You love them when your team is high! You hate them when your team is low! Once again, the famous Football Outsiders DVOA and DAVE ratings return for 2020.
Football Outsiders readers are familiar with DVOA, our main play-by-play metric. By now, most Football Outsiders readers are also familiar with DAVE, our rating that combines the preseason projection with the results of early games to give us a better prediction of how each team will rank at the end of the year. For those who don't know the story, this metric is called DAVE as a reaction to criticism that our stats are too much alphabet soup. I mean, who can argue with a guy named Dave? (Technically, it stands for "DVOA Adjusted for Variation Early.") In past years, we used DAVE for the first half of each season. This year, based on new research, we will be using DAVE for another month, until every team has played 12 games. In this week's DAVE ratings, the preseason forecast counts 93% and performance in Week 1 is only 7%. The weight of the preseason forecast goes down every week until we fully filter it out after Week 13.
Of course, though I'm calling our main metric DVOA here, it is actually VOA because there are no opponent adjustments right now. We do not apply opponent adjustments until after Week 4, so in Weeks 1-3 DVOA and VOA are the same thing. Please don't get all nitpicky about it. Most readers know what's up, and if you don't, I just told you!
The Baltimore Ravens are on top of our ratings after Week 1 for the second straight year. Last year, they chokeslammed the Miami Dolphins 59-10. This year, they "only" beat Cleveland by a score of 38-6. Once again, just like last year, the Ravens are in the top three for offense, defense, and special teams after one week.
Actually, this is the third straight year the Ravens have done this. In 2018, they beat the Bills 47-3 in Week 1 but "only" ranked second because the Jets (yes, you read that correctly) had an even bigger win over the Detroit Lions.
Based on DVOA, the Ravens weren't quite as good as the Browns were bad. Baltimore ended up with 88.0% DVOA, while Cleveland got spanked to the tune of -107.6% DVOA. Does a loss this bad mean we should give up on the Browns already? I went into the past to get an idea of how much we can learn from one game this bad.
Since 1985, 30 different teams have started the season with a game below -100%. (This is Week 1, so there are no opponent adjustments being considered, even for these past years.) Those 29 other teams averaged 6.0 wins for the season. Eight of them managed to finish 8-8 or better, and four of them made the playoffs. The problem for Cleveland is that no team has started the season with a loss below -100% and made the playoffs in almost 30 years. The four teams that did it were the 1991 Lions, the 1989 Oilers, the 1989 Steelers, and the 1985 Jets.
What about the other side? The Ravens didn't match the 119.3% DVOA they put up against the Miami Dolphins last year in Week 1, but they still were one of just 36 teams to put up a Week 1 game over 80% since 1985. The previous 35 teams averaged 10.1 wins and 24 of them made the playoffs that season. Looking only at teams coming off a top-five DVOA rank the year before, 9 of 11 teams with big Week 1 wins went on to the playoffs. The two that didn't? The 1997 Cowboys (who beat Pittsburgh 37-7 but finished 6-10) and the 2005 Bills (who beat Houston 22-7 in a game that wasn't as close as the score, then finished 5-11).
More interesting from this game may be the splits. Cleveland sold out to stop the run, and it worked! Baltimore ranked 29th this week in run offense DVOA. Of course, the Ravens also blew past the rest of the league in pass offense DVOA, over 140% while Seattle was second at 80.1%.
The more surprising Week 1 results are lower down on the page. Look over the whole table, and you're probably wondering three things.
- How on earth did Minnesota end up with a higher rating than Green Bay when the Vikings were losing 29-10 at the end of the third quarter?
- How are the Jets not way down with the Cleveland Browns given how badly they got embarassed in the first half of Sunday's game with Buffalo?
- What is Kansas City doing all the way down at No. 16 after what looked like a dominating victory over the Houston Texans?
I was also wondering these things! So let's take a bit of a closer look at each of these games. You'll notice that there's a connection between these three games and the disagreement between DVOA and conventional wisdom: the fact that DVOA measures the entire game instead of filtering out "garbage time." Yes, DVOA does count plays at only half strength when there's a huge lead in the game, but that lead has to be over 21 points in the fourth quarter. Readers expect DVOA to devalue plays much earlier than that, but as I've written many times, all my research has shown that excluding most "garbage time" plays actually makes DVOA less predictive for the future.
Green Bay 43, Minnesota 34
Another thing to remember about DVOA is that is an efficiency metric. It's measuring success per play against a leaguewide baseline. Often when DVOA ends up differing with conventional wisdom, it is related to one team running far more plays than the other team. That's one of the things that happened in this game. It will shock you to learn that the Minnesota Vikings gained more yards per play than Green Bay on Sunday, by 7.8 to 6.9. The Vikings did turn the ball over with an interception but the Packers had a fumble, although they recovered it themselves.
