Dallas Tops Final 2021 DVOA Ratings
NFL Week 18 - The Dallas Cowboys finish the 2021 season on top of the Football Outsiders DVOA ratings, with a bit of an extra boost from a bunch of Philadelphia backups. The Cowboys had their best single game of the year on Sunday, putting up 96.0% DVOA with a 51-26 win over the Eagles. This game put the Cowboys over 30% on the year, but it did not put them over the top. Even without Week 18, the Cowboys' DVOA of 28.3% from last week would have narrowly held up as the top rating of the year, keeping the Cowboys ahead of Buffalo and Tampa Bay.
This is the first Cowboys team to finish first in DVOA since the dynasty of the 90s led the league for three straight years from 1992 to 1994. The Cowboys did finish as high as No. 2 since then, with only the New England Patriots beating the Cowboys back in Dak Prescott's rookie year of 2016. The Cowboys were dramatically improved from last year, when they finished 23rd overall, on both offense and defense. We knew that the offense would improve with Prescott once again healthy (improving from 24th to sixth) but we did not have any idea of what the defense could do with the addition of rookie Micah Parsons and coordinator Dan Quinn (improving from 23rd to second).
The Cowboys also finish the regular season as the No. 1 team in weighted DVOA. Their four best games of the year by DVOA all came in the second half of the season, starting with the 43-3 dismantling of the Falcons in Week 10. The Cowboys' only game since then with negative DVOA was their Week 11 loss to Kansas City.
One reason why the Cowboys' rank in DVOA differs from conventional wisdom is penalties. The Cowboys led the NFL with 127 penalties, not counting declined or offsetting flags. Most of these penalties are not included in DVOA because they are not very predictive of future performance.
The Buffalo Bills slipped ahead of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to finish the year No. 2 in overall DVOA with the Buccaneers third. The Bills are the top defense of the year, while the Buccaneers are the top offense.
The New England Patriots finish the year fourth in total DVOA but second behind only Dallas in weighted DVOA. That's going to take a little bit of explaining. Why does the DVOA system think the Patriots are the best team in the AFC going into the playoffs when they've lost three of their last four games? There are a couple of things going on here.
First, as I've explained in past weeks, the system absolutely loves the Patriots' blowout wins this season. The Patriots have three of the top 10 single games of the year by DVOA, and all three of those games came in the second half of the season. There was also a fourth huge game, their win over Tennessee in Week 11. (Buffalo also had three of the top 10 games of the year, by the way, with the difference that their great games came before or at midseason: Weeks 4, 5, and 10.)
Second, since we're talking weighted DVOA, we're lowering the weights of the early-season games. Games from Weeks 1-3 are now out of the formula entirely. That means two of the Patriots' four games with negative DVOA are gone and a third, the 25-22 narrow win over Houston in Week 5, doesn't matter very much. Of the Patriots' games with bad DVOA this year, only the loss to Indianapolis in Week 15 is recent.
That gets us to the third thing: the DVOA formula does not think that New England's recent losses were particularly bad performances. The Patriots come out slightly above zero, with 2.2% DVOA for their 33-21 loss to Buffalo and 2.3% DVOA for yesterday's 33-24 loss to Miami. Although the Patriots trailed throughout both games, they played better later in each game and got each one within one score. The Bills game is above zero mostly because of opponent adjustments for the Bills defense, but the two teams were closer than you might realize in yards per play, with the Bills at 5.7 and the Patriots at 4.8. The Dolphins game was closer than that. First of all, forget about the final fumble where the Patriots had one desperation play and the Dolphins put an extra six points on the board. The score of the game was really 27-24. The game turned primarily on some strange penalties, fumble recovery luck on an aborted snap, and a big pick-six thrown by Mac Jones. The Patriots actually outgained the Dolphins significantly, 6.4 yards per play to 4.5. That steady yardage gain is more predictive of future performance than the strange penalties, the fumble recovery, or even the pick-six. Miami still ends up with higher DVOA for the game, but the Patriots end up slightly above average.
I'm honest about being a Patriots fan, which is the reason I got into doing football analytics in the first place, so I know there are some people out there who think that we've put the Patriots higher in our ratings because I'm a fan of the team. Nothing could be further from the truth. Having to explain the Patriots' rating over and over again is annoying. The goal of DVOA is to be as accurate as possible to measure how good teams are, not to stoke the hopes of a specific fan base. The lesson of the Patriots is twofold. On one hand, it's another suggestion that we reconsider how we weight plays late in blowouts, because we may be giving too much credit for blowouts compared to "healthy wins," i.e. winning by two or three scores. On the other hand, our stats have been useful in the past for figuring out which teams are overrated or underrated by conventional wisdom, and it's very likely that the Patriots (and, for that matter, the Dallas Cowboys) are better than most fans believe.
Speaking of healthy wins, let's get back to counting down the top teams of 2021. The Los Angeles Rams finished fifth with a good number of those healthy, non-blowout wins. They had 10 games with DVOA that fell between 15% and 60%. Only Tampa Bay had more. The Rams end the season in the top eight for all three phases of the game. Dallas is the only other team to rank in the top 10 for all three phases. The Rams did lose their final game of the season to San Francisco, and the 49ers climb one spot to finish the season sixth. San Francisco ranks fifth on offense and seventh on defense, although they had trouble with special teams (23rd).
Kansas City drops one spot to seventh, and are any Chiefs fans a little worried about not just losing to the Bengals but also letting the Broncos hang around all afternoon? This was supposed to be when the Chiefs were re-establishing themselves as Super Bowl favorites, especially after that blowout win over Pittsburgh in Week 16. I wrote that week about how DVOA for that game came out very differently than expected because the Chiefs folded up shop with a big fourth-quarter lead, and we always argue about whether that's predictive, but the Chiefs haven't exactly been great in the two games since. Well, half of the Chiefs have been great. This is admittedly arbitary endpoint theater, but the Chiefs are back to being the Chiefs over the last four weeks. That's true both on offense, which is back to being stellar, and on defense, which is back to being a problem although not to the same extent as the early part of the season:
|Kansas City DVOA by Week, 2021|
The Chiefs did have a lot of defensive personnel on the COVID list during Weeks 15 and 16, but those are the better games of the last four. Those players have come back and the defense has struggled. Nonetheless, we still have the Chiefs as our AFC favorites, thanks to the No. 2 seed and our ratings putting the 1-seed Titans so low. (We'll come back to that in a little bit.) If the Chiefs can put their usual offense together with that defense from the middle of the season, they're going to win the Super Bowl.
There's a bit of a gap after the Chiefs before you get to our No. 8 team this year, which is also our highest team with a losing record: the Seattle Seahawks. I wrote a few weeks ago about whether the Seahawks were "breaking DVOA" with their weird mixture of super-explosive plays and three-and-outs. Since then, the Seahawks finished up the season by winning four of six games, with positive DVOA for the last five. (They had negative DVOA for their 30-23 Week 13 win over the 49ers, which was the most unlikely win of the year according to our new Post-Game Win Expectancy metric.) At least I can take solace in the fact that DVOA is not the only advanced metric to fall in love with the losing Seahawks this year; ESPN's FPI has them 10th, also the highest team with a losing record.
