Arizona Cardinals Take DVOA Lead

Eno Benjamin, Arizona Cardinals
Eno Benjamin, Arizona Cardinals
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 9 - The Arizona Cardinals knock the Buffalo Bills out of the top spot in our DVOA ratings this week. Most of the work on that was done by the Bills, playing a lousy game and losing to a bad Jacksonville team. But Arizona's rating goes up as well after Colt McCoy's surprisingly strong performance against San Francisco this week.

The biggest surprise from this week of surprises may be how few big moves there are up and down the DVOA rankings after all the Week 9 upsets. There are essentially four major moves this week:

  • Buffalo moves down three spots to No. 4, although the difference between the Bills and the No. 3 Rams is a rounding error. Arizona is now on top with Tampa Bay moving up to No. 2.
  • Tennessee moves up six spots to No. 14 after their fifth straight win, Sunday night against the Rams. We'll get to the Titans in a little bit.
  • Pittsburgh drops four spots to No. 19 despite a win over Chicago. It was the Bears who ended up with the better DVOA for that game, not the Steelers.
  • Jacksonville moved up three spots to No. 27 after beating Buffalo.

The lack of movement in the top 10 means that San Francisco is still No. 9 at 3-5 despite losing to Colt McCoy and the Cardinals. That one certainly seems like a head-scratcher. Even though the Cardinals won 31-17, both teams ended up with very high DVOA ratings for the game: 37.5% for the Cardinals and 31.8% for the 49ers. The Cardinals won the turnover battle and outgained the 49ers 6.4 yards per play to 6.0 yards per play, but the DVOA system likes that the 49ers had a very good success rate on offense, 53% compared to 46% for the Cardinals. This is not related to garbage time. After they kicked a field goal to make it 31-17, the 49ers had two more drives and they didn't have a crazy good success rate on those drives, just 50%.

A couple of things are going on with the 49ers' rating. The first is one of the admitted weaknesses of the DVOA system. Opponent adjustments are based on an entire season's worth of numbers. They are not tweaked when teams play backup quarterbacks. The system doesn't know that the 49ers lost to Colt McCoy, so it's giving the 49ers defense credit for playing against a good Arizona offense. This happens around the league, and we have to just understand that it means some of the numbers might be a little off. The Kansas City defense gets credit for facing the Packers based on their season-long stats, not Jordan Love's numbers. Defenses that played against Russell Wilson now look a little worse than they should, and defenses that played Geno Smith look a little better. And so on. Over a 17-game season, these small differences tend to wash out. But when it comes to single-game ratings, they're noticeable.

The other issue for the 49ers is the difference between their non-adjusted VOA and their adjusted DVOA. That's caused by a couple of different things. First, San Francisco has played the fourth-toughest schedule in the league by average DVOA of opponent. Yes, as I just noted, they didn't play the "real" No. 1 Arizona Cardinals, but the rest of their schedule has been difficult too. Second, the 49ers have had terrible fumble recovery luck this season. They've recovered only 4 of 11 fumbles on offense and only 3 of 15 fumbles on defense. They even lost a fumble on a kick return back in Week 4 against Seattle. Right now, only Denver has a worse fumble recovery rate. Those two things, schedule and fumble recovery luck, combine to make the 49ers look a lot worse than they really are. If we don't account for those two things, the 49ers drop from ninth to 15th.

Incidentally, there's another team that's also suffered from a difficult schedule and bad fumble recovery luck. But this team is not as high in DVOA as you would probably expect. Yes, it's time to talk about the Tennessee Titans again. This is the team that has most confounded DVOA this season, so they keep coming up. As noted above, the Titans did move up to 14th in DVOA this week. That is pretty low for a team that just won five straight games including four against teams that made last year's postseason. The Titans have played the hardest schedule in the NFL so far this season. So the Titans would be even lower in our ratings if we did not do opponent adjustments! The Titans have also recovered only 31% of fumbles. So if we took out the opponent adjustments and only penalized offenses for fumbles lost, the Titans would drop from 14th to 20th.

As I noted earlier this week on Twitter, Tennessee's low rating makes a lot more sense if you look at some of their other numbers instead of just admiring their admittedly impressive winning streak against good opponents. DVOA is measuring per-play efficiency, and the best conventional stat for measuring per-play efficiency is yards per play. The Titans have been outgained by their opponents this year, both in total and on a per-play basis. They are being outgained per play both on the ground and through the air. This is not the norm for a 7-2 team. I went looking through the history of the worst 7-2 teams by DVOA to find other teams that had lower yards per play than their opponents at this point in the season. I found these six teams, including the Titans:

7-2 Teams with Negative Yards per Play Differential, 1983-2021
Year Team DVOA Rk Yd/Play
2001 CHI 5.2% 12 4.87 5.35 -0.48 13-3 15.9% 8
2016 KC 2.6% 16 5.39 5.67 -0.29 12-4 13.5% 5
2021 TEN 4.5% 14 5.39 5.61 -0.22 -- -- --
2003 CAR 5.1% 13 5.24 5.34 -0.11 11-5 -0.2% 16
2015 MIN -8.8% 20 5.40 5.46 -0.06 11-5 5.8% 11
1997 MIN 7.1% 11 5.64 5.70 -0.05 9-7 -0.8% 16

It's not the worst company in the world. Three of these teams significantly improved their DVOA in the second half of the season. The 2003 Panthers got hot in the playoffs and almost won the Super Bowl. The two Vikings teams listed here still had a negative yards per play differential in the second half of the season; the other three teams did not.

