The New Orleans Saints have been on top of the Football Outsiders DVOA ratings for the entire second half of the season, and they had another big victory in Week 17, so it's no surprise to see them on top of our final regular-season ratings for 2020. This is the fourth straight year that the Saints have ranked in our top two, but maybe this time they won't suffer a dreadfully painful loss in the playoffs. The Saints also ranked No. 1 (using our current formula) in 2011 and 2017. The year they won the Super Bowl, they finished only sixth, due in part to sitting starters in the final week of the season.
Of course, like so much in this weird season, the Saints' rating comes with a bit of an asterisk. In Week 12, their defense got to face a Denver team without a quarterback. If we were to take out that game from the Saints defense, then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be a surprise No. 1 in DVOA for the year. The Buccaneers had one huge blowout loss to New Orleans and a number of close losses where they actually end up with positive DVOA. In fact, the loss to New Orleans is the only Tampa Bay game all year with negative DVOA. Meanwhile, the Bucs also had seven different games with DVOA over 40% including DVOA over 70% in their final two games of the season. They were the only team this year to finish in the top five for both offense and defense.
The Green Bay Packers finish the year third in DVOA, including No. 1 on offense. Thanks to the first-round bye and a couple of weaker teams in the NFC field, the Packers also stand as our Super Bowl favorites going into the postseason, winning Super Bowl LV in 24.3% of our simulations.
Fourth, we come to the Buffalo Bills, who end the year as the top team in the AFC. The Bills are also red hot right now with DVOA over 40% in six straight games. In our weighted DVOA ratings, which lower the strength of early games to get a better idea of how teams are playing now, the Bills have narrowly passed New Orleans to rank as the No. 1 team going into the postseason.
Seattle moves up to fifth this week, passing the Kansas City Chiefs. Of course, that's because the Chiefs sat starters in the final week of the season, picking up their worst single-game rating of the year. (Surprisingly, the decline was mostly on defense, not offense.) Take that game out -- which we did for the ratings we use in our playoff simulation -- and the Chiefs would be back up to fifth. However, as we've detailed multiple times this year, our ratings have the Chiefs lower than conventional wisdom because they have played so many close games. With 19.5% DVOA, the Chiefs finish with the third-lowest rating ever for a 14-2 team, ahead of the 1990 49ers and the 2009 Colts.
Let's look once again at where the Chiefs stand compared to the Pythagenport projection based simply on points scored and allowed. Because of their Week 17 loss, the Chiefs don't end up as the "luckiest" team in recent NFL history, but they come pretty close. So do the Cleveland Browns. Each team outperformed its Pythagenport projection by 3.3 wins.
|Biggest Pythagenport Overperformance, 1970-2020|
The Browns would have the worst DVOA in history for an 11-5 team if not for those 2012 Colts that are listed above them in that table. That Colts team put up a mind-blowing -16.2% DVOA using the current formula despite finishing with an 11-5 record!
The Baltimore Ravens led the league in Pythagenport wins this year at 12.0, but they only finished the year seventh in DVOA. That's the lowest DVOA finish ever for the team that had the best point differential in the league.
On the other side of the coin we find the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons were outscored by just 18 points all year but finished 4-12, which means they underperformed their Pythagenport projection by 3.5 wins. That's the third biggest underperformance since the merger.
|Biggest Pythagenport Underperformance, 1970-2020|
The Falcons ended up 17th in DVOA despite finishing just 4-12. That's not the best DVOA finish ever for a 4-12 team, as the 2012 Lions and 1996 Ravens managed to finish with positive DVOA despite a 4-12 record. Atlanta's high DVOA wasn't just because of their play-by-play performance; the Falcons also ended up with the hardest schedule in the league by average DVOA of opponent. It turns out that in a year that was supposed to be unpredictable, schedule strength was very predictable. The two teams listed in Football Outsiders Almanac 2020 with the toughest schedules, Atlanta and Carolina, ended up with the toughest schedules. The two teams listed with the easiest schedules, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, ended up with the easiest schedules.
Speaking of Pittsburgh, they end the year with the best defensive DVOA in the league, followed by New Orleans and Washington. New England finishes the year No. 1 in special teams. That marks an astonishing 25 straight years where New England has put up positive special teams DVOA, going back to when Bill Parcells was head coach in 1996. And in that entire amazing run, this is the first time New England has finished on top of the league.
There were a number of other units that looked like they were set to be historically good or bad this year but didn't finish that way.
- Kansas City through Week 12 was putting up one of the best pass offense DVOA ratings in history, but things settled down after that. The Chiefs had 59.5% pass DVOA through Week 12, but 26.4% pass DVOA in Weeks 13-16. In fact, the Chiefs' pass DVOA was actually higher with Chad Henne in Week 17 (31.2%) than it had been over the previous four games! As a result, the Chiefs were passed by the Packers as the No. 1 passing game of the year and, after we adjust for the overall offensive level of this season, neither team finishes among the top 20 pass offenses in DVOA history.