It's particularly weird to see the Seahawks higher than the 13-4 Green Bay Packers. For that, you can blame the New Orleans Saints as well as Jordan Love. The Packers' total DVOA for the season is still being dragged down by their huge blowout loss to the Saints back in Week 1. The Packers move up to eighth in weighted DVOA, which no longer includes that game. Then the problem is Love's two games subbing in for Aaron Rodgers. In the version of weighted DVOA I use in the playoff odds simulation, I remove the Packers offense from those two games and it moves the Packers up to third behind only the Cowboys and Patriots. That plus the No. 1 seed makes them the clear Super Bowl favorites.
Arizona finishes up the top 10 in total DVOA for the season. They're one of the teams with the biggest gaps between total and weighted DVOA, however. In weighted DVOA, the Cardinals drop to 16th going into this week's playoff game against the Rams. The Cardinals lost four of their last five games and had negative DVOA in all four of those losses.
If you haven't been keeping up with DVOA on a weekly basis this season, you may be wondering where the rest of the playoff teams are. Turns out you have to go down the list some more. The next-highest playoff team after Arizona is Philadelphia at No. 15. Then you have the rest of the AFC playoff teams. Cincinnati is 17th (in part because of a very bad Week 17 with resting starters), Tennessee is 20th, Las Vegas is 21st, and Pittsburgh is 24th. No, Pittsburgh isn't even close to being the worst playoff team we've ever measured, but Tennessee did finish the season as the worst No. 1 seed in DVOA history. In fact, because a narrow win over Houston gave them -4.0% DVOA in Week 18, the Titans finish the season worse than any No. 2 seed in DVOA history as well. Yes, as we've acknowledged, the Titans are healthier now than they've been for most of the season, and the bye week gives them a strong chance to win at least one playoff game. That doesn't change the fact that this was a historically bad regular season for a top seed in the NFL playoffs.
Football Outsiders predicted before the season that the Titans would win the AFC South as the weakest of the division champions, and what happened according to DVOA is that the Titans won the AFC South as the weakest of the division champions. The playoff teams that we did not accurately predict are primarily the teams with lower DVOA ratings: Cincinnati, Las Vegas, and Pittsburgh. We predicted Seattle as a playoff team and instead got them as the non-playoff team with the highest DVOA. All of these facts back up something really remarkable, which is that one thing we did really well in 2021 is predict DVOA. I know, you're saying to yourself, duh, of course you can predict your own metric. But we don't make DVOA up out of whole cloth, it's based on the actual play-by-play performance of each team, so it's not easy to predict. From 2015 to 2020, the correlation of projected DVOA and actual DVOA was .51. For 2021, the correlation of projected DVOA to actual DVOA is .73.
Obviously, I would rather be accurate predicting wins and losses than predicting DVOA, but guess what, that was more accurate than usual too! In fact, it was a little more accurate than DVOA projections. For 2021, the correlation of our preseason mean projected wins to actual wins is .74.
Remarkably, our projections were super accurate this year despite the fact that there was slightly less year-to-year correlation in DVOA compared to usual. Usually, the correlation coefficient for offense is around .50, but for 2020-2021 it was .41. Defense is usually around .38, and this year it was .34. Special teams is usually around .30, and it was about that at .29 this year.
In past years, we've tracked how teams have done compared to history. Other than the Titans as the worst no. 1 seed, there weren't a lot of teams this year that had DVOA that ranked among the best or worst of the last 38 years. The other exception is the Houston Texans running game. At one point, the Texans were on pace to have the worst run offense DVOA in history. Things improved a bit after that, with Houston putting up -14.8% run offense DVOA in the final five weeks. As a result, the Texans only end up as the fifth-worst running game in DVOA history.
|Worst Run Offense DVOA, 1983-2021|
The Atlanta Falcons were also on pace to make this list, but they also improved running the ball at the end of the season and don't make the historical worst running games list despite ranking 31st in run offense this year.
Houston had the worst overall offense for most of the year but didn't end up in last place thanks to Davis Mills improving at the end of the season. Jacksonville takes up the last place spot in overall DVOA even after beating Indianapolis in Week 18. The New York Giants are the worst offense and the New York Jets are the worst defense. Green Bay finishes with the worst special teams.
A few more notes on 2021 before we get to the big table:
- One of the most remarkable streaks in Football Outsiders' advanced metrics is (probably) over. The New England Patriots had finished with above-average special teams every year since 1995. That goes all the way back before Bill Belichick and even before Pete Carroll to the Parcells era. This year, the Patriots end the season just ever so slightly below average at -0.046%. That's an incredible run, especially since special teams are so much less consistent than offense or defense. Now, you may notice I say that this streak is "probably" over. The Patriots finished so close to zero that it's easy to imagine something putting them back over average: postseason stat corrections, or changes in the league average baseline caused by postseason stat corrections, or future changes to the special teams formula. But for now, the Patriots' special teams streak has ended.
- The Arizona Cardinals ended the season with absurd fumble recovery luck on the offensive side of the ball. Part of this is that they had what looks like a modern NFL record with 16 aborted snaps. I combed through our play-by-play data back to 2010 and couldn't find another team with more than 11 of them in a season. Aborted snaps are usually recovered by the offense, but not always. So it's still remarkable that Arizona fumbled 25 times on offense and recovered 23 of them!
- Other teams with strong fumble recovery luck, particularly on offense, included Dallas and Minnesota.
- Teams with poor fumble recovery luck overall included Cleveland, Jacksonville, the New York Jets, and the Tennessee Titans (13 fumbles on defense, only three recovered).
- Washington, the New York Giants, and Arizona end the season with the toughest schedules by average DVOA of opponent. Pittsburgh had the hardest schedule in the AFC, although Kansas City's schedule was also notably difficult (sixth).
- Buffalo had the easiest schedule in the league this year but it ended up nowhere near as easy as it looked earlier in the season. At one point it looked like the Bills might challenge the 1999 Rams and 1991 Bills for the easiest schedule in DVOA history. Instead, they don't even finish with one of the 100 easiest schedules we've ever measured. Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, Denver, and Philadelphia also had particularly easy schedules. Denver and Cincinnati's schedules were particularly easy on offense, while Buffalo and Tampa Bay's schedules were particularly easy on defense.
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Football Outsiders playoff odds, snap counts, and the FO+ database are now all updated through Week 18. 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.
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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 2021 DVOA Ratings," we will continue with postseason weighted DVOA ratings each Monday through the playoffs. There also may be small changes in the final 2021 DVOA ratings based on postseason changes to the play-by-play.
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Here is the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through the entire 2021 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 opponent and 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 YEAR represents rank in 2020.
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.
70 comments, Last at 13 Jan 2022, 7:34pm
#2 by luisguilherme // Jan 10, 2022 - 6:37pm
It's a common trope that the Seahawks ends up looking better on DVOA than their actual season would make one believe. It's a bit surprising that Seattle ended 8th with a 7-10 record.
Is that because of the explosive plays from the offense, and the avoidance of explosive plays on defense?
#3 by burbman // Jan 10, 2022 - 6:56pm
Seahawks lost five games by a field goal or less. That could be the difference between a dropped TD pass and a subsequent field goal, a missed kick or any other single play per game. DVOA would not change much either way if five plays over the course of Seattle's season changed slightly, but they would be a playoff team in one scenario, and ended up with a losing record in reality.