Tennessee is the ninth-worst 7-2 team in DVOA history. The 1999 Titans were the fourth-worst 7-2 team and they eventually went to the Super Bowl, so I don't think Titans fans are that concerned about this fact. The 2015 Vikings team from the table above was the worst 7-2 team. The current Green Bay Packers, by the way, are the eighth-worst 7-2 team in DVOA history, with the Jordan Love asterisk.

A lot of what's going on with the Titans is recency bias. The Titans were not very good at the start of the season, despite starting 2-2. On their current five-game winning streak, however, they have been outstanding. With current opponent adjustments, the Titans rank 27th in the league for Weeks 1-4. They rank fourth in the league for Weeks 5-9. It's a huge change with improvement in all three phases.

Titans DVOA by Week, 2021
DVOA Off Rk Def Rk ST Rk Tot Rk
Weeks 1-4 -7.1% 22 8.9% 24 -2.5% 24 -18.5% 27
Weeks 5-9 6.9% 12 -12.3% 4 3.0% 8 22.2% 4

Here's the dilemma: I know we all want to look at Tennessee's winning streak and say, "See, this is one of the top teams in the league, look at how well they're playing over the last month." But all our research shows that it is better to have a longer-term viewpoint on how good teams are, looking at a larger sample of games. Even our weighted DVOA formula that's designed to look at how well teams will play going forward by lowering the weight of early games still considers 12 weeks of games before any games even drop below 50% weight. Those first four games also tell us something about how good the Titans are. And so, the Titans are not in the DVOA top 10 despite being 7-2 and the clear favorite for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. They currently get the top seed in 41% of our simulations, in part because they now go from the hardest schedule in the league so far to the easiest schedule remaining.

As long as I've got these numbers run, let's look at some more teams for Weeks 1-4 compared to Weeks 5-9. Again, this is meant to be interesting more than predictive. After Tennessee, the team with the biggest jump over the past month is... their division rivals, the Indianapolis Colts. Their improvement has primarily been on the offensive side of the ball. The Colts come out with a better total DVOA over the last five weeks than even the Titans have had. Only Tampa Bay and Arizona have been better since Week 5 according to DVOA.

Colts DVOA by Week, 2021
DVOA Off Rk Def Rk ST Rk Tot Rk
Weeks 1-4 -4.6% 21 1.1% 18 0.7% 10 -5.0% 19
Weeks 5-9 17.3% 2 -6.6% 12 0.3% 18 24.2% 3

The biggest change in the other direction belongs to the Carolina Panthers. Their offense has completely crumbled since September, while their defense has been good instead of great like it was when they were winning games early in the year. Since Week 5, the Panthers have been the worst team in the league. Remember when the Panthers were No. 1 in DVOA after Week 2? This is why we use DAVE ratings that incorporate projections early in the season.

Panthers DVOA by Week, 2021
DVOA Off Rk Def Rk ST Rk Tot Rk
Weeks 1-4 0.2% 16 -11.4% 3 -5.2% 30 6.4% 14
Weeks 5-9 -48.4% 32 -4.9% 13 2.2% 13 -41.3% 32

Another team that's collapsed over the last five weeks is the Cincinnati Bengals. They had the solid win over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 7 but otherwise they have three losses, one to the Jets, and a win over Detroit. This week's loss to Cleveland had an awful -59.2% DVOA. Only Carolina was worse in Week 9. DVOA never really thought the Cincinnati offense was that good to begin with, but the Bengals have struggled on defense and special teams over the past month.

Bengals DVOA by Week, 2021
DVOA Off Rk Def Rk ST Rk Tot Rk
Weeks 1-4 -1.7% 20 -9.3% 6 4.5% 3 12.0% 11
Weeks 5-9 -12.4% 28 9.4% 27 -2.0% 23 -23.8% 27

Now, the change that you surely know about. The Kansas City offense has suddenly been completely neutered over the past five weeks. You may not realize that their defense has been much better at the same time (although, as noted above, it's a bit artificially lowered because the Green Bay opponent adjustment is mostly based on Aaron Rodgers rather than Jordan Love). The Chiefs also moved into the top spot in special teams this week after the Ravens gave up a kick return touchdown to Minnesota.

