables which suggest when a team will be better or worse than would otherwise be expected due to standard regression towards the mean. Factors include major offseason personnel changes, coaching experience, recent draft history, combined tenure on the offensive line, and certain players returning from injury (or, in the case of these preseason updates, certain players getting injured in the preseason or opting out due to COVID-19).
Also, for housekeeping purposes, I'll note that these projections aren't in any way related to the new version of DVOA we announced last week. This still the same projection system we've been using the last couple of years; we'll need to put together an updated system next year that projects the new DVOA v7.3 and accounts for dome teams being higher on defense but lower on offense because of dome adjustments. However, the differences between the new and old DVOA are very small on offense and average only around 2% on defense so it wouldn't have a very large effect on these projections.
The numbers we are presenting here are exactly what the projection system spit out. As we say every year: "A few of them will look strange to you. A few of them look strange to us." As always, the offensive projections come out in a wider range than defensive projections because offense performance tends to be easier to predict (and more consistent from year to year) than defensive performance. If you are looking for subjective projections, Thursday we will be running our usual staff predictions article where we all talk about where we think the numbers are wrong.
We've also done our first full playoff odds report simulation based on these updated DVOA projections, and I've added the playoff odds and Super Bowl championship odds to the table below. At the start of a new season, our simulation is very conservative about the average number of wins and losses expected for each team. Obviously, the NFL is going to have teams that are 11-5 or better, and it is going to have teams that are 5-11 or worse. It may seem like our simulation predicts half the league to go 8-8, but we know that won't happen. We also use a "dynamic" playoff odds simulation. Each time it plays through the season, it adds 1.5% to the DVOA of every winner and subtracts 1.5% from the DVOA of every loser before moving on to the next week's games. This reflects the fact that DVOA projections are just estimates, and actual performance during the season gives us better knowledge of how good or bad teams really are.
Personnel changes aren't the only difference between this updated simulation and the one we did for Football Outsiders Almanac 2020. This is a smaller simulation which only uses one set of mean projected DVOA ratings, rather than using 1,000 different sets of ratings to represent that some teams have a wider range of probable performance quality than others. The smaller simulation is even more conservative than the one from the book, so average win projections will come out a little closer to 8-8.
The odds of getting the No. 1 pick listed below (and listed on the playoff odds report page) do not incorporate traded picks. Projected division champions are colored in light yellow and projected wild-card teams are colored in light purple. Mark Sunday, December 20 on your calendar, because if our projections are 100% accurate, that afternoon will bring us a Super Bowl LV preview between the New Orleans Saints and the Kansas City Chiefs.
|RK||SCHED||RK||NO. 1 PICK
Usually, we project the playoffs to look very similar to the playoffs from the year before. This year there's more change than usual, although that's helped by the addition of a seventh playoff team in each conference. However, even if we only had two wild cards per conference, we would be projecting six new playoff teams this year. Those new playoff teams are Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Dallas, the Los Angeles Rams, and Detroit. The teams we have dropping out of the playoffs are San Francisco (the big surprise to people, although the 49ers are only barely out), Green Bay, Minnesota, and Houston.
By far the biggest change in these projections compared to those listed in FO Almanac 2020 comes in the AFC East. The Jets and Patriots have both fallen significantly. The Jamal Adams trade plays a big role for the Jets, and COVID-19 opt-outs also affect both teams. We still have the Patriots narrowly ahead of the Buffalo Bills but the gap is much smaller than it was in the book and the Patriots have gone from eighth to 15th in how often they win the Super Bowl in our simulations.
Sometimes small changes in our projections are related to little variables based on continuity and/or average age at certain positions, but big moves are often attributable to major personnel changes. For example, three other teams have also dropped by 2.0% or more in mean DVOA projection: Las Vegas (Tyrell Williams), Baltimore (Earl Thomas), and Kansas City (Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Damien Williams).
The largest improvements between the book and this forecast are harder to explain, they're more about small changes in offensive line variables or age of skill position players. Tennessee (Jadaveon Clowney) and Seattle (Jamal Adams) are easier to attribute to specific player additions. The other teams that improved by over 2.0% since the original forecast are the New York Giants, Detroit, and Carolina, which is no longer projected as our favorite to pick No. 1 overall.