#4 by AFCNFCBowl // Jan 10, 2022 - 6:59pm
It's because DVOA measures efficiency on a play-by-play basis, but the Seahawks ran so few plays compared to their opponents. They only ran 954 plays all season, their opponents ran 1,201! The Seahawks outgained their opponents in yards per play 5.8 to 5.4 but lost a lot of games because the other team ran far more plays. Part of this was due to the offense rarely turned the ball over and had the most three and outs in the league, while the defense rarely took the ball away and gave up long drives with tons of plays but was very good on 3rd down and in redzone.
#12 by BJR // Jan 11, 2022 - 4:36am
The Seahawks running so few plays thing is bonkers. A full 3 plays per game below the next worse team! And the other teams at the bottom of that table are all amongst the worst teams in the league, as you might expect (bad teams should possess the ball less, and be incentivized to slow the game down).
Looking back through recent years Seattle has never ranked particularly lowly in this measure before. The question is, how much is it a freak result/anomaly (for the reasons you highlight above), and how much is it strategy? You would sincerely hope the former.....
#11 by David // Jan 11, 2022 - 3:57am
Aaaarrgh! This is so frustrating - I know one shouldn't feed the troll, but on the off-chance you actually are interested in how things work...
DVOA correlates extremely well with success on the field. In fact, it's pretty much measuring whether each play on the field is successful or not. This is more predictive than drives or scores (or win/loss) because there are more plays than drives, or scores, or game results. Football, like most sports is a weighted random number generator. It's random, because there is luck involved, and it's weighted, because some people are better at football than others. So, the weighting is important, but the randomness isn't (because it's random). The more things we measure, the better we get at understanding what is weighting (which is repeatable) and what is randomness (which isn't).
So, if we can agree that measuring plays is a good idea (because there are more of them), we're at success on the field. Now, if you just want successful plays to correlate exactly with game results, then you are following the wrong sport (or, in fact, any sport - see above about randomness). However, what's nice about football, with it's play by play nature, is that on any given play, each team is trying to 'win' that particular play. If we can measure which team 'won' the play, that's helpful, because we know that's what teams want to do . If a team 'won' every play, then you'd have to assume that this has a high correlation with drive success, and with game success (and, ultimately, season success).
DVOA isn't perfect - but the imperfections within the system do not have anything to do with a lack of correlation to 'success on the field'
 Actually, it's slightly more complicated, as there are times that teams are happy to 'lose' a given play because of game situation - e.g. running up the gut to drain the clock, but DVOA does try to measure these, as well. There are also some situations early in games where although a team would prefer to 'win' the play, they may accept a 'loss' if it tells them something about how to move forwards in the future. DVOA assumes independent outcomes of plays, which isn't completely true.
#18 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // Jan 11, 2022 - 9:29am
The issue with number of plays run by team, though, is an interesting one that DVOA does not pick up. And maybe, like most penalties and a few other things, DVOA can safely ignore it because it is part of the randomness set, i.e. non-predictive of the future.
On the other hand, if there is any correlation between number of plays run in past games with number of plays run in future games, then perhaps that is a relevant factor that DVOA should be modified to account for? That is, assuming the data also suggests that running more plays on offense is better, on average, than running fewer plays on offense. Which (side bar conversation from the other thread on the Giants offense and how it would have performed better by QB-sneaking and/or punting every play notwithstanding) I suspect is normally the case.
#31 by DGL // Jan 11, 2022 - 11:47am
In other words, DVOA correlates very well with success on the field; it's wins and losses that don't correlate particularly well with success on the field...
(Or, if you prefer the biblical spin, the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.)
#40 by Kaepernicus // Jan 11, 2022 - 12:54pm
One of the best examples of how good DVOA is at predicting would be that SB winning 2010 GB team. They were the best team in the league by DVOA and a wildcard 6th seed due to some bad luck. They proceed to demolish the good record Falcons in ATL in a game that DVOA saw as a big GB advantage. The most telling sign that DVOA is good is how well it lines up with Vegas betting spreads. It used to offer some excess value advantages when betting but Vegas caught up extremely fast. Another great one that lead to a huge amount of gambling success for me was the 2013 SB between Seattle and Denver. Seattle was actually quite a bit better, even though the public was all over the Broncos, and the Seahawks stomped them. It is hard for the public to grasp how much luck and randomness are involved with football game outcomes. I am fine with them sucking at it though because it makes it a lot easier win money betting against the squares.
#44 by Pat // Jan 11, 2022 - 1:22pm
It is hard for the public to grasp how much luck and randomness are involved with football game outcomes.
The frustrating thing is that it's ludicrously obvious, and you don't even need to watch the games. The phrase "Any Given Sunday" exists for a reason.
It's actually pretty easy to show mathematically that the NFL's pretty close to a 50/50 luck/skill split, which means the best you could ever possibly do on average is about a 75% prediction rate.
#46 by LyleNM // Jan 11, 2022 - 2:11pm
"It is hard for the public to grasp how much luck and randomness are involved with football game outcomes.
The frustrating thing is that it's ludicrously obvious, and you don't even need to watch the games. The phrase "Any Given Sunday" exists for a reason."
Even on this site there are certain Packer fans who have not grasped this.
#49 by Pat // Jan 11, 2022 - 3:44pm
Oh, God, that's nearly as old as the site. That's the reason Aaron always posts the complaint template (originally by zlionsfan) and the reason we call it the FOMBC.
Although the Packers this year are actually a lot different. The Falcons in 2005 were squeaking by crap teams for the first half of the season, not getting murdered in Week 1 and starting Jordan Love for 1.5 games.
#50 by Kaepernicus // Jan 11, 2022 - 4:26pm
Just look at the 2019 NFCCG. DVOA was clear that the 49ers were a much better team and they proceeded to stomp them even though a ton of public money was on GB. Last year TB being the best DVOA team in the NFL showed up as well. Rodgers GB has actually been a lot like all of the Manning Colts/Broncos teams that outperformed their roster because of MVP QB play. DVOA also tends to help explain the success for players with mediocre traditional stats and great W/L records like Jimmy G, pre-2007 Tom Brady, Steve McNair, Aikman, or pre-1993 Elway. I love this site because it has some of the best advanced stats around. I get panned on reddit all the time for bringing up DVOA regarding players so we are still at the end of the anti-analytics era in football. I think the growth in popularity of sports betting will start moving this forward. Just look at how much baseball and basketball have transformed in the last 2 decades. The change is coming for football too.
#51 by Pat // Jan 11, 2022 - 4:48pm
There's a huge difference between DVOA for a team and DYAR for a player. DVOA for a team is solidly predictive year-to-year. DYAR for a player is... not. If they stay on the same team in the same role, sure, but performance tends to follow the team, not the player (hello, Nelson Agholor).
That's just because you can't do value assignment with the info that people have now. At the very least you need snap information: valuing players by target only is clearly wrong.
#64 by bravehoptoad // Jan 12, 2022 - 3:00pm
It is hard for the public to grasp how much luck and randomness are involved with football game outcomes.