Chiefs DVOA by Week, 2021
DVOA Off Rk Def Rk ST Rk Tot Rk
Weeks 1-4 39.0% 1 22.2% 31 2.5% 6 19.4% 8
Weeks 5-9 -12.1% 26 4.2% 22 7.9% 1 -8.3% 22

Here are my New England Patriots, just because I find it interesting. The Patriots are a top-10 team over the last five games! Again, this is not meant to be predictive, but Bill Belichick's teams do have a very long history of regularly struggling in September before they play better the rest of the season. I've written about it in the pas and if someone wants to go through all the old DVOA articles, you'll find it. (This article from early last season just addresses Weeks 1-3 vs. the rest of the year. There should also be another article further in the past that looks at the overall trend for the entire season.)

Patriots DVOA by Week, 2021
DVOA Off Rk Def Rk ST Rk Tot Rk
Weeks 1-4 -11.2% 26 -9.2% 8 -1.5% 22 -3.5% 18
Weeks 5-9 2.4% 15 -8.7% 10 4.3% 6 15.4% 7

One more team, because Mike Tomlin's Pittsburgh Steelers have that same history of playing better at the end of the year than at the beginning of the year. And look at this, despite having the lower rating in last night's win. The Steelers are riding a four-game winning streak since Week 5.

Steelers DVOA by Week, 2021
DVOA Off Rk Def Rk ST Rk Tot Rk
Weeks 1-4 -8.5% 23 3.7% 20 -1.5% 21 -13.7% 24
Weeks 5-9 6.4% 13 -4.6% 14 2.5% 11 13.6% 11

* * * * *

Football Outsiders playoff odds, snap counts, and the FO+ database are now all updated through Week 9. A reminder that all our free stats pages, including DVOA and player position stats, 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. While you're at it, you can get a seven-day trial of FO+ and check out the FO+ features like a deeper DVOA database, weekly fantasy projections, fantasy football research tools, and picks against the spread. FO+ is now on sale for just 99 cents per week if you buy an annual subscription, so make sure to check it out!

* * * * *

Here is the Football Outsiders Top 16 through nine 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 90% strength and will hit full strength next week. 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 36% preseason forecast and 64% actual performance for teams with nine games played, and 45% preseason forecast and 55% actual performance for teams with eight 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>

1 ARI 34.3% 2 21.1% 2 8-1 13.8% 4 -18.2% 2 2.3% 7
2 TB 31.9% 3 26.6% 1 6-2 27.3% 1 -5.9% 9 -1.3% 24
3 LAR 27.4% 4 20.5% 4 7-2 20.7% 2 -9.4% 4 -2.7% 27
4 BUF 27.4% 1 20.5% 3 5-3 -1.0% 19 -26.1% 1 2.3% 8
5 DAL 20.4% 5 13.1% 6 6-2 14.1% 3 -7.5% 7 -1.3% 23
6 CLE 17.7% 6 12.5% 7 5-4 13.2% 5 -1.9% 12 2.6% 5
7 BAL 13.4% 8 14.3% 5 6-2 12.9% 7 4.9% 26 5.4% 2
8 NO 13.4% 7 9.1% 10 5-3 -0.6% 17 -11.1% 3 3.0% 3
9 SF 13.0% 9 10.7% 8 3-5 13.1% 6 1.1% 17 1.0% 13
10 IND 11.3% 10 7.6% 13 4-5 7.3% 12 -3.5% 11 0.4% 18
11 MIN 9.7% 11 7.6% 14 3-5 3.4% 15 -6.2% 8 0.1% 19
12 SEA 9.1% 12 8.3% 11 3-5 11.5% 8 3.4% 23 1.0% 12
13 NE 7.3% 13 6.6% 15 5-4 -3.3% 21 -8.9% 5 1.7% 10
14 TEN 4.5% 20 4.0% 16 7-2 -0.1% 16 -4.0% 10 0.6% 16
15 GB 3.4% 14 9.5% 9 7-2 8.9% 11 0.4% 16 -5.1% 30
16 LAC 3.1% 16 0.3% 18 5-3 10.4% 9 1.6% 20 -5.6% 32

Click here for the full table.


35 comments, Last at 11 Nov 2021, 5:27am

#1 by AFCNFCBowl // Nov 09, 2021 - 3:28pm

Week 4 would be a better cutoff point for the Panthers then Week 5, considering it was their first loss (to DAL) and DVOA hated their performance in that game.

Points: 0

#2 by oaktoon // Nov 09, 2021 - 3:35pm

Given the uncertainty about how the bye(s) and home fields could play out-- particularly in the AFC-- it is hard not to set that number at a dozen-- and maybe even higher.

Surely the 5 top NFC are legit SB contenders, whatever DOA says. Interesting that the Packers have, presuming Rodgers plays Sunday, 6 games remaining--with him at QB-- of their 8 vs teams DVOA thinks are better-- home and home with MINN, home to SEA, RAMS, CLEV-- and away to BALT-- none of whom have a better record than GB at present.... It will be pretty clear to all, if it isn't already, that the mission #12 will be on will make last year and "Relax 2014" and "Run the Table" 2016 pale by comparison. Scorched earth is the comment you hear from former teammates. Wouldn't shock me if Packers end up 14-3, whatever DVOA thinks. Saints too as a contender? Probably....

