The Baltimore Ravens return to No. 1 in DVOA in a strange week with a scrambled ratings table.
It's a strange week because it is the first time in the history of Football Outsiders where I've written one of these DVOA commentary articles before the week of games is actually over. Apparently, back in 2010 when the Vikings and Eagles had a game postponed until Tuesday I didn't post DVOA ratings and commentary until Wednesday afternoon. This year, we're doing everything as usual. All the DVOA pages are updated and here's the commentary on Tuesday. Then all the stats pages and playoff odds and everything else will be updated again on Wednesday after Buffalo plays Tennessee.
It's a scrambled ratings table because there have been a lot of major moves up and down the rankings after Week 5 games. The Rams had the biggest single game of the week (81.5%) and move up from 11th to fourth. Miami's shocking domination of the San Francisco 49ers was the second-biggest game of the week (71.0%) and the Dolphins zoom all the way up from 26th to 12th. The 49ers, in turn, drop from ninth to 17th. Baltimore had the third-biggest game of the week, which helps explain how they climb back up into the top spot. The Ravens have been only average on offense this year, but they're one of the league's top defenses and have the NFL's best special teams unit, positive in all five aspects of special teams.
It's also a scrambled ratings table because the ratings this year deviate significantly from simple win-loss record. It's not too weird to have a one-loss team like Baltimore on top, but two-loss Tampa Bay only drops one spot and ranks No. 2. Instead of being concentrated at the top of the ratings, the five remaining unbeaten teams (including, for now, both Buffalo and Tennessee) rank third (Seattle), sixth (Green Bay), ninth (Buffalo), tenth (Pittsburgh), and 15th (Tennessee).
Things are even more scrambled below the top 10. There are two 1-4 teams that have positive DVOA, Minnesota and Houston, and then two 4-1 teams with negative DVOA, Cleveland and Chicago.
Let's talk about the 1-4 teams first. Minnesota and Houston have had the two hardest schedules in the league so far this year by average DVOA of opponent. The Vikings have a positive DVOA for four of their five games so far this year, with the exception being Week 2's 28-11 loss to Indianapolis. We talked about the positive rating for their loss to Green Bay way back after Week 1. Week 3 was a one-point loss to Tennessee that was basically tied by DVOA. Week 4 they beat Houston with 27.1% DVOA for the game. This week, with current opponent adjustments, the Vikings get 15.3% DVOA for losing to Seattle, while the Seahawks are even higher (30.7%) with the win. The Vikings are a surprising eighth in offensive DVOA and perfectly average (0.0%) on defense.
Houston's DVOA rating is being kept close to zero thanks to heavy opponent adjustments for their first three games against Kansas City, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh. Add on a 34.1% DVOA for this week's 30-14 win over Jacksonville, and you get a team that's above-average overall. Houston is right around average in all three phases of the game. Note that Houston's offense is above average at 3.0% but has a below-average rank of 18th. Twenty-one of the 32 teams are above average on offense so far this year. There are a lot of "kind of good" offenses with 15 teams falling between 0.0% and 8.2%, and those offenses are then balanced by a few really horrible offenses, mostly in the NFC East.
Here's a look at where Minnesota and Houston fall on the list of the best 1-4 teams ever by DVOA. "Rank" here is rank among the teams in that season, not rank among the teams on this table.
|Best 1-4 Teams by DVOA, 1985-2020|
A little housekeeping note: because I'm still in the process of re-running all past years of DVOA with the new version of the formula, these historical "DVOA as of Week 5" numbers in today's article are the old version 7.0 numbers. Also, remember that 1987 ratings do not include strikebreaker games.
Yes, that's the original first-year Bill Belichick Patriots as the best 1-4 team in the history of DVOA. That Patriots team started the season by losing four straight one-score games, all to teams that would eventually finish with winning records, before a 28-19 win over Denver got them off the schneid in Week 5. The most famous thing about that team now is that they were carrying four quarterbacks so they could keep some rookie named Tom Brady on the roster.