There's a powerful immediate example in how much praise Shanahan is getting for his decisions this year. Everyone is showering praise, "He wanted to stick with Jimmy G., I thought he should switch to Trey Lance, I was wrong," etc. etc. etc., he toughed it out and gutted it through and built a team that knows how to stick together in the big moments and etc. etc. etc.
If even one of those plays necessary from a .4% winning chance at the end of the Rams gave went awry, all of those narratives & articles would be completely flipped. He'd be getting excoriated right now.
Ugh, from the public I can maybe understand it, but from smart people who've been writing about sports for 20 years, I do not.
#8 by Anon Ymous // Jan 10, 2022 - 9:34pm
I have to confess that I'm a lot less impressed with the Pats' play the past month than DVOA is. I see no reason to think they have a better than 35% chance against any halfway decent team, and the number goes down precipitously as the opponent quality raises. They are a mess.
#9 by Kaepernicus // Jan 11, 2022 - 12:03am
So based on weighted DVOA the 49ers-Cowboys game is 1 vs 5 and the Bills-Pats are sitting at 2 vs 3. Those are some really good first round match ups. This is round 3 of the NE-Buf and it seems like Buf has a clear advantage after the beat down in their last match up. The SF-Dal game is a lot more interesting though since they have not played and have some interesting strength on strength match ups. The 49ers could dominate this game if Dallas can't stop their running game. The 49ers have a great rushing defense and pass rush which could pose huge problems for the Dallas offense. This game seems like it will be decided on the TO margin. If the 49ers turn the ball over and go down early Dallas could win the game relatively easily because of their great pass defense. If the 49ers run the ball well and get the kind of pass rush they had against LA in the second half they could blow them out. I could see literally any outcome in that game. It should be the best game of the weekend. KC-Pitt seems like one of the most lopsided match ups in years. That game could be over half way through the second quarter. Should be some really good games.
#36 by redsoxu571 // Jan 11, 2022 - 12:26pm
...is that I think SF blowing out DAL is highly unlikely, on the basis of recent Cowboy offenses having a habit of digging out of blowout holes (sometimes even salvaging the game entirely). I could see a blowout for 2.5ish quarters! But Dallas's offense tends to find itself even after bad starts and thus prevent full-game blowouts.
#41 by Kaepernicus // Jan 11, 2022 - 1:05pm
I tend to agree considering the weakest part of the SF defense is the CB situation. There are multiple teams that have slinged it back into the game against them this year. It will be interesting to see how well the SF D-line does against the DAL O-line. Seems like they have the personnel to exploit the right tackle and left guard/center of that line. I think this could be a huge game for Bosa and Armstead if Ryans does a good job matching them up against the guys other than Martin and Smith with scheme. I also have a feeling Kyle is going to have a plan to get Williams and Kittle blocking Parsons in the run game. The 49ers use their physical blocking to beat up pass rushers and wear them down. That is why I worry about early Jimmy interceptions. This Cowboys team reminds me a ton of the 2000's Manning/Freeney Colts. It really is a great match up.
#62 by kramskoi // Jan 12, 2022 - 9:14am
The wildcard in this game is the return of Blake Jarwin (TE 1) and the 12 personnel of the early 6 - 1 run. Dallas can exploit this versatility AND make Prescott more comfortable as well...which could lead to a faster start for the offense. Cedric Wilson is also better in the slot receiver role (no shade to Gallup). Prescott trusts him big time, as evidenced on film. Moore needs to use this package early and often, as I don't think you are really going to get vertical on the 49ers early. You will have to beat on them for awhile. Dallas needs a minimum 25 attempts on the running side. Definitely not the 12 attempts they ran against the Cardinals. 12 personnel can help with this. Pollard should also be featured against a 49ers front that can and often will wreck a rushing attack. He is quicker, fresher and more of a home run threat.
#10 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jan 11, 2022 - 1:07am
With the DVOA and seeds feeling like they were all over the place it's interesting that no first round match-up has a better seeded team with a worse DVOA. Another oddity. The #1 seed in both conferences has the 3rd worst DVOA of all the playoff teams for that conference. TEN at -3.0 is better than only LV at -5.2 and PIT at -10.4. GB at 11.5 is only better than ARI at 10.9 and PHI at 3.8. The obvious NFC DVOA domination is just illustrated by that, PHI at 3.8% DVOA is better than 4 of the AFC teams.
Sadly the AFC matches up their 2 best by DVOA right off the bat. The AFC also guarantees that the divisional round will have at least 2 teams at 0.0 or worse. So the odd DVOA by seedings does rear it's head there. Still I just kind of expected with the seeding not following DVOA order at all that we would have at least one match-up in the wild card round where the lower seed had the better DVOA.
The closest match-ups and most lopsided match-ups are in the AFC. Those aforementioned top AFC teams BUF and NE who are only 3.9 percentage points apart take the closest match-up edging LV and CIN who are only 5.2 apart. KC and PIT is the biggest gap at 27.9.
The DVOA differences for the NFC are not as close. SF-DAL is an 11.4 percentage point gap. ARI-LAR is 10.7. PHI-TB is 23.8.
- GB - 11.5 (9th)
- TB - 27.6 (3rd)
- DAL - 30.9 (1st)
- LAR - 21.6 (5th)
- ARI - 10.9 (10th)
- SF - 19.5 (6th)
- PHI - 3.8 (15th)
6. SF - 19.5
3. DAL - 30.9
5. ARI - 10.9
4. LAR - 21.6
7. PHI - 3.8
2. TB - 27.6
- TEN - (-3.0) (20th)
- KC - 17.5 (7th)
- BUF - 27.7 (2nd)
- CIN - 0.0 (17th)
- LV - (-5.2) (21st)
- NE - 23.3 (4th)
- PIT - (-10.4) (24th)
6. NE - 23.3
3. BUF - 27.2
5. LV - (-5.2)
4. CIN - 0.0
7. PIT - (-10.4)
2. KC - 17.5
#28 by RickD // Jan 11, 2022 - 10:29am
I think the Chiefs aren't terribly interested in routing opponents these days. Indeed, they seem to be the most casual of playoff teams, perhaps thinking that they are the two-time defending AFC champs and that they'll be ready when needed. (It's a dangerous mind set, but they might be able to pull it off.)
If anybody looks at Buffalo vs. KC and thinks the DVOA disparity means KC should be the underdog, well, I'd disagree.
#37 by redsoxu571 // Jan 11, 2022 - 12:31pm
Tell me that KC is an underdog by more than a hair's margin based on the entire season, and that isn't surprising. Both teams have had their peaks and valleys this year (as has basically every team!). Weighted DVOA says both enter the playoffs looking about the same in terms of quality, and even that can sway based on subjective analysis from there in terms of how well each is playing. Overall season-long DVOA alone can't rightly pinpoint the matchup of two playoff teams, though on average it would do a very fine job. There will just be plenty of exceptions.
#56 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jan 11, 2022 - 7:59pm
I thought about that, but as I recall weighted DVOA is no more predictive of playoff success than regular DVOA. Regardless it doesn't take that long for me to throw that out.
Using weighted DVOA changes almost nothing.
GB and TEN are still 4th in their conferences. It does give one worse seed better weighted DVOA. It changes a few DVOA margins. The AFC looks a little stronger with teams 2,3,6, 13,14,20,26 but the NFC still has 1,4,5,7,8, 12,16. So its still 3 vs 5 top 10 which is better than 3 vs 6 top 10.