And it is hard not to include the following 9 teams in the AFC: BUFF, NE, BALT, PITT, CLEV, TENN, IND, LAC, KC and take your pick amongst LV, DEN, and CIN for a tenth. Unless and until there is clear separation for at least 5 playoff spots or one of those top teams starts playing consistently well, you can't remove any of them. The Bills might not win their division; one of Balt, Pitt, Clev-- at least--might not even make the playoffs; IND might be one of the two or three best teams in the conference and their best hope is a WC....

All of which is to say that this more than any other year in recent memory has become an utter crapshoot, bound to produce an ultimate winner that DVOA will not deem worthy. And so it goes. Any metric is going to have problems with the haphazard nature of this league...

Points: 0

#3 by dbostedo // Nov 09, 2021 - 3:50pm

"...bound to produce an ultimate winner that DVOA will not deem worthy."

What do you think DVOA needs to show to deem a team "worthy" of winning the Super Bowl? The playoffs are notoriously somewhat of a crap shoot, so I'm not sure there is such a thing as "worthy" from a DVOA perspective. It's not magic and can't tell how things will play out perfectly or anything.

Points: 0

#4 by big10freak // Nov 09, 2021 - 4:18pm

I was told 12 is incredibly disappointed in the organization and his teammates for not supporting him after his interview with Rogan and how things played out publicly.


So, yeah.  Good times for a Packer fan.  Good, good times.



Points: 0

#5 by NYChem // Nov 09, 2021 - 4:35pm

you make it sound as if Aaron Rodgers is a superhero who gains strength from the perceived disrespect of his fellow citizens on this planet, and once he is sufficiently strong nothing can stop him, including other teams who may just wanna win and perform well just as much as he does. he's been playing well this year, but not at his former level of say 2009-2016 (in which he only appeared in and won one superbowl anyway). If the packers get to 14-3, it will be much more than just aaron rodgers scorched earth campaign. This year? anything's possible, but he's got some stiff competition standing in his way, and I can guarantee you Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield, Donald/Ramsey, and Russell Wilson all want to win against Aaron Rodgers as much as he does against them.

Yeah, DVOA doesn't capture emotion, or momentum, or insider knowledge of another teams game plans/psychology, but those are all windows dressing if you keep getting behind the sticks or giving up chunk plays on 3rd down on a regular basis. If/when the Packers improve on those metrics, their DVOA will rise accordingly.

Points: 0

#6 by Q // Nov 09, 2021 - 4:36pm

I think it just has to be accepted that DVOA will never think very highly of GB this year. Between the no show Week 1, The Rodgers Covid Game, and the hardly any receivers game vs ARI, that is already 1/3 of their games that will skew any insight into probably how good or not they truly are. 

All this is on top of the fact that GB never blows anyone out, so they do not get the huge boosts others get from a 50-10 win. Tampa is the only NFC Team I would favor over them, especially after some of GB's All Pro's finally return (although after the Week 1 debacle wouldn't mind avoiding the Saints!).

Points: 0

#7 by big10freak // Nov 09, 2021 - 4:51pm

On offense so blowouts are unlikely.  Also invites more random bad luck into influencing outcomes.  Matt and Aaron seem intent on winning games 24-14 so just a play or two can upset the desired objective 


which is why the continued seeming acceptance of dreadful special teams play is so perplexing.  Special team errors are almost always events that significantly alter win expectancy.   And if you are hell bent on minimizing possessions then having a special teams unit that can give the other team more chances is just bizarre. 

I don’t agree with this deliberate approach but understand if that is what works for leadership to be successful then ok. But the seemingly blasé attitude toward this clownshow of special teams merits all the scorn and ridicule one can muster.  

Points: 0

#8 by Q // Nov 09, 2021 - 5:49pm

I wonder if the slow pace GB plays at is due to how careful Rodgers is with the ball. GB generally wins the turnover battle since you assume the only way GB will turn it over is due to a random fumble. The fewer possessions there are in a game, the more impactful being +1 or +2 in possessions becomes. (Or could be an alternative reason such as the fewer plays run in a game the fewer opportunities for injuries which could lead to improved health for the playoffs).

Points: 0

#10 by big10freak // Nov 09, 2021 - 6:02pm

Almost every play save if GB is in hurry up.  Been doing it forever.  And as he has aged he just wants to operate slower and slower 

Points: 0

#19 by DisplacedPackerFan // Nov 09, 2021 - 11:45pm

The horrendous special teams. They need more said about them.

Coaching Coaching Coaching!
The self imposed coaching salary cap I think does a lot to explain the currently bad special teams. I don't know how long that has been in place but I suspect for awhile. And special teams, outside a few windows, have been an issue even during the Favre era. Though the real continued systemic issues started in 2005 when Thompson took over.

When you skimp on the coaching you give up margins, and since it was revealed GB won't pay coaches over their self created cap that could explain why they keep getting subpar coaches. That seems doubly stupid since it's one of the few areas you can you actually "throw money at the problem" without nearly the same considerations as other areas. While special teams may only be 1/7 of the game (by DVOA standards) it's also generally played by the bottom of the roster, so the most marginal players who seem like they could get the most extra value from good coaching. So double stupid (it can have a magnified impact and you don't have to reduce somewhere else to pay for it).