The bad news for the Vikings and Texans is that almost none of these teams really turned things around in the second half of the season. A lot of them played much worse in the second half of the season, as their performance in the play-by-play began to match their record rather than the other way around. A couple of these teams, such as the 2011 Minnesota Vikings, completely collapsed. The big exception is the 2004 Buffalo Bills, also known as the best team in DVOA history to miss the playoffs.
Let's flip things around and look at the two 4-1 teams with negative DVOA. First, Cleveland. There are two things going on with Cleveland. You may notice that Cleveland dropped six spots from 12th to 18th despite winning over Indianapolis this week. This was the latest in what seems like a weekly series this year, games where DVOA disagrees not only with the win-loss result but with the eye test. Cleveland ended up with a -4.5% single-game DVOA for this game, while Indianapolis was at 29.5%. A breakdown of offensive numbers explains somewhat. The Colts ended this game with the higher average of yards per play, 5.9 to 5.3, and the higher play success rate on offense, 47% to 43%. Both quarterbacks threw two interceptions, and the Browns tossed in a fumble as well (that they recovered themselves). Cleveland ran more plays, 72 to 51, but the efficiency numbers are more predictive than the number of plays run.
But really, this week's game is not why Cleveland has a negative DVOA overall. Cleveland has a negative DVOA overall because of the way they got defenestrated by the Baltimore Ravens back in Week 1. Cleveland's single-game rating for that loss with current opponent adjustments is -99.8%, the worst game played by any team this year. Take out that game, and the average of Cleveland's other games is 23.3%, which would easily put the Browns in the top ten. The Browns also would be above average if not for their special teams, which currently rank 31st in the league.
The Chicago Bears being below average in DVOA probably makes a lot more sense to you than Cleveland. There's been plenty of talk of Chicago as one of the worst 4-1 teams ever. All four Chicago wins have come by less than a touchdown. Three of them are over below-average teams (Detroit, Atlanta, and the New York Giants). Chicago ranks just 26th in the league in yards per play, and ninth in yards per play allowed. In DVOA, those ranks are 27th and seventh, with the Bears also dragged down a little by No. 30 special teams.
Here's where Chicago and Cleveland rank among the worst 4-1 teams ever by DVOA. I've extended the list a little bit so we can get Cleveland on there. The Bears come out as the second-lowest 4-1 team we've ever measured, surpassed only by another Chicago team from 2010.
|Worst 4-1 Teams by DVOA, 1985-2020|
Just looking at the scores and surface data, it's hard to understand why the 2010 Bears came out as so terrible. They actually had one pretty convincing win (23-6 over Carolina) and while they mostly were playing other losing teams, one of their close wins came over the eventual Super Bowl champion Packers. The loss was pretty bad, though, with just 110 yards and six first downs against the New York Giants.
The good news for the Bears and Browns is that a lot of the teams on this list kept winning despite starting with low DVOA ratings. Most of these teams made it to the playoffs, including the Buffalo Bills just last year. Some of these teams improved significantly over the rest of the season, including that 2010 Bears team (which eventually lost to Green Bay in the NFC Championship) and the 1998 Falcons who eventually finished seventh in DVOA and made it all the way to the Super Bowl. Only a couple of these teams crashed out after their 4-1 starts, and one of those teams (the 2012 Cardinals) collapsed in part because they had to start four different quarterbacks during that season. Hopefully the Bears won't have to go above two.
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Football Outsiders playoff odds, snap counts, and the FO+ database are now all updated through Week 5. As noted above, everything will be updated again tomorrow to include the Buffalo-Tennessee Tuesday night game.
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These are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through five weeks 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.
Because it is early in the season, opponent adjustments are only at 50% strength; they will increase 10% every week through Week 10.
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 65% preseason forecast for teams with five games played and 70% preseason forecast for teams with four games played.
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).