Bills Continue Ascent to Greatness
NFL Week 5 - Buffalo's dominating victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night keeps them comfortably in the top spot of the Football Outsiders DVOA ratings after five weeks. With current opponent adjustments, Buffalo comes out with 85% DVOA for the game, which makes it the fourth-biggest victory of the season so far. Buffalo's win over Houston the week before was, of course, the biggest victory of the season.
Dallas and Arizona remain second and third with wins last week. Incidentally, Arizona's current DVOA of 31.3% is very close to the average of all 5-0 teams going back to 1983, which is 33.1%. The Cardinals are neither particularly strong nor particularly weak for an undefeated team after five weeks. Since 1983, 64 of 70 teams (91%) that started 5-0 made the postseason, so things are looking pretty good for Arizona right now despite the overall strength of their division. Our playoff odds simulation puts them in the postseason 90% of the time. The narrative of the NFC West as the strongest division in the game is going to take a hit in future weeks now that Russell Wilson is out for at least a month, but for now the NFC West still comes out very strong in DVOA. The Los Angeles Rams remain fifth in DVOA through five weeks, and even though they currently have losing records, Seattle and San Francisco rank ninth and tenth in DVOA.
Between Arizona and the rest of the NFC West, you'll find that Tampa Bay jumps up from ninth to fourth after walloping Miami. Cleveland, New Orleans, and Baltimore finish out the top ten, ranking sixth through eighth.
Returning to the No. 1 Buffalo Bills, Buffalo's DVOA this week (49.6%) is basically the same as their DVOA last week (49.8%) but most teams with ultra-high DVOA early in the year are going to see their ratings drop with each successive game added to the sample. Buffalo did not, and so the Bills climb onto our list of the best teams ever tracked by DVOA going back to 1983. A reminder that these tables are done with DVOA as it would have looked at the time; in other words, the opponent adjustments after Week 5 in past years are 50% strength, just like the opponent adjustments now. Buffalo has played an easy schedule so far, but so did most of the teams on this list.
|Best Total DVOA
Through 5 Games, 1983-2021
What happened to other teams that started as hot as the Bills? Buffalo is the 36th team in history to have a DVOA over 40% after five games. Of the other 35 teams:
- 8 won the Super Bowl
- 9 lost the Super Bowl
- 13 won their division but did not make the Super Bowl
- 2 won wild cards but did not make the Super Bowl
- 3 missed the playoffs (2003 Buccaneers, 2005 Chargers, and 2009 Giants)
One thing in Buffalo's favor as Super Bowl favorites is the strength of their odds of getting the No. 1 seed and the only first-round bye in the AFC. We have the Bills getting the top seed 56% of simulations. This isn't just because Buffalo has been so good this year and also leads the NFL in our DAVE ratings that combine 2021 performance and our preseason projections. The Bills also have a very, very easy schedule of remaining games. Buffalo's 12 remaining opponents have an average DVOA of -13.7%. They have only two games remaining against teams that rank in the top half of DVOA, trips to New Orleans (Week 12) and Tampa Bay (Week 14). Buffalo is on pace to have a schedule rating of -13.5% which would be the third-easiest schedule on record, trailing only the 1999 Rams and the 1991 Bills.
Buffalo's offense improved from 16th to 12th this week, but of course the Bills are cruising early thanks primarily to stellar defense. Buffalo's defense is now the second best in DVOA history through five games, trailing only the 2019 New England Patriots.
|Best Defensive DVOA
Through 5 Games, 1983-2021
The flip side of the Buffalo defense is the Kansas City defense, which has been horrendous through the first five games. The Chiefs now are the eighth-worst defense ever tracked by DVOA through five games.
|Worst Defensive DVOA
Through 5 Games, 1983-2021
And yet, I think the idea that the Chiefs are no longer a good team has been overstated. The Chiefs are still 14th in DVOA despite a losing record. Even after a poor game against the Bills, their offense still ranks No. 1 on the year, ahead of the Buccaneers and Rams. Some of the issue here is one of schedule strength early. Kansas City has played the hardest schedule so far according to average DVOA of opponent. It's also the No. 4 schedule of opposing defenses and the No. 2 schedule of opposing offenses. So both sides of the ball don't look as good as they really are because of the level of competition. The Chiefs, for example, rank only fifth in unadjusted offensive VOA -- it's when we add the adjustments for schedule and fumble recovery luck that they move into the top spot.
There's never been a team like the Chiefs that was so good on offense and so bad on defense this early in the season, but I did go looking for similar teams that were not as extreme. I started by looking for other teams that had offensive and defensive DVOA both over 25% after five games. There's one such team: the 2013 San Diego Chargers, who ranked third in offense and last in defense after five games. The Chargers started 2-3, like the Chiefs. They went on to finish 9-7 and made the playoffs, upsetting the Bengals in the wild-card round and then losing to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the divisional round. The Chargers finished that season second in offensive DVOA and last in defensive DVOA, although their defensive rating improved from 27.3% after Week 5 to 19.3% at the end of the year.
If we want more comparisons, we have to expand our pool of teams. So I went looking for similar teams by rank: teams that ranked in the top three for offense and the bottom three for defense after five games. Here's our list, along with a look at where their offense and defense ended the year.
|Great Offense, Awful Defense Through 5 Weeks, 1983-2021|
Well, that certainly is a strange mix of teams, with some forgotten teams from the 80s and a couple of Dan Marino squads, the Cowboys in the early days of the triplets, then one of the powerful early 2000s Chiefs teams, and finally two recent Patriots teams that made and lost the Super Bowl. What you may notice about this list, however, is that nearly every one of these teams improved on defense over the final three-fourths of the season. Offense is a mix, with some of the teams improving, some declining, and some staying roughly the same. But almost every defense improves, except those 80s Miami defenses.
This falls in line with something we often talk about, which is that offense is more predictive and consistent than defense. That's especially true between seasons, but it is also true within seasons. If you are the Kansas City Chiefs, you would rather be the league's best offense and worst defense than the other way around. It's likely, especially given their past history, that the Chiefs will continue to have one of the top offenses in the league for the rest of the season. It's also likely that their defense will at least somewhat improve and not be quite this bad over the next three months.
If you want to find a team that is great on defense and terrible on offense rather than the other way around, we've got a couple of those teams going this season. They aren't quite as extreme as the Chiefs. Carolina, which falls to 17th overall in DVOA this week, is currently second on defense behind Buffalo but only 25th on offense. Chicago, which is down at 22nd overall, ranks fifth on defense but 31st on offense, ahead of only the New York Jets.
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Here is the Football Outsiders Top 16 through five weeks of 2021, 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 opponent and performance indoors and consider all fumbles, kept or lost, as equal value. Because it is early in the season, opponent adjustments are currently at 50% strength. 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.
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 and 35% actual performance. It is not currently adjusted for any backup quarterbacks.
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>
Click here for the full table.