With GB the ST errors are coaching errors for the most part. Sure some is lack of talent but a lot of it feels like coaching. Blockers not in position. Returners not given clear instructions on when to attempt returns and when not to. Too many or not enough players on the field. Players not knowing where to position themselves if the team isn't going to return a punt. Stupid penalties. Heck you can coach spatial awareness at least to a basic level and Green Bay does not seem to even get to that level, players often look lost out there. Now you are starting a cycle where the bottom of the roster is perpetually getting the worst coaching. I think that plays into the psychology of when they get a shot at their regular position too. Add to it that some of the fundamentals a good ST coach can instill will transfer to playing a regular position as well. But these guys also know they aren't good at special teams and I can see that affecting them in other ways too and might be part of the issue with drop off to back-ups, a small part but I can see it being there.

This last game we also got a nice illustration of the value of a long snapper. Borojquez is not blameless as the holder and Crosby is not blameless either. But there is an expectation that an NFL long snapper will do certain things. Of course long snapper is also a position that has very little marginal value, the best long snapper might not give you any extra value over the worst if the worst hits that skill floor. It may have a high floor but the ceiling feels pretty low. You have to be sufficiently good to put the ball where it needs to be with the right orientation every time. The consistency being the most important aspect. If the holder always has to rotate a quarter turn that can be dealt with, it's not ideal but if you are consistent it's good enough. So that also means it's a position that is completely not worth a draft pick (which the front office wasted). You sift through FA and practice squads and you find that base level. If you have decent coaches, which they don't, you can find the player to do the job.

Actually with Crosby on the whole season with the FG misses I'm actually prepared to give Crosby the smallest share of the blame, which is a bit nuts. The blocking was bad up to and through the Cincy game. The long snapper was awful against KC. Crosby is not blameless as mentioned but if you are parceling it out, he's actually probably getting the lowest percentage.

Specialist (Kickers, punters, returners)
So that leads into the specialists tend to be fine. They tend to be good enough that they can get you league average performances. Though of course that is all brought down because the blocking and coverage units are not going to be good, so even the good areas are likely going to cost you points over the season. But during the Thompson+ era (i.e. 2005 till now) GB has averaged -1.7% DVOA. That is from -1.1 FG/XP, -3.4 Kickoff, -3.3 Kickoff Retrun, -1.1 Punt, and 0.9 punt return (most of that honestly because of Woodson, Cobb, and Hyde). So in the areas where one player can really dominate the stat (FG, punt, punt return) they have been poor but not brutally bad most of the time. The 2 areas where the rest of the team has a larger impact (Kickoff which the coverage unit impacts heavily and kickoff returns which need better blocking than punt returns) they are just always bad.

The impact of special teams
This year the Packers currently lead the league in punt value with 7.4 points over average (#2 is 6.2 so it's a solid lead). They are just behind JAX -8.6 to -8.8 points under average on FG/XP. Again much of that is not actually on Crosby.  They do much "better" on Kickoffs and kickoff returns with only 3 teams being worse (though it's a different 3 teams for each) with their -3.7 and -2.7 points added. Then they again take a healthy lead in worst punt returns at -5.9 points added under average compared to the 2nd worst at only -3.6.  They are AWFUL this year.

Borojquez and some booming punts and solid pins in the 20 is the only reason the overall unit isn't dead last by a mile instead of being 3rd worst at -5.1% DVOA vs the worst, LAC, at -5.6%. LAC has no unit giving positive value but their negative values aren't nearly as bad. ATL who is second worst gets positive value from FG/XP and Punt return so 2 units. They are just by the far the worst in the league at kickoffs so again it's not as systemic. GB has one specialist, because the coverage unit is not great it really is just Borojquez, that keeps them from likely being a "worst ST of all times" featurette in these weekly DVOA articles.

With just league average special teams GB, even with the NO game, the Jordan Love experience game, and the let's play football without wide receivers in the 2020s game, would jump from 3.4 to 8.5% DVOA. From 15th to just out of 12th. A few ordinal ranks for something that gets 1/7th the weight. They matter they can turns wins to losses.

That KC game is 7-6 KC early in the 2nd quarter if the long snapper just gets half a rotation more or less on the snaps, or Borojquez spins the ball, or Crosby can deal with the laces being completely in the wrong spot. That very well could have changed play calling on both sides and we may have seen 4th quarter Jordan Love, who looked like an OK back-up by that point, earlier and yes I could have seen that flipping the W/L. That doesn't even touch on the mistake on the return that gave KC 3 more points (should have been 7 but the D really did play well). 2 snaps and 1 poorly coached player on a punt return was a 9 point swing in a 13 - 7 game. A 13 - 10 GB win is ugly but changes a lot of things.