In the NFC basically nothing changes other than making LAR a bigger favorite over ARI 20.3 vs 10.7 before. The margins in SF-DAL go from 11.4 to 10.0 and PHI-TB goes from 23.8 to 22.5. So again basically no change.
In the AFC, it changes NE/BUF so I guess if you are a big NE fan then using weighted matters. That margin goes from 3.9 in favor of BUF to 5.0 in favor of NE and 8.9 swing (smaller than the ARI-LAR change of 9.6). LV-CIN goes from 5.2 to 4.2 to take over the closest match-up to the now runner up NE-BUF at 5.0. PIT-KC is still the largest margin going from 27.9 to 26.8.
- GB - 15.1 (8th) from 11.5 (9th)
- TB - 25.8 (4th) from 27.6 (3rd)
- DAL - 34.8 (1st) from 20.9 (1st)
- LAR - 21.2 (7th) from 21.6 (5th)
- ARI - 0.8 (16th) from 10.9 (10th)
- SF - 24.8 (5th) from 19.5 (6th)
- PHI - 3.3 (12th) from 3.8 (15th)
6. SF - 24.8 from 19.5
3. DAL - 34.8 from 30.9
5. ARI - 0.9 from 10.9
4. LAR - 21.2 from 21.6
7. PHI - 3.3 from 3.8
2. TB - 25.8 from 27.6
- TEN - 2.2 (13th) from (-3.0) (20th)
- KC - 24.3 (6th) from 17.5 (7th)
- BUF - 26.2 (3rd) from 27.7 (2nd)
- CIN - 1.8 (14th) from 0.0 (17th)
- LV - (-2.4) (20th) from (-5.2) (21st)
- NE - 31.2 (2nd) from 23.3 (4th)
- PIT - (-12.5) (26th) from (-10.4) (24th)
6. NE - 31.2 from 23.3
3. BUF - 26.2 from 27.2
5. LV - (-2.4) from (-5.2)
4. CIN - 1.8 from 0.0
7. PIT - (-12.5) from (-10.4)
2. KC - 24.3 from 17.5
Since I have the regular DVOA in another post if people want me to from the "from XXX" parts and leave this just weighted that's an easy edit.
#13 by BJR // Jan 11, 2022 - 5:07am
Tennessee being the #1 seed in spite of their lowly DVOA isn't wildly surprising, given the weakness of their division, and the general parity in the league this season.
The Steelers reaching the playoffs in spite of their weak DVOA isn't historically remarkable, but it is quite shocking given they faced the #4 toughest schedule (by DVOA). You would imagine that ordinarily those bad teams reaching the playoffs have will benefitted from a particularly weak division/schedule. (Of course the additional playoff spot changes matters here). I also suspect there is a "zombie QB" effect here, i.e. a QB who is now severely limited and looks bad on a play-by-play basis, but is experienced/savvy enough to avoid crippling mistakes at critical moments.
#14 by Mike B. In Va // Jan 11, 2022 - 7:27am
More than a little luck in both one-score games and when they played their opponents, too. Baltimore is much more difficult to beat with Jackson at QB, much less beat twice because of a failed two-pointer when going for the win - and they still needed an epic choke by the Colts to get in. This season would be difficult to repeat for the Steelers.
#15 by AFCNFCBowl // Jan 11, 2022 - 8:13am
Plus, many of PIT's wins came down solely to opponent incompetence - The blocked punt against BUF, Landry's fumble against CLE, the horrific officiating against CHI, the failed 2-point conversion against BAL, TEN turning the ball over 4 times, and BAL giving up multiple 3rd and longs in OT.
The only times PIT legitimately looked impressive was against DEN, SEA and CLE.
#33 by DGL // Jan 11, 2022 - 11:59am
I am a Steelers fan, so am viewing this through black-and-gold-colored glasses, but the punt didn't block itself, Schoebert knocked the ball out of Landry's hands, the pass on the 2PC was affected by Watt's rush, at least some of the TEN turnovers were actually forced by the defense, and the offense had to pick up those third (and fourth) and longs even if the BAL defense wasn't perfect (and in a couple of instances, the defense was perfectly cromulent, but in one case Harris made a ridiculous catch and move on Queen, and in another Roethlisberger put the ball in exactly the right place to Friermuth in tight coverage).
I agree that the Steelers looked less than impressive, and a 15% chance of beating KC this weekend sounds about right to me - but sometimes opponents are incompetent because the team they're playing actually does some things reasonably well.
#16 by ammek // Jan 11, 2022 - 9:07am
Is Dallas the quietest ever DVOA champion? Hardly anyone has commented on them on these threads throughout their rise to the top. Is it that nobody really believes in them as a contender? I wonder whether Mike McCarthy's tarnished reputation is responsible for this.
#53 by Cythammer // Jan 11, 2022 - 5:42pm
They aren't that consistent. Their variance is middle of the pack. They had some hugely dominant wins, such as against Washington a few weeks ago, along with awful games like getting blasted by the Broncos.
#21 by jheidelberg // Jan 11, 2022 - 9:48am
Dallas came on so strong at the end, not only were they DVOA champs, but Weighted DVOA champs by a more substantial margin. Funny how models work, GB is a prohibitive favorite in the NFC right now, in large part because they will automatically survive next weekend. Once the results from next weekend are in, there will be some teams right on their tail, especially if DAL, TB, and LAR win.
Fans make presumptions that certain teams will move forward. Looking at another model, DAL is 80% to move on past PHL, 80% is hardly 100%.
#43 by Kaepernicus // Jan 11, 2022 - 1:13pm
A big part of the poor SB chance for Dallas is getting the toughest draw of the wildcard round on the NFC side. If they were playing the Eagles I bet the SB odds would go up to 15% at least. The Bills have the same problem on the AFC side from drawing the Pats. I would be willing to bet GB would much rather face the Rams/Cardinals over the 49ers next week though. GB's biggest weakness is run defense and the 49ers run offense has taken off the last half of the season. I honestly think the Cowboys and 49ers are the biggest barrier teams for GB because of their extremely balanced offenses.
#26 by IlluminatusUIUC // Jan 11, 2022 - 10:18am
Dallas is in the same spot as Buffalo IMO. They've done a lot of their damage in games they were "supposed" to win (Washington, vs. Philly's backups, New York), and struggled in the games vs top opponents (Tampa, Arizona, KC), with one explicable loss on their schedule (Denver). They're a legit Super Bowl contender, but public narratives are built on a handful of games.
#39 by redsoxu571 // Jan 11, 2022 - 12:39pm
You write that they "struggled" against Tampa, except that the game was a terrific back and forth contest that could have gone either way based on many factors. The article noted that Dallas had a positive DVOA in the game against the Cardinals, so it doesn't seem quite right to call that a "struggle" either.
Truth be told, they've just been a generally strong team all year long, getting net better as the season has gone along, but as follows the nature of the sport there are ups and downs and that has been more true this year. They also have the interesting elements of 1) a defense that was notably undermanned for most of the year that eventually got healthy, and 2) an offense that was flying high in the first half that curiously has still moved the ball but clearly not been as dynamic or comfortable.
