Are the Titans Overrated?
NFL Week 7 - The top five teams in our DVOA ratings remain exactly the same this week. Buffalo is still No. 1, followed by Arizona, the Los Angeles Rams, Tampa Bay, and Dallas. This is what happens when two of those teams get the week off and the other three win comfortably. OK, the Rams' win may not have been as comfortable as they would have liked, but Detroit stayed close with a lot of high-risk, high-reward, not often predictive types of plays such as the surprise onside kick, so DVOA thinks the Rams won comfortably.
Below the top five we start to see a little bit of movement. Cincinnati's win over Baltimore moves the Bengals up four spots and into our top 10. The Ravens drop two spots, from sixth to eighth. New England is another big riser this week, going from 19th to 13th after curb-stomping the horrible New York Jets. Yes, their rating is adjusted for the strength of the opponent, but the Patriots still had the best DVOA of any team in Week 7. 54-13 is a lot, even against a team such as the Jets -- who, by the way, dropped into last place this week with the Atlanta Falcons climbing out of the bottom spot.
Other major moves this week? The Kansas City Chiefs dropped to 18th overall and more importantly dropped to fifth in offensive DVOA. The Chiefs were leading the league in offensive DVOA through four weeks (36.9% with current opponent adjustments) and rank just 24th in offensive DVOA for Weeks 5-7 at -11.3%. It's not just about the turnovers. The Chiefs are 23rd with 5.5 net yards per play over the last three games. They really are struggling. San Francisco and Chicago, like Kansas City, also dropped four spots this week. San Francisco went from 10th to 14th, while Chicago fell from 20th to 24th.
Why Titans are Low
Another big move up belongs to the Tennessee Titans, who went from 23rd to 20th this week. Your response to this is probably not, "Oh, of course the Titans went up after a big win" but rather "What on earth are the Tennessee Titans doing all the way down at No. 20? They're the hottest team in the league and just beat the Bills and Chiefs in consecutive weeks!" So let's talk a little bit about the Tennessee Titans.
The first thing to note when it comes to Tennessee's low ranking is that all plays count equally in DVOA. We don't give extra weight right now to the last two weeks just because those wins were impressive. Yes, we also have a stat called weighted DVOA that lowers the strength of older games to get a better idea of how well teams are playing now, but even that metric still weights every game at least 90% after seven weeks. Tennessee has put up its two best performances of the season in the last two weeks, but the Titans' rating is dragged down by the previous five games. In particular, the Titans are dragged down by the three games where they have negative DVOA. Let's take them in reverse order.
Week 4 was the 27-24 loss to the Jets in overtime. I've talked about this many times, but DVOA is not adjusted at all for injuries. The ratings we use to do our FO+ picks and playoff odds are adjusted sometimes for major injuries, especially to quarterbacks, but none of the backwards-looking DVOA ratings are adjusted for injuries. So there's no adjustment for the fact that the Titans played this game without A.J. Brown and Julio Jones. They lost a game, albeit a close game, to the worst team in the NFL. Right now, this game is worth -32.0% DVOA. (I say "right now" because opponent adjustments will change gradually as the season progresses, so this game will have a slightly different DVOA by the end of the year.)
Week 2 was the 33-30 comeback overtime victory over Seattle. The Titans took home the W, but the Seahawks have the higher DVOA for this game. They outgained the Titans, 7.6 to 6.4 yards per play, and they won the turnover battle. (There were no interceptions, but the Titans fumbled once.) DVOA is looking at the play-by-play, not the score, and the Seahawks were overall more efficient despite the loss. Right now, this game is worth -12.7% DVOA.
Week 1, the Titans got blown out 38-13 by the Arizona Cardinals. The Titans had just 3.9 yards per play and turned the ball over three times. Right now, this game is worth -63.3% DVOA.
OK, sure, but Titans fans may be thinking, "That was seven weeks ago! Does that even matter given what the team has done over the last couple games?" Yes, it does. But we can also figure out what DVOA would be like without Week 1 if you would like to see the effect of that game on Tennessee's rating. Just remember that they are not the only team that would be affected by removing Week 1 from the ratings. The Saints' shocking 38-3 drubbing of the Packers would be gone. The Eagles' 32-6 victory over Atlanta, a game which basically kept the Falcons in last place in DVOA until this week, would be gone. Buffalo's upset loss to Pittsburgh would be gone. Houston and Miami's only wins would be gone. And getting rid of the Titans' huge loss to Arizona also means getting rid of Arizona's huge win over the Titans -- dropping the DVOA rating of the only undefeated team left in the NFL. Get rid of Week 1, and the gap in DVOA between Buffalo and Arizona gets a lot larger.
But if you're curious, let's do it and see what the results are. Here are the teams that improve the most in DVOA if Week 1 is removed entirely:
|2021 DVOA Without Week 1, Risers|
|Rk||No Week 1
So there's Tennessee, moving up from 20th to 13th. Many fans would still question the Titans being that low, but it looks a lot more like our current perception of the Titans than No. 20. And to get the Titans higher than that, you would have to start eliminating other weeks until you were basically just looking at their last three wins.
Meanwhile, Green Bay would jump all the way to sixth without considering their Week 1 loss. They would now be the No. 1 offense in the league, surpassing Tampa Bay. And Buffalo would become as massively dominant in DVOA as they were before losing to the Titans two weeks ago. The gap between Buffalo and the No. 2 team would go from the current 4.5% between the Bills and Cardinals to a gap of 18.9% between the Bills and the team that would become No. 2 without considering Week 1, the defending champion Buccaneers.