How systemic is it?
I don't have easy access to the full data to normalize and always provide context, but the Thompson+ era (05 onward) the high water mark for special teams DVOA is 2007 with 3.0%. In the Rodgers era (08 onward) it's 1.8% in 2011. They have NEVER had back to back positive seasons. In fact only 5 of the 17 seasons have had a positive DVOA. The average DVOA for those 17 seasons is -1.7%. The low water mark is -7.5% in 2009. So yeah fans get really happy when they get close to 0. That's a great year in GB for ST. I mean 3.0% (2007), 1.8% (2011), 1.3% (2017), 0.4% (2015), and 0.1% (2019) are the years to celebrate! 2007 and 2011 we finished 8th in ST DVOA top 10 baby! We were 14th in 2017 top half! That's it. 3 seasons in the past 17 have been in the top half of the league. If it wasn't for that 14th in 2017 we could be using the word decade when measuring how long it's been since a top half of the league finish.

But that isn't all. You have 5 aspects that DVOA feels are mostly in control of the team, and 2 (hidden and weather) that aren't. Lets dig a bit more into those 5. FG/XP (mostly your placekicker), Kickoff return (mostly a returner heavily dependent on blocking), Punting (mostly your punter with some from coverage teams), and punt returns (a returner less dependent on blocking). I'm going to set -10 points over the season as a complete disaster and +10 as exceptional. I don't have the average ranges for the league but having multiple teams over or under 10 in a season in a category is somewhat common. You do see a + or - 20 every now and then.

  • FG/XP - 7+ and 10- seasons. Average: -1.1. High: 8.8 (2020). Low: -11.8 (2012). 1 disaster (2012, 2021 on it's way to #2). 0 exceptional
  • Kickoff - 4+ and 13- seasons. Average: -3.4. High: 8.4 (2007). Low: -12.3 (2013). 1 disaster (2013). 0 exceptional
  • K Ret - 3+ and 14- seasons. Average: -3.3. High: 5.4 (2015). Low: -13.0 (2006). 2 disaster (2005, 2006). 0 exceptional
  • Punt - 9+ and 8- seasons. Average: -1.1. High 9.7 (2012). Low: -17.4 (2009). 2 disaster (2009, 2020). 0 exceptional
  • P Ret - 9+ and 8- seasons. Average: 0.9. High 12.3 (2007). Low: -9.2 (2018). 0 disaster. 2 exceptional (2007, 2014)

So as mentioned the specialists tend to be OK (not good, but OK). Most seasons the punter adds at least a little value, except when he doesn't and when he doesn't he is usually replaced. I think having a pretty good offense helps this out too since they aren't punting as much and they aren't punting in harder to punt in areas of the field as much.

2 of the negative FG/XP seasons were 05 and 06 the last 2 years of Longwell. So Crosby is 7+ and 8- (which includes this year). 4 of those - years are in his first 6 seasons and were in part because of how McCarthy used him. McCarthy has never seen a FG distance or conditions he didn't like and would trot Crosby out in situations where he had like a 10% chance to make the kick. There is also of course the 2012 disaster year you can google for analysis of that if you like. But after that, especially if you take away this year as previously discussed, he's been mostly fine. He's not great but his negative years since then (excluding this year) weren't too bad and most of the misses were on longer attempts. But there have always been worries about the rest of the unit. Earlier this year the leaky protect that lead to near blocks and then actual blocks at Cincy, is not something that is unique to this season. Bad snaps and poor holds are not unique to this season either.

The punt returns surprised me at first with more + seasons than - seasons, but then I remembered some of this data has Woodson and Cobb returning punts. Micah Hyde had a few decent years in there too. In fact if I wanted to dig I would bet most of the good seasons there was a lot of value coming from one player making up for the systemic issues. Without pro bowl level talent as the returner returns were a drag and even with it they were a - some years. You shouldn't need a player who has enough talent to make the pro bowl as a receiver or defensive back in order to have positive punt return value. But that was where it came from, they would make a tackler or 5 miss and get a good return despite the rest of the team not because of.

The aspects that are more heavily interdependent, kickoff coverage and kickoff return they are never great almost always a drag on the team.

There are more ways to quantify the badness. There are 6 combinations of how many aspects provide positive value and how many provide negative. 11 times in the last 17 years 3 or more have been negative and 6 times 3 or more have been positive. Since they have had only 5 positive DVOA's it's 2013 where they were -0.3% DVOA and had positive value in all but kickoff and kickoff return that gives you that 1 extra. Here is that aggregate breakdown. (units with + value - unites with - value)

  • 0-5: 2
  • 1-4: 6
  • 2-3: 3
  • 3-2: 4
  • 4-1: 2
  • 5-0: 0

Even in their best years some aspect of special teams is dragging them down. Most commonly only 1 aspect is a positive.

Now I only have the GB data going back to 92 for this, that is the start of the Favre era so I can't give the best context. But in the 13 years from 1992 - 2004 they had 7 aspects hit the exceptional level, so +10 points or more actually broke +20 twice, that is compared to 2 in the 17 years since. They had 5 (2 punt return, 1 punt, and 2 kickoff) units hit the disaster level (vs 6 since). Oh and those 7 exceptional they had at least 1 in every area, with 3 of them being kickoff return so it wasn't just because of Desmond Howard doing crazy punt and kickoff returns. They were spread out across units and time. Also the +/- splits by units show the same thing they never had any 0-5, 1-4, or 5-0 splits. It was 2-3 (6), 3-2 (4), 4-1 (3). So even when things were bad at least 2 units were still providing positive value and they had as many 3-2 and 4-1 splits in the 13 years as the following 17 produced. It's pretty clear how much worse things got from 2005 onward.