- The Houston running game came out among the worst in NFL history for most of the season, but then David Johnson had a couple of good games at the end of the year. Houston ends up with -27.9% run DVOA, which is 13th from the bottom of all teams in DVOA history and not really far below other bad running games in 2020 including Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and the Los Angeles Chargers.
- New Orleans and Tampa Bay ranked among the best run defenses ever around midseason but both defenses gave up more rushing efficiency in the second half of the year. Tampa Bay ends up the top run defense of the year at -31.4%, which comes in at 14th in DVOA history.
- At one point, Baltimore or Miami looked like they might finish among the best special teams we've ever measured. Both units faded down the stretch.
There's one unit, however, that couldn't get itself off one of our historical best/worst lists: the 2020 Los Angeles Chargers special teams. The Chargers special teams were bad for most of the year but they really got noticed when they basically handed a 45-0 blowout to the Patriots in Week 13. At that point, the Chargers looked like they could challenge the infamous 2000 Buffalo Bills to reign as the worst special teams unit in history. Well, I'm happy to say things turned around and the Chargers actually put up a positive rating in three of the last four games. Still, this unit was in such a ridiculous hole from its performance in the first three months of the season that the Chargers end up still finishing as the third-worst special teams in DVOA history. But hey, the Chargers are not alone! The Minnesota Vikings made a push downwards over the final month of the year and they also make it onto this list of the dozen worst special teams units since 1985.
|Worst Special Teams DVOA,
The Chargers were absolutely horrendous punting the ball, worth an estimated -37.8 points of field position after adjusting for weather and altitude. That's the worst punting figure we've ever measured. The Chargers had three punts blocked and allowed the Patriots to return punts for 70 (a touchdown) and 61 yards. If we count non-returns as 0 yards, the Chargers allowed opponents to return punts for an averge of 9.9 yards when no other team was above 6.3 and the league average was 3.6. The Chargers were also below average in field goals, kickoffs, and punt returns. They ended up average on kick returns.
The Vikings had more evently distribued poor performance on special teams. They too were average on kick returns but finished 31st or 32nd in all four other elements of special teams.
Other worsts of the year: Washington made the playoffs despite having the worst offensive DVOA and the worst pass offense. Detroit ends the year with the worst defensive DVOA and the worst pass defense. New England, surprisingly, has the worst run defense of 2020.
Usually in these end-of-season DVOA commentaries I write something about the correlation of the ratings to the previous season. With all the weirdness of COVID, and players opting out and missing random weeks because of close contacts, you might expect there to be very little correlation between how well teams played in 2019 and how well teams played in 2020. This was certainly true for certain teams, whether they were risers such as Miami (from 32nd last year to 12th this year) or fallers such as New England (which fell from third overall to 22nd). However, overall there was the same amount of correlation between 2019 and 2020 as there is between any two years in the NFL. Usually the correlation coefficient for offense is around .50, and it was .53 this year. Usually for defense it is around .38, and it was .40 this year. And usually for special teams it is around .30, and it was .25 this year.
A few more notes on 2020 before we get to the big table:
- The San Francisco 49ers went only 6-10 but managed to finish 11th in DVOA despite the cascade of injuries they had to deal with this season. Part of that finish comes from the adjustment for having the third-toughest schedule in the league. The 49ers also had poor fumble luck, recovering about one-third of fumbles on both sides of the ball.
- Other teams with particularly poor fumble recovery luck in 2020: Detroit and Las Vegas. Teams with particularly good fumble recovery luck: Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia.
- Three NFC East teams ended up with the hardest offensive schedules: New York, Philadelphia, and Dallas in that order. However, all three teams had easy defensve schedules. NFC West teams also had tough offensive schedules and easy defensive schedules. The nine hardest offensive schedules (based on average defensive DVOA of opponent) belonged to NFC teams!
- Four of the five easiest offensive schedules belonged to the AFC South teams.
- Chicago, Atlanta, Denver, and Minnesota had the toughest defensive schedules.
- Cleveland had the easiest defensive schedule.
- Speaking of Cleveland, they are the worst of the playoff teams according to DVOA, but they aren't a historically terrible playoff team. Cleveland doesn't even make a list of the 20 lowest-DVOA teams to make the playoffs since 1985.
* * * * *
Football Outsiders playoff odds, snap counts, and the FO+ database are now all updated through the end of the regular season A reminder that all our free stats pages, including DVOA and player position stats, now require registration to view. This is not a paywall! You only need to register (for free) and then log in to the site to view these pages.
We'll review the best and worst player stats of the year in a special Quick Reads tomorrow.
Please note that while this article is called "Final 2020 DVOA Ratings," we will continue with postseason weighted DVOA ratings each Monday through the playoffs. There will also be small changes in the final 2020 DVOA ratings based on postseason changes to the play-by-play.
* * * * *
Here are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through the entire 2020 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 for performance indoors and 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 gives recent games more strength than older games to get a better idea of how well teams are playing now.
LAST WEEK represents rank after Week 16, while LAST YEAR represents rank in 2019.
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>
For the full table, including variance, schedule strength, and non-adjusted VOA, visit the Football Outsiders DVOA database.