Except for considering COVID-19 opt outs as personnel losses, these projections make no attempt to subjectively change our usual forecast system to account for whatever may be different in the 2020 season due to the pandemic.
61 comments, Last at 13 Sep 2020, 12:21pm
#1 by Joseph // Sep 09, 2020 - 4:39pm
As a lifelong Saints fan, if we have anywhere near a top 5 defense, much less #2, I will be extremely happy. I have come to expect a great offense in the Drew Brees era, and with only 2 changes on offense (RG, #2 WR) it seems likely to be that way again. I know we have some good defenders, but #2 overall!!?? I have more confidence in some of those other projected top-10 defenses than my own team's D.
On another note, getting TB in week 1 is good, b/c their new offensive pieces won't have any game experience together (outside of Brady & Gronk in NE.) Getting them in week 1 is bad, b/c the defense won't have any video of TB's offense to break down. While every year is new, and teams with continuity should fare better with less practice/game time together, that also means that for week 1, the other team can use last year's games to have video to study. Let's face it, Sean Payton didn't incorporate a whole new offensive system this offseason just b/c the Saints signed Jameis Winston. But a lot of people including me expect the TB offense to be very different with Brady at QB.
#36 by DIVISION // Sep 10, 2020 - 10:37am
As an Arizona fan, I know more about Arians' tendencies and he's going to air that ball out with Gronker and that receiving corps going deep more than you think.
People who think Brady is going to dink and dunk like he did in his Chowder days are in for a rude awakening.
It will be reminiscent of Manning's first couple years in Denver.
#7 by TopherDoll // Sep 09, 2020 - 5:27pm
Oh wow, surprised by the bump with the bigger drops teams faced for losing a player you listed in the article, figured Von would have had a similar impact but may have been an even bigger win bump if Von hadn't gotten hurt. Interesting.
#30 by andrew // Sep 10, 2020 - 10:09am
Does this incorporate the Danielle Hunter injury? How do you handle that? IR, but they are saying possible reactivated in 3, but they barely acknowledged it before the IR so have no idea on realistic return...
#9 by Bobman // Sep 09, 2020 - 5:45pm
In a TV broadcast about 20 years ago Joe Namath referred to Indy as the Baltimore Colts--I think old-timers--especially those who played for/against the older teams have a few years' grace period. But roughly 15 years seemed too much. Joe might've been drinking... and dreaming of Susie Kolber. Maybe this was just before the Ravens became a team, meaning the only "NFL word" that came after Baltimore was Colts. Then again, I think I was watching with my wife, which puts it at 1998 at the earliest.
#31 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // Sep 10, 2020 - 10:25am
This is at least the second year in a row that FO's projection system likes the Lions better than most analysts do. They were picked to win the NFC North last year, too. There's something in their numbers that FO's system likes, and I'd be curious to know what it is.
#23 by Will Allen // Sep 10, 2020 - 8:21am
Hell, why not? I've paid less attention to the season buildup this year, than I have since I was about 6 years old, simply because I was so doubtful about a season being played. Just hopin' for 16 games being played at this point.
#11 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 09, 2020 - 5:54pm
It's interesting that so far this year, MLB is not showing a difference in home-away record from normal.
(11-9 this year, versus 42-38 or 43-37 in recent years. So roughly within margin of error. Travel is still a thing.)
#17 by Dan // Sep 09, 2020 - 11:05pm
The people at Sports Reference think that baseball home field advantage (mostly) comes from playing in your stadium rather than from batting last: https://www.sports-reference.com/blog/2020/08/whats-a-home-game-on-baseball-reference-com-htbf/
#43 by coremill // Sep 10, 2020 - 11:47am
Yeah, this is a big distinguishing factor for baseball. In baseball the parks are not uniform, so you can build a team and train your players to take advantage of your park's unique features, like Yankee Stadium's short porch in right field or Fenway's Green Monster. In all the other major sports, while weather and noise and such can vary, the actual playing area is always the same.
#45 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 10, 2020 - 1:36pm
There used to be a few non-compliant NHL rinks that were older than the standard, although I think they are all gone now.