Now weather does play a part. They average -2.8 weather points a season and it's never been positive. It doesn't really matter where you make the breaks on that either the average is always close to -2.8. That makes sense, they play home games in Green Bay and road games in the NFC north. They are going to have more bad weather games than the average NFL team. (Note they are +1.2 so far this year but I expect that's going to drop as the season progresses). So yes that is going to pull the DVOA down all the time but it's not a massive factor and it didn't stop them from having 8 positive DVOA seasons and only 5 negative pre-Thompson. Actually since the team should know this it's even more reason to invest a little extra on special teams to make up for it.

Finally the D part of DVOA has almost no effect. VOA follows the same trends. Some years defensive adjustments makes it a little worse some a little better, but the negative vs positive split doesn't change. Even in the marginal years where they are in that -1% to +1% DVOA range it's not because of opponent adjustments negative VOA means negative DVOA and positive means positive even if the magnitude is different.

Are hidden points really things out of the teams control?

HIDDEN represents the advantage teams have received from elements of special teams generally out of their control: opposing field goals, kickoff distance, and punt distance

In the Thompson+ era (the last 17 years) GB has has had positive hidden points 4 times 23.5% of the time. In the previous 13 years (going back to the start of the Favre era) they had positive hidden points 5 times, 38.4%. Things were better in general in the pre-Thompson era. But with hidden points being negative most of the time it does make me wonder if there is something that can be controlled by the team that isn't being captured.

It may be that teams like GB that have generally had a good to great offense during those times will have worse hidden points because of how opponents approach punts and field goals and kick offs.

Or I wonder if lack of pressure on the kicker from the special teams is part of why they are more likely to hit longer field goals or have longer punts. I get that you can't easily find that value, but with it being consistently bad for a team with consistently bad ST it doesn't feel like it's completely unaffected. Kickoff distance, yeah that one I can't really see how GB ST affects the other team (though offense/defense might) so that all being hidden/luck feels right.

So yeah that can almost always be counted on as something to pull DVOA down too for GB but again not sure it's completely unaffected by GB's poor ST quality.


Edit: If you don't like how DVOA rates Special teams this Forbes article covers the ineptitude using Rich Gosselins annual ratings. Probably a much quicker read than my post too...

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#23 by dryheat // Nov 10, 2021 - 7:56am

Are there statistics on the longest posts in FO history?  Because I think this one would top the list quite handily.

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#29 by Noahrk // Nov 10, 2021 - 11:32am

Nice summary. Do you have the link to the full article? :wink:

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#32 by ImNewAroundThe… // Nov 10, 2021 - 5:59pm

Lesson: spend on STC so you never have to draft specifically for ST is my take away.

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#20 by RickD // Nov 10, 2021 - 12:10am

Surely the 5 top NFC are legit SB contenders, whatever DOA says.

I don't see the Saints winning the NFC with a backup QB.  They're heading into a brutal stretch and will have to scramble just to make the playoffs.

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#26 by Q // Nov 10, 2021 - 9:04am

Almost unquestionably, anytime some says Top 5 NFC teams they are referring to the ARI, GB, LAR, TB, DAL group. Maybe due to this site he was referring to the Top 5 NFC in DVOA but my guess is he means the generally accepted 5.

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#9 by DIVISION // Nov 09, 2021 - 6:02pm

...that Schatz gave my Cardinals some DVOA love!

Raiders fans are jealous now!

I can see it.



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#18 by LionInAZ // Nov 09, 2021 - 11:08pm

It won't last, you know. Your coach's name is Kliff Kingsbury after all.

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#11 by Bobman // Nov 09, 2021 - 6:24pm

I know, I know, garbage time... but they can't stop anybody in the second halves of games. There IS NO GARBAGE TIME when you are talking about Indy having a lead of any size. (Kind of like KC trailing by 10-14 late the past couple years)

I feel the Colts' late defensive letdowns should get full weight.  That should drop them 4-6 spots to a more reasonable, logical, "meets the eyeball test" ranking spot.

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#30 by turbohappy // Nov 10, 2021 - 11:36am

I thought DVOA was very conservative about what is considered "garbage time" already? I mean the D is ranked 26th against the pass which is pretty horrible and assumedly reflects a lot of what you are talking about. But ranked #2 against the run. 

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#12 by Romodini // Nov 09, 2021 - 6:28pm

How is that the Cowboys' and Broncos' rankings seem largely unaffected by their last game? The Boys run defense seemed to revert back to its 2020 form, allowing chuck after chunk of yardage, yet their defense only moves down one spot. Their offensive effort was somehow even more embarrassing, yet remains third overall. Was the thrashing the Bills took actually worse than the one the Cowboys took? The Bills at least still remembered how to play defense.