The big difference here is that Green Bay ran 76 plays while Minnesota ran only 49 plays. Should that be somehow accounted for in our ratings? I've never figured out a good way to account for teams running more plays that actually makes DVOA more predictive. Green Bay managed to string its plays together into more coherent, successful drives than Minnesota. I have a feeling that means something, but I also have a feeling that it means less than the final score would indicate.
The other issue, of course, is the timing. Minnesota scored 24 points in the final quarter, even though the game was mostly out of reach at that point. Should those plays be discounted by the DVOA system? Well, the problem with that is that if you discount Minnesota's best offensive quarter of the game, you also discount Green Bay's best offensive quarter of the game. Minnesota was much more efficient when they were losing in the last 15 minutes, gaining 9.9 yards per play. But Green Bay with that big lead managed to put up 10.7 yards per play! If we were to discount plays once win probability for one team is very low, we would be taking out Green Bay's best plays too.
Here's a look at both offenses by quarter. In case you are wondering, the Kirk Cousins interception was in the second quarter and the Aaron Jones fumble was in the fourth.
|GB-MIN Offensive DVOA and Yards by Quarter, Week 1|
|Qtr||GB DVOA||GB Yd/Play||MIN DVOA||MIN Yd/Play|
Buffalo 27, New York Jets 17
Here's another game with the same issues as Green Bay at Minnesota. Both teams turned the ball over twice. Buffalo gained only 5.0 yards per play compared to 4.8 yards per play for the Jets. The biggest difference was that Buffalo ran 81 plays while the Jets ran just 53. The Buffalo offense also shut down after a fantastic first quarter. In particular, the Bills had trouble running the ball, gaining only 2.7 yards per play on non-scramble runs. And the Jets got some offense going in the second half of the game. Buffalo was the better team in this game, certainly, but the idea that the Jets were a total garbage fire is a bit of an overreaction to just the first quarter (combined, let's be honest, with our priors about the current state of their locker room and the head coach).
|BUF-NYJ Offensive DVOA and Yards by Quarter, Week 1|
|Qtr||BUF DVOA||BUF Yd/Play||NYJ DVOA||NYJ Yd/Play|
Kansas City 34, Houston 20
Once again, the yards per play numbers here are going to surprise you. Houston averaged 6.2 yards per play while Kansas City averaged only 5.5 yards per play. The Chiefs ran more plays, but not by very much: 67 to 58. Houston had an interception, and Kansas City had no turnovers. So it makes sense that Kansas City came out higher in DVOA. But it's not by much. How did the Chiefs end up with a -1.2% DVOA despite winning the game?
Again, the big question here is how to count plays when a team has a big lead in the fourth quarter. The Chiefs offense was completely different in the fourth quarter. Was it because they were playing with a big lead, so they didn't care about sending Clyde Edwards-Helaire to run over and over into a stacked box at the goal line? Their defense didn't really have a similar breakdown despite the big lead. In the first three quarters of the game, Kansas City averaged 6.4 yards per play with a 59% success rate. In the final quarter, Kansas City averged 2.3 yards per play with a 33% success rate. That dropped their overall numbers for the game.
Compare Kansas City's final numbers for the game to the league averages for Week 1, and you can see why their DVOA comes out right around the league average. Kansas City's 5.51 yards per play almost exactly matched the NFL average of 5.52 yards per play. The Chiefs had a higher success rate than league average, and thus had a positive offensive DVOA. But there are two sides to every story. The Texans had basically the same success rate as the Chiefs, and thus also had a positive offensive DVOA. So both offenses were just a little bit better than the NFL average based on both success rate and DVOA.
|KC-HOU vs. NFL Average on Offense, Week 1|
|NFL Avg Week 1||5.5||0.0%||47%|
* * * * *
Football Outsiders playoff odds are updated through Week 1. The annual stats pages are now updated with 2020 data, although some of that data can be kind of sketchy after just one week (in particular the offensive line and defensive line pages). Snap counts and the FO+ DVOA database are also now fully updated through Week 1.
A quick bit of housekeeping: As you may have read when we discussed the new DVOA version 7.3, we are now correctly applying adjustments to both offense and defense for playing indoors. Therefore it is important to note that we have designated the new Sofi Stadium in Los Angeles as an outdoor stadium, not an indoor stadium. Although Sofi Stadium has a roof, the sides are open to the weather and the wind. In the long run, we'll have to see how Sofi Stadium plays, but for now the Rams and Chargers (and their opponents) will not be getting the same penalty to offense and bonus to defense as teams such as New Orleans and Detroit.
* * * * *
These are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through one week of 2020, 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.
Please note that there are no opponent adjustments in DVOA until after Week 4. (It's still listed as DVOA instead of VOA because I don't feel like going through and changing all the tables manually.) Our second weekly table which includes schedule strength, variance, and estimated wins will appear beginning after Week 4.
DAVE is a formula which combines our preseason forecast with current DVOA to get a more accurate projection of how a team will play the rest of the season. DAVE is currently 93% preseason forecast and 7% actual performance.
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>