They don't make the top five risers so I didn't put them on the table above, but I will also note that New England and Indianapolis become top 10 teams if we remove Week 1 from the DVOA ratings.
Here are the teams that drop the most in DVOA if Week 1 is removed entirely:
|2021 DVOA Without Week 1, Fallers|
|Rk||No Week 1
The Saints fall more than everyone else if we no longer consider Week 1, taking out their huge victory over the Packers. Houston is now the worst team in the league and Miami is down there with them, with the New York Jets still in between at No. 31. The entire NFC West would fall without considering Week 1, with the Cardinals dropping to fourth, the Seahawks to 14th, and the 49ers to 16th. (The Rams would remain third, but with a lower rating.)
That's all interesting, but it's not the best way to judge teams moving forward. All of our research says that we need to be considering a much larger sample than just the last couple of games. Week 1 was a while ago but it did happen and it does give us more information about who these teams are. It will be another couple months before that game drops out of the weighted DVOA formula entirely. For now, it's evidence that perhaps the Tennessee Titans are not as good as their last two games would make them seem.
Why Seahawks Are High
Tennessee is not the only team this year with a significant disconnect between DVOA and win-loss record. I wrote a few paragraphs ago about the way the DVOA formula preferred Seattle to Tennessee even though the Titans won that Week 2 game in overtime. The Titans do get a nice opponent adjustment bump for that game because the Seahawks are still in the DVOA top 10, just ahead of Green Bay and Minnesota. Wait, the 2-5 Seattle Seahawks are still 10th overall? What's going on there?
Well, that Tennessee game is not the only one where DVOA thinks the Seahawks outplayed their opponent. Seattle's single-game rating is even stronger for their Week 3 game againts Minnesota, even though that was a bigger loss, 30-17. Seattle outgained the Vikings in this one by 7.5 to 6.2 yards per play, with no turnovers. This is the game where the Seahawks totally shut down in the second half, but the Seahawks were efficient enough in the first half to end up with the better DVOA rating for the game. Do you remember the Post-Game Win Expectancy formula I introduced back after Week 1? It tells you how often we can expect teams to win the game based on the VOA splits (i.e. no opponent adjustments). Teams that were as efficient as Seattle was in Week 3 can be expected to win 77% of the time.
The other thing keeping Seattle in the top 10 is how close their last three losses have been. Opponent adjustments give them a positive DVOA for their Week 5 loss to the Rams, and then Seattle's DVOA is roughly -11% for the last two losses, each by three points to Pittsburgh and New Orleans.
Finally, the DVOA formula is not adjusted for Geno Smith now being the quarterback of the Seahawks. It combines Russell Wilson's five games with Smith's two games and doesn't project going forward to represent that expectations for Smith are so much lower than expectations for Wilson. We do that in our playoff odds, but not in the standard DVOA tables. All of that goes together to explain why Seattle still ranks so high in DVOA despite a 2-5 record.
Why Raiders Are Low
One more interesting team to discuss today, the Las Vegas Raiders. Like the Titans, the Raiders rank very low despite a 5-2 record. They are right above the Titans at No. 19 right now. You might be wondering why we don't have the Raiders higher. What's interesting here is that the Raiders aren't dragged down by negative DVOA for any of their wins. All of their wins have positive ratings and both of their losses have negative ratings. Yet somehow, that adds up to a negative rating overall (-1.3% DVOA) because the losses are so much stronger than the wins. The first three Raiders wins are all in the single digits. The Week 4 loss to the Chargers is at -56.3%. Here are the seven Raiders games so far and you can see how the two bad games overwhelm the five wins and end up with the Raiders only ranked 19th. Total DVOA doesn't average these seven single-game ratings because it's based on adding together individual plays rather than individual games, but you'll get the idea.
|Las Vegas Raiders DVOA, Weeks 1-7 2021|
|1||BAL||6.1%||W 33-27 (OT)|
|3||MIA||3.7%||W 31-28 (OT)|
Raiders fans do have a reason to be annoyed with DVOA, because the Raiders' ratings seem to be less than the sum of their parts. DVOA looks at every play individually, but you can also get a good idea of a team's efficiency by looking at yards per play and success rate. And in both those stats, the Raiders rank better than they do in DVOA.
On offense, the Raiders rank ninth with 6.15 yards per play and 16th with a 45% success rate, but only 19th in DVOA.
On defense, the Raiders rank sixth with 5.27 yards allowed per play and 10th with a 44% success rate allowed, but only 17th in DVOA.
Overall, it looks like the Raiders should be ranked better than 19th overall. But the specific circumstances of the Raiders' plays are leading to a lower rank in DVOA than yards per play or success rate, on both sides of the ball. Opponent adjustments are part of this, but not completely, because the Raiders have played an easy schedule but not the league's easiest by any means: 23rd on offense, 24th on defense.
(For those sticklers for detail, yards per play numbers here are different from the NFL's numbers because I'm not including spikes and kneels.)
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Here is the Football Outsiders Top 16 through seven 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. Opponent adjustments are currently at 70% strength and will increase 10% each week until Week 10. 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 50% preseason forecast and 50% actual performance for teams with seven games played, and 55% preseason forecast and 45% actual performance for teams with six games played. 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.