#45 by IlluminatusUIUC // Jan 11, 2022 - 1:58pm
You write that they "struggled" against Tampa, except that the game was a terrific back and forth contest that could have gone either way based on many factors
So was Buffalo @ Tennessee, but Buffalo lost that game and it (along with the Jax and Indy losses) cemented the narrative that Buffalo was a fraud team that couldn't beat any legit contenders. The post I responded to was asking about why Dallas isn't getting much chatter. The storyline of a team is determined by A) The perception of their QB and B) a handful of game results, and that's what happened with Dallas as well. They are a legit contender and DVOA reflects that.
#52 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // Jan 11, 2022 - 5:16pm
People may also be forgetting that the DAL loss to TB in week one arose after a - hmmm, what's the right word? - "generous" OPI non-call on a long Brady bomb with only a few seconds left on the clock to set up the game winning FG . It really was a game that was so close it was decided on a non penalty call against the Bucs receiver that a sizeable percentage of the officials in the league would have flagged.
Dallas' adventures with officiating started early this year.
#60 by t.d. // Jan 12, 2022 - 5:58am
the team they remind me of is last season's Bucs, in that they lost a few coin-flip games to playoff teams, but generally played well all year (Denver game notwithstanding), have a star-studded roster on both sides of the ball, and enter the playoffs generally as healthy as they've been all season (both teams lost one significant contributor to their pass offense- OJ Howard for last year's Bucs, Gallop for the Cows this season). Like the Bucs last year, they lost just about every game that could have gone either way, and could maybe be better situated for a long run (otoh, the 49ers are a hell of a tough draw for the first round, so they could also be knocked out quick, which would seem fitting for this weirdest-of-my-lifetime season)
#61 by MrPerfect // Jan 12, 2022 - 7:29am
I see DAL and last years TB has very different teams.
Last year's TB was ridiculously loaded with talent (won 8 games the year before with a QB that threw 30 INT's!!!) with a Hall of Fame QB that was almost unbeatable if you could not take advantage of their 1 weakness (Offense struggling vs disruptive DL's that put immense pressure on QB. It wasn't a coincidence that just about all their losses shared this link-(2x NO, CHI, Rams). They likely lose if Cook doesn't fumble in the 4th Quarter, but NO imploded late and they survived.
Whereas last year's TB had some struggles in Division, I would bet that a significant portion of DAL's DVOA came from it's 6 NFC East games.
#58 by Kaepernicus // Jan 11, 2022 - 9:47pm
The Cowboys are going to be a big test of the DVOA system's lack of weighting for blow outs beyond 21 points and not judging missing player value in a game. I don't have premium, but I would assume that the 2 biggest contributors to them at the top are the COVID WFT game and the backup Eagles game. I think the the crazy part here is Dallas has gone 2-4 against non-Eagles backups playoff teams with a close OT win vs the Patriots and an Eagles blowout. The 49ers are 4-3 against playoff teams with Jimmy at QB with a 2 point loss to GB at the last second early and a 3 point loss to the Titans on the road. The NFC West has all 4 teams in the top 10 vs the NFC East with 1 in the top 10. This is crazy in that it reminds me of the 80's/90's SF vs. dominant NFC East team where the positions are switched and the current west is more like the old East where the teams beat the hell out of each other all season then smashed a team from another division in the playoffs. It will be a crazy good game.
#27 by RickD // Jan 11, 2022 - 10:25am
Dallas is the DVOA champ in part because they just left their starters in most of the game to whup the Eagles' second string. In contrast, the Packers had a comfortable lead over the Lions before they pulled Rodgers, and the Lions took advantage in the second half to win.
So, no. I don't take the Cowboys seriously as a contender. I did before the Broncos went into Dallas and clobbered them. They could have problems with SF and beyond that, I put them with the Rams as "teams that are very talented that I don't have confidence in", as opposed to Green Bay and Tampa.
#32 by ALauff // Jan 11, 2022 - 11:55am
In contrast, the Packers had a comfortable lead over the Lions before they pulled Rodgers, and the Lions took advantage in the second half to win.
The Packers were losing at halftime, 17-13, with their starters in, including Rodgers, before inserting Love for the second half. Rodgers' TD pass to Lazard pulled them to a deficit of 14-13, at which point his day was finished. (https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/202201090det.htm) I do agree with your second paragraph, however.
#63 by kramskoi // Jan 12, 2022 - 9:31am
There are some caveats to this, though the loss vs. Denver was "inexplicable" with Prescott coming off injury (he was out vs. Minnesota with the infamous calf injury). They were still not full strength on the defensive line (missing Lawrence and Gallimore). LT Tyron Smith was also out in that game. But the more significant thing that hampered to the offense was the loss of TE Blake Jarwin after the Minnesota game. Before that loss, the Cowboys were taking good advantage of their 12 personnel packages, where they have both Jarwin and Schultz on the field as receiving threats. They were running better out of this package and Prescott's play action seemed to be working better. They only had to be in 11 personnel about 55% of the time. After losing Jarwin, 12 usage dropped.
Jarwin returns this week, so I'm hoping to see more 12 personnel and the offense look more like the one they had during that early 6 - 1 run. The original offense (with Cedric Wilson as slot receiver) is all back together (minus Terence Steele at RT) and the defense finally has all its pieces healthy.
If Dallas is going to hold up their DVOA, health wise (if covid doesn't wreck it) they will be full strength across the board for the first time all year.
#17 by big10freak // Jan 11, 2022 - 9:10am
I have read several times that FO leadership is considering evaluating on whether DVOA is still incorporating blowout wins effectively. FWIW I support re-visiting this element of the process.
But I also understand that COVID's impact on rosters, gameplanning, etc are also a significant influence on all the results and making any significant changes in this context may not be constructive.
That is what makes generating projections fun!
Said nobody ever. Ha, ha
#30 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // Jan 11, 2022 - 11:25am
My guess is that, on average, the data will say that the blowout wins are predictive and don't need to be discounted. the reason will be that winning by 40 points instead of 30 points will be a characteristic of teams with better depth and a more robust "system" (i.e. winning on fundamentals rather than raw talent). Plenty of exceptions will no doubt be found, but overall as a predictive element I suspect the large wins will highlight the most solid teams.
That said, 2021 (and 2020) was more likely than most years to provide some of those exceptions, for the covid-related reasons you pointed out. Key players (usually a QB) missing a game here or there have always put a bit of a wrench into opponent adjustments, especially when measuring the quality of a team's D. And some teams have always dressed backups in meaningless end of season games, which throws off their opponent measurements in those games. But depth concerns from a concentration of injuries in a single unit usually accumulate over time and those have a chance to be reflected in that team's scores over multiple games. Covid-whacked rosters that cause a team to field a radically different unit than started the game before or the game after may impact the validity of opponent adjustments in any given game more in 2021 (and 2020) than in past years. That may be partially offset in 2021 by those adjustments and all team DVOAs accumulating over 17 games rather than 16 games.
#19 by dan5374 // Jan 11, 2022 - 9:30am
Did the Giants have the worst six game stretch of offensive DVOA in history over their final 6 games (post-Jones injury)? The weekly stats are no longer available on the articles for bad teams, but if memory serves the Giants were ranked in the mid-20s in offensive DVOA team in November, and finished the year in dead last by far with -28, so I would guess the 6 game stretch was -50 or worse.