MLS pitches can vary in size -- FIFA allows wide variation in field dimensions.
#26 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 10, 2020 - 8:44am
NBA (and NHL) is being played at neutral sites, so everything is out of whack there. That's why I used baseball as a comp, because like NFL it's being played in the normal location, just without fans.
#13 by Aaron Schatz // Sep 09, 2020 - 5:57pm
Not until we have more information. It probably doesn't matter in the preseason anyway because every team evens out with eight home games and eight road games. But we didn't incorporate which teams will have fans in attendance or anything like that.
#14 by Cythammer // Sep 09, 2020 - 6:19pm
Three of the top five and four of the top seven teams are relying on very old QBs. I'd be shocked if we didn't see at least one or two of those teams dramatically underperform their expectations. I'm especially not a believer in 43-year old QB who experienced a significant downturn in the second half of last season and is playing under someone other than the best coach of this era for literally the first time in his career.
The ranking I'm most surprised at is another one of those teams helmed by an old QB, the Colts. I don't pay much attention to the offseason but I wouldn't have thought they were projected to be a good team based on what they were last year.
#15 by theslothook // Sep 09, 2020 - 6:58pm
The Colts have a deep roster with a couple stars on defense and offense. Having Jacoby Brissette as the starter might have been enough to win them the division; given Houston's likely decline and uncertainty around how good Tennessee actually is.
The Rivers I saw in week 17 was a very bad, physically broken QB. A whole offseason of rest and recuperation will give him some liveliness(maybe), but I wouldn't be surprised if he gets benched midway through if the team is hovering around 0.500. I would be stunned if he put together a renaissance.
#19 by David // Sep 10, 2020 - 4:41am
100% agreement here - as I've listened to other preseason projections, this seems to be a part of the received wisdom, and I don't get it. I understand that it's easy to assume this year will be like last year, but the tendency of older players to get injured more often than younger players is a (to me) much stronger tendency.
There's no particular reason to assume that this is the year that all the old QBs fall off a cliff, but there was reason last year to assume Roethlisberger would get injured - apart from the fact that he was in his late thirties.
DVOA projections are what they are, and are valuable for that, but applying a human lens to this, I would expect half of those teams relying on old QBs to suffer injury regression and finish middle tier or worse.
#32 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // Sep 10, 2020 - 10:31am
I don't get the Colts being viewed as stronger with Rivers under center compared to Brissett, but I admittedly haven't seen either of them play very much recently.
At least with both on the roster, if Rivers does falter, Indy has a viable back up plan. I do like them to win their division this year. As much as I love Watson, I can't see how he can drag the rest of that team to another playoff berth. Long-term-wise, it may be better for his career if he doesn't, as the sooner he gets a new management team above him, the sooner he's likely to get a better supporting squad.
#18 by ammek // Sep 10, 2020 - 3:26am
Unlikely as the projection is to come to pass, has an entire division (NFC West) ever finished with a better DVOA than any of the teams in a different division (AFC East)?
I think there's a good chance of an incomplete season and a 1982-style knockout playoff tournament. Dumping the division format would seem to benefit the Steelers and Tom Brady. Yay. Plus, fewer regular-season games would probably boost the chances of teams with ageing quarterbacks, although a longer postseason might hurt them.
#29 by fyo // Sep 10, 2020 - 10:01am
Perhaps I missed the explanation sometime in the past, but could someone briefly point out why the simulation adds 1.5% to the DVOA of ever winner each week (and the opposite for losers)? This would seem to reinforce the initial "random" outcome of a game, right or wrong. IOW, I don't see how team X beating team Y in the first week of the simulation *adds* any knowledge to the system.
#37 by Aaron Schatz // Sep 10, 2020 - 10:38am
We're trying to model the real effects of a win or loss. During the season, if a team wins a game, that usually means that it had a positive DVOA. A team with a loss usually had a negative DVOA. So each win/loss adds to our knowledge of how good teams are.
The next step would be for us to actually model the range of single-game DVOA ratings instead of just a binary win and loss, and then add that projected single-game DVOA to the team's DVOA for the next week's simulation, doing everything week by week. But that would be a lot more complicated.