Finally, did Vic Fangio lay the blueprints to defeating this iteration of the Boys? I remember a similar embarrassing game in 2018 when they were high on a winning streak which came to a halt after the Colts stampeded all over them. The Marinelli run defense was never quite the same after that and culminated in the disaster that was 2020.

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#33 by damona // Nov 11, 2021 - 12:35am

One of the top DVOA teams (Dallas) goes down 30-0 against a low DVOA team (Denver), and only make plays and gets points in garbage time. But the DVOA doesn't change much for either. Very curious to know why. What was the DVOA for each team? Not that it's wrong, just seems like a very interesting case to understand how the model works.  

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#35 by Spanosian Magn… // Nov 11, 2021 - 5:27am

I was hoping someone would write on that game, because the first 3 quarters were as complete and total a domination as I can remember seeing (well, since NO over GB anyway). I wonder if DEN lifting their foot off the gas near the end made it look like an "ordinary" bad loss rather than a catastrophe.

I also wonder what happened with Denver's DVOA? I can't access it, but they're rated more "mediocre" than "terrible" right now (with pass defense in fact slightly above average) - so maybe opponent adjustments don't hammer them the way they did some other upsets.

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#13 by jmaron // Nov 09, 2021 - 6:52pm

Vikings 2nd in Variance, and yet every game they play they have wild swings in win probability

An absolutely annoying team

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#14 by richRod // Nov 09, 2021 - 7:35pm

It would be interesting to know what Buffalo’s rank would be today if week 4  was simply a great -50% defensive DVOA as opposed to the historic -134% they got for blowing out the Texans

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#15 by Johnny Ocean // Nov 09, 2021 - 8:17pm

If you look at the three teams above and below the Bills (Cards, Bucs, Rams, Cowboys, Browns, Ravens) and ask how many of these could they beat if they played them now, it's tough to see more than one win.  The defense is good but probably overrated due to the easy schedule they have played.  The offense has declined in what looks like some regression for Josh Allen and the OL.    Could Josh Allen's third year jump to hyperspace have been a one time improvement enabled by the league going soft on offensive holding penalties as a result of the pandemic and the Bills adding Stefon Diggs to the roster.  His YPA and time to throw are both lower this year compared to last.

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#16 by Romodini // Nov 09, 2021 - 8:50pm

For their sake, as well as the rest of the league, they had better fix their problems soon because nobody wants to see the Patriots in the playoffs again.

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#21 by RickD // Nov 10, 2021 - 12:15am

(cat sharpening claws gif)


It was just a few weeks ago FO was telling us the Bills had the division "sewn up".  After six games! 

In any case, it's up to the Bills to win their own games.  I, for one, did not foresee the futility vs. the Jaguars.  And nobody wants to see Urban Meyer look good!



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#17 by jheidelberg // Nov 09, 2021 - 10:57pm

The Bills have 258 million reasons to be concerned, one is do they have the best Josh Allen in the league? That leaves 257,999,999.

On the bright side for Buffalo, only $150 million of his deal is guaranteed.

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#24 by IlluminatusUIUC // Nov 10, 2021 - 8:58am

The Bills' problem this year is that we can't consistently block a 4 man rush. If a team is getting free runners with a 4 man rush, almost any offense is gonna fall apart. Cody Ford is a massive bust. 

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#31 by Noahrk // Nov 10, 2021 - 11:36am

If the Bills offensive line is truly that bad, then they are oscillating between extremes, because last year they were dominant. As a Dolphin fa, however, I hear someone talk about bad offensive line play and I say, meh, you don't know how good you have it.

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#22 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // Nov 10, 2021 - 12:19am

The AFC right now looks the way I feel the league should look under a salary cap:  a handful of awful teams in tank mode and then a whole bunch more talented but flawed teams.  All of the contenders have strengths and glaring weaknesses.  In a competitive market place, I feel like this should be what you end up with.

The NFC looks more like what we've actually seen during most of the salary cap era: a handful of legitimate contenders, a few teams who think they're contenders but who will simply fill out the playoff bracket, and a bunch of teams who are fooling themselves into thinking they're not as awful as they actually are.  Oh, and also DET, who at least recognize they're awful.  Although different from the AFC teams, the Rams do also seem like a sort of team the salary cap should incentivize, the "all in" strategy and damn the next few years and Tampa is sort of like that, too.  So is GB in a way, they're just doing it half-heartedly.    

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#25 by poplar cove // Nov 10, 2021 - 8:59am

Like Brady, Wilson, Stafford, Rodgers even Cousins so they are more steady game to game.

The good AFC teams are led mainly by young QBs who are probably more inconsistent with high upside and low downsides with Baker, Josh Allen, burrow, Mahomes, Lamar Jackson.

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#27 by ninjajam // Nov 10, 2021 - 9:30am

Add a component called past injury luck that adjusts for when teams have played against opposing teams with especially important injuries like a large QB injury. It would improve the DVOA system in forecasting future performance 

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