#23 by Aaron Schatz // Jan 11, 2022 - 10:03am
Before doing a complicated query, I checked a couple of the worst offenses ever just to see.
The average Giants offensive DVOA over the final six games was a horrendous -57.3%.
The worst six-game stretch for the 2002 Texans was -55.3%.
The worst six-game stretch for the 2018 Cardinals was -48.8%
The worst six-game stretch for the 1992 Seahawks was -48.3%.
On my fourth try, I found a worse stretch. The 2005 49ers had an offensive DVOA of -67.5% over Weeks 4-10. That's six games, Week 6 was their bye week.
#59 by Kaepernicus // Jan 12, 2022 - 12:37am
I watched that stretch of football for some reason while I was in college and had to switch to lower alcohol beer for the rest of my life to make up for all the fully leaded malt liquor I drank that year. I tried to send a check for liver damage to the 49ers organization. I had no response. Ironically Mike McCarthy was the OC for that team and got the HC job with GB the next year. Pretty sure that was the stretch we were down 42-0 at half against the Rex Grossman Bears. It was a dark period in team history.
#48 by AFCNFCBowl // Jan 11, 2022 - 2:25pm
DEN only had 166 offensive drives, 3rd fewest in the league. The offense was 14th in yards per drive, 19th in points per drive, 16th in drive success rate, 7th in avoiding turnovers and 4th in time of possession per drive, meaning they generally ran long drives that resulted in fewer possessions, causing the low scores in their games.
#55 by bochner // Jan 11, 2022 - 7:12pm
They benefited from a weak late season schedule, but they played most of the season without their top cornerback, their best linebacker and two of their top three receivers and four games without their Hall of Fame tight end and three without Superbowl Lenny. Still, they managed to lead the NFL in DVOA Offense and finish 9th in defense. At the end of the season Brady was throwing to Evans and Gronk and a bunch of guys nobody ever heard of.
#66 by jheidelberg // Jan 13, 2022 - 4:36pm
I wish I had the time earlier this week to write this post, but since it will take awhile, I am just getting to it now.
First I would like to thank the entire FO staff for another great season of articles.
I would also like to thank you all for getting involved with some of the fan contributors discussions. Its great to interact with you, especially Aaron the creator of the site.
To my fellow fan contributors, I enjoy interacting with you, we may sometimes disagree, but it sure is fun.
As you know, I love the DVOA system. I believe that the FO DVOA system is a great way to analyze team play.
Since football is a team game, I feel that it is very difficult to analyze the play of individuals. Sure when I look at the QB's, I can not argue that Brady, Rodgers, Prescott and Mahomes are great, while Darnold, Z. Wilson, Glennon, Fromm and Book gave us some ghastly QB play this season which is well reflected in DYAR. Also a special shout out to Teddy Bridgewater, who for 3 consecutive seasons has turned his array of 3 yard give or take passes, on 3 different teams into a nearly perfect model of mediocrity despite having an ALEX at or near the bottom each season. Put me down for predicting another mediocre season for Bridgewater next year wherever he ends up, while Ben Roethlisberger sits at home watching and thinking, geez I would have been glad to make another $20M doing that for another season.
Your DYAR model reflects what we all perceive these QB's to be. The good, the bad, the mediocre.
On the other hand, lets look at RB's the team has a great deal to do with DYAR in my opinion. Lets take a look:
Pay Zeke or A. Jones all that money, when Pollard and Dillon produce virtually the same results?
Jonathan Taylor's season is historic correct? He is by far and away the best RB this season. Yet Hines had a similar season, simply a smaller sample size.
Taylor and Hines were very effective in the receiving game last year. Both were bad this year. Clearly this is a Rivers to Wentz situation, or am I missing something?
Kamara the worst RB in the league? Mark Ingram joined him from Houston, now you have the two worst RB's on the same team. If I am a GM and both are available, I'll take Kamara.
So the questions becomes, are great or bad RB's really great or bad or are they simply a function of the team for which they play?
Now lets go to WR. Take any top 10 receiver that you want and pair him with the above mentioned Darnold, Z. Wilson, Glennon, Fromm and Book. Now what do you have?
TE's--I have no idea what to think here, watching Andrews all year on this mediocre Ravens offensive, it seems as if there is little correlation to being a top tight end to the rest of your offense. The top 10 TE's have a combo of good and mediocre QB's.
Finally the running QB. During the season, a post was made by an FO writer who sent a 2018 article explaining Lamar Jackson. If Lamar breaks the system so will others. Lets look at this season. The worst rushing QB's are Murray, Ryan and Prescott???? How can we ever clump those 3 together?
Hurts, Allen, Tannehill at the top. While defensive coordinators stay up all night preparing for the playoffs and how to stop Hurts and Allen from taking off and scrambling or running designed running plays, I doubt anyone will be concentrating on Tannehill in the running game.
Aaron, at the beginning of the season I posted a question as to why the Ravens were downgraded due to the Dobbins injury. You responded something to the effect that you hoped to do an offseason study of DYAR and its value relative to position. I hope to see the results of your study sometime during the offseason.
Which brings me to a final suggestion. I would love to go back and see which FO writer put up the 2018 post about the Lamar Jackson article to thank him personally, I would love to go back to my exact post and Aaron's response regarding Dobbins, and would love to go back to find my post saying that I watch absolutely no college football but predict that Mac Jones will be the best rookie QB simply because he is going to NE. Is there any way that a feature can be added so that we can type in our screen name and get to all of our prior posts?
#70 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jan 13, 2022 - 7:34pm
The site used to be more rigorous in emphasizing that the stats were really "Aaron Jones with this scheme and these teammates produced XXX DYAR". I understand why repeating that every single time would get tedious. So yes, DYAR has the exact known flaw you mention. Especially with ONLY being able to use play-by-play data to build the metric. More data is out there now but you won't have any of it for historical and a lot of it likely proprietary and potentially in a difficult to integrate format. I'm going to use a lot of Packers example because I know them best but other teams show the same things.
So the questions becomes, are great or bad RB's really great or bad or are they simply a function of the team for which they play?
Both. That doesn't mean player DYAR is useless. But the the results of what a player does are more and more dependent on what the other 21 players on the field are doing the value does diminish. Some running plays are affected by every player on the field if there is a big cut back. Most still involve around 16 with heavy influence. But as you said. Why pay running backs big money when a hard to determine but likely large percentage of their value comes from their teammates. My guess is that about 70% of what a running back produces has just about nothing to do with the running back. DYAR clearly illustrates that. You can get similar value from very different players. I also agree with that and didn't think the Packers should have paid Jones even if the 30% of his value he controls is better than Kylin Hill or Patrick Taylor. I'm not sure how, especially with only play-by-play data you could come to a number of how much a running back matters and how much the sheme and other players matter. It would be nice. Even the stats here, adjusted line yards and RB yards are making guesses to come to those values. But I've seen Allen Lazard, a WR, make a block that got Jones 20 more yards which even the stats that are trying to separate things isn't going to see. In part because that data isn't in the play by play and in part because great or bad WR blocks are less likely to affect the play.