I hope that helps.
#38 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // Sep 10, 2020 - 10:43am
It doesn't add any knowledge, but it should help to produce a distribution of results that are better aligned with an actual football season, even if it's not helpful in figuring out which team will be where on the distribution chart. In other words, should generate more 13-3 and 3-13 records instead of putting everyone between 10-6 and 6-10, but isn't particular helpful at figuring out who drops from 6-10 to 3-13.
Where I think it would be most helpful would be as the season goes on, in calculating the "Chance to win the SB" numbers. Those always strike me as too high for the top DVOA teams because of the potential for DVOA strength to vary as the playoffs come round. Not so much because their DVOA may drop (although that is a factor), but more so because there's a larger pool of other playoff teams, any one of which could improve as the season goes on. The teams that improve the most are the ones you're like to face in the SB or conference championship, so just running projections based on static DVOA misses the potential, I think, for random fluctuations to create an opponent that will be tougher for the favourite to beat than the mid-year projections expect.
#33 by DIVISION // Sep 10, 2020 - 10:32am
...as much as I believed the 2016 Nate Silver presidential projections.
I have a hard time believing the Seahawks are better than the 49ers. I also don't see the Rams being better than the Cards. The NFC West is the best division the NFL by a bit. There's no scenario where I see the Rams making the playoffs.
1.) 49ers SB loser hangover?
2.) Seahawks don't have a pass-rush and I'm not buying that their secondary is going to make up for that.
3.) The Rams lost so much talent from last year. They still don't have an O-Line. Goff is the least talented QB in the division. They'll be in games, but how many will they win?
4.) Cards have the highest ceiling with the offense they run and the upper-echelon talent. If the defense holds its own this year, they'll win 10 games.
#42 by RevBackjoy // Sep 10, 2020 - 11:44am
Or rather, he was the least wrong. I remember him giving Trump roughly a 30% chance of winning on Election Day. Said % had fluctuated considerably over the last few months leading up to the election. Granted, Silver was much closer than the low single digits provided by other "impartial" pollsters (one of which pegged Hillary at >99%, can't remember who) but I don't think anyone straight-up *favored* Donaldinho.
#50 by RevBackjoy // Sep 10, 2020 - 3:12pm
True. He did lose the popular vote, after all! Virtually no one would have bet on him straight-up.
Still, if your model says a guy has less than a 1% of winning, and he wins by over 70 electoral votes, I think it's more likely that your polling methodology was flawed.
Based on 538 numbers, Trump was, in football terms, a 6 to 7-point underdog. Such minor upsets are a weekly occurrence in the NFL.
#47 by beargoggles // Sep 10, 2020 - 2:03pm
Silver was much less confident in the polling results than he was the previous 2 elections, for reasons that escape me. So he was more correct than everybody else in the sense that he was less confident in the foregone outcome than everybody else.
I believe it was the NYT that had the 99% confidence.
#49 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 10, 2020 - 2:32pm
Wang was at 99% for awhile.
November 8, 2016 did demonstrate how predicting the future is so hard and predicting the past is so easy, and there is a sea of comments which aged as well as an avocado.
https://www.quantamagazine.org/why-nate-silver-sam-wang-and-everyone-else-were-wrong-20161109 (or this two-faced bastard, who contradicts himself with an update and claims victory twice)
#52 by DIVISION // Sep 10, 2020 - 8:07pm
I believe Silver gave Trump about a 40% chance of winning. That's not great at all. Even worse, Silver has Biden beating Trump by almost the same margin this year.
It doesn't matter if you win the popular vote if you lose the electoral college by a landslide.
Silver still hasn't lived that down.
#58 by Eddo // Sep 11, 2020 - 4:28am
"Silver still hasn't lived that down."
Which is ridiculous. As others have cited, most other people and organizations that had predictions in 2016 gave Clinton a much higher probability than Silver.
Sure, if Silver's projections had had Trump actually winning, that would have been a huge win for him (well, in the area of statistical projections). But Silver was far less wrong than just about everyone else, yet he's the one who somehow "hasn't lived it down."
#59 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 11, 2020 - 8:31am
Silver predicted Trump's chances correctly, the statistical flaws he thought might crop up, and where Trump could do it -- and pretty much every statement was spot on.
That cycle's statistical darling, Sam Wang at Princeton, basically hasn't crawled out of his hole since.
#44 by theslothook // Sep 10, 2020 - 12:05pm
1) SB hangovers are a real thing.
2) Seahawks have the best qb by far in the division
3) Goff is the least talented qb? Boy it's amazing what one year will do. Are we so certain that Jimmy G is better than Goff?
4) I agree here
#53 by DIVISION // Sep 10, 2020 - 8:13pm
Sure, the 49ers could fall back, but they're still better on defense than any of the other three teams. I don't see how they don't win the WC at the least.
Seattle is only as good as their O-line, which is horrible. The Cards have consistently demonstrated that beating Russell Wilson isn't nearly as hard as it seems. Kyler Murray will have a better year than Wilson. Let the debate begin.
Goff is exposed. I would trust Garopalo's upside over Goff's at this point in their respective careers. Goff literally needs an armed escort to complete passes. He's all wrong for this era of NFL. He can't even run that well when he needs to.
#41 by RevBackjoy // Sep 10, 2020 - 11:40am
It makes sense that no particular team would be expected to have 11+ wins/losses. In any given season, a few teams are bound to end up with 13+ wins/losses, but the chance of any given team doing so isn't super high. Look at the cumulative winning % of each team over the past 10-20 years. With a handful of exceptions, most teams have averaged between 6 and 10 wins per year, long-term.
I bet if you looked at any individual simulated season, at least one of the favorites would go 13-3/14-2. Good luck trying to guess which one, though.
The one thing I find surprising is that a 23% DVOA wouldn't average more wins. A 23% rating usually gets you 12-13 wins.
#51 by RobotBoy // Sep 10, 2020 - 5:24pm
Well, now that the Jarrett Stidham/Cam Newton QB competition is over...
NE sports media played the 'competition' with a straight face almost to the day last week that Cam was officially declared starter. I guess you have to generate clicks somehow.
Interesting to see the dive NE takes in estimated defensive DVOA. They did lose a big chunk of their linebacking corps but the defensive backfield is still deep and talented. How long has it been since they've had nearly equal chances to get the #1 pick or win the SB?
I think Belichick sees heavier offensive fronts and the run game as being undervalued as has been building in that direction for the past few seasons. It's an approach that should benefit Newton, for as long as he can stay healthy (Right now, he seems quite mobile and is throwing well). Injuries on the o-line made it a liability last season and hindered Belichick's schemes. Given the division and the Dark Lord, I'd still say NE is more likely to win ten games than lose eight.
#54 by DIVISION // Sep 10, 2020 - 8:18pm
Given Buffalo's rise and Miami's feistiness and familiarity with NE, I would have them fighting to stay out of the cellar in the East.
NE's offense has no talent left and certainly no young talent. Newton has not been healthy in years.
Even worse, the talent NE lost in FA on defense is going to hurt them all year. You can't scheme for lack of talent.
One thing you're not taking in to account is the old man skills Brady brought to the table and his familiarity with Belichick's scheme. You're not getting that with Cam Newton. He could bust some runs, but he could also get injured on those runs. I don't see this working out well.
6-7 wins with Brady winning the final argument over legacy. Bill will actually have to face some tough questions...
#55 by RobotBoy // Sep 10, 2020 - 8:38pm
Newton had fantastic numbers for the first half of 2018 in a very Pats-like system. His numbers declined after a major injury which he unwisely tried playing through. 18 months wasn't 'years' last time I checked.
Clearly the Hoodie-hate is real although I don't see Belichick facing 'tough questions' even if the team has a down year. Construction of the greatest football dynasty in the history of the game and six rings do provide a bit of leeway. But haters can always dream.
#60 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 11, 2020 - 8:33am
The legacy arguments will be endlessly fruitful if Brady turns into Final Season Favre, leaving a chalk outline on the ground of a terrible loss midway through the season, and Newton goes 6-10 and NE finishes behind Miami.