It isn't that running backs don't matter and that they don't have different skills and value. It's more that play-by-play data doesn't have enough information. Even Jones and Dillon who had very similar advanced and traditional stats got there differently in the same system. You need to start looking at things like yards before and after contact. Dillon had 2.1 yards before contact and 2.2 after. Jones was 2.4 before and 2.3 after. So while Jones had more ypc his portion of yards went down after contact, Dillons went up. Then you look at other things Jones had more 20+ yard runs. Dillon had more success in the "power running" game, etc. Even in the same system they are used differently. They ultimately brought about the same total value to the team but they did it in different ways.
With their (and likely all RB) receiving it's a bigger difference and I agree that the DVOA/DYAR is harder to use there. Dillon had 36.5% DVOA as a receiver and Jones only 11.9% but basically the same DYAR again (110 to 97) because Jones was targeted in situations that Dillon simply wasn't. That wasn't the whole reason that Jones had 65 targets and Dillon only 37 but it was part of it. Rodgers would checkdown to Jones even when he was covered if he was the best option and take the 2 or 3 yards. Dillon didn't see the ball unless he was wide open, and that lead to bigger gains when he did see it. This actually illustrates one of the reasons DYAR is still valuable, at least when assessing players on the same team. DYAR said they gave about the same total value, and you can then watch the games and see that Jones was good enough to give small positive or slightly negative value in situations that if Dillon was in would have been large negatives (a sack or throw away vs a 2 or 3 yard gain) but that Dillon sees none of the negative value applied. Jones was also way more likely to draw a better player in coverage if motioned out wide. It doesn't mean that they should throw to Dillon more. Though with his improvements as a route runner and his catching that may also be true. But it's value you can get from a limited metric anyway.
Now lets go to WR. Take any top 10 receiver that you want and pair him with the above mentioned Darnold, Z. Wilson, Glennon, Fromm and Book. Now what do you have?
WR DYAR likely has better value when looking at players on different teams than RB DYAR in part because fewer players influence the value a WR can produce. You'll have the offensive line and pass rush playing a role so 10 players there. The QB, WR, and at least 1 defender so 3 more. So yes it's still 13-16 like with a running play. But the role of the offensive and defensive lines can be nearly eliminated. Some routes are designed to make that not matter because you do things so quick that it's basically just the center, QB, WR, and 1-3 defenders that really impact the play heavily. Also if the QB is skilled enough the impact of the lines on the play diminish as well. So yes Davante Adams has an advantage over Justin Jefferson because Rodgers>Cousins and trying to parse the 421 vs 414 DYAR and 18.8 and 18.4% DVOA differences, this year, would be tough. But it's still probably fair to say that Jefferson on GB and Adams on MIN are likely still going to produce 400+ DYAR. Of course this was the best DYAR season Adams has ever had. But he also produced 215 DYAR in 2017 while 54.5% of GB's totals passes were thown by Brent Hundley. He only had 139 DYAR in 2019. So yeah Adams has been a top receiver catching passings from a -28.3% DVOA QB which isn't quite as bad as breaking the -30% threshold that Darnold and Wilson did, but still shows that while his DYAR may have been depressed his ability to get himself open and hold onto contested passes still means a lot. Rodgers 334 DYAR was completely wiped out by Hundley's -396 but Adams still had his 215 and he even made quick reads with 54 with Hundley throwing to him so it wasn't just the passes he got from Rodgers.
Sure when I look at the QB's, I can not argue that Brady, Rodgers, Prescott and Mahomes are great, while Darnold, Z. Wilson, Glennon, Fromm and Book gave us some ghastly QB play this season which is well reflected in DYAR.
QB DYAR as mentioned is probably the most accurate DYAR gets. The system a QB plays in still matters of course. There is a reason Rodgers has 4 DVOA titles (2011,2014, 2020, 2021) and no DYAR titles he's usually in the 8-14 range in attempts (4 and 5 are his highest ever rankings). But of course when you take the two numbers together even with system differences you can get a pretty solid idea of who is and isn't a good NFL QB. You also have the injury replacement numbers that show that even more. In the years he's been hurt the drop off to his back-ups has been in the 30 - 60% DVOA range (2017 Rodgers 7.8 to Hundley -28.3 and 2013 Rodgers 25.4 to Tolzien -9.1, Wallace -54.3, Flynn is harder to tell since he played for 3 teams that year but was -24.5 overall).
Finally the running QB. During the season, a post was made by an FO writer who sent a 2018 article explaining Lamar Jackson. If Lamar breaks the system so will others. Lets look at this season.
I joked in several Quick reads about Brady having the best QB rushing DYAR that week. I think Pat has addressed part of the fundamental issue with this. Run vs pass is arbitrary and doesn't really describe what the play is trying to accomplish. The easiest example of course is a toss to a running back (run) vs a short out in the flat to a running back. Just because in one the ball went backwards 1 yard and in the other it went forward 1 yard even if the blocking and everything else is identical one is a run, one is a pass but they are trying to do the exact same thing. Get the ball in the hands of your running back who is going towards the sideline outside of the offensive line and all the defenders near the line. There are plenty of other examples.
I think there are other offensive systems that could "break" DVOA as well. But the data DVOA has is play-by-play and so what is a pass and what is a run is defined by the NFL and even if they wanted to try and change those categories they couldn't. Adjusting baselines could help but it can't solve it.
DVOA works because it makes sense that if you are more efficient on your plays, on average, than your opponent you are more likely to win. Obviously there are other factors that go into W-L. It's possible that a good machine learning system could help tweak the baselines and success values to help make more of this measurable from the play-by-play. I also suspect that the predictive value of the model could be improved by running two models the purely descriptive that may include penalties and turnovers differently so that more individual games line up with the W-L result and then another model that uses that as an input along with some other potential factors to give the descriptive. I think there might be something you could do with snap counts to change the weightings that get applied to things as well. But testing all that takes time I don't have and they might not have and even if it does improve things it might be a very small improvement and it very likely doesn't change the DVOA/DYAR per player. Though if you could suss out a bit better how much of a players value comes from himself and how much comes from other players you could apply some crude weights. If you are pretty sure that the offensive line is worth about 50% of the value of a run you could start giving 10% of every run to each lineman and 2% to the TE, and 5% to the QB (or 15% to the QB if you find that running QB offenses help RB more). That's actually some of the stuff that a good machine learning system could help try and figure out. You might even be able to get more refined since the play-by-play data does have some some granularity on deep, short, and direction etc. A QB or WR may be worth 80% of the value on a deep pass but only 50% on a short.
What we really want is probably the data that is currently being captured by systems like AWS next gen stats. They don't just have the play by play they have player and ball velocities and can generate the route combos and actually see if the blocking failed on a run. That data you can start to use to build much more refined metrics around teams and players. But you can't go back in time with it. The standard of a play-by-play means that if you can get the data or video of a game you can still use it in the same system with mostly apples to apples comparison. DVOA still loses a lot of history only going back to 83, but that's better than just the 2 -5 (at most) of the data level I was just talking about could give. We all appreciate DVOA and we all love that feedback has helped make it better, but you output can only be as good as your inputs. It's better than things like SRS because it has better inputs, but we can't forget the input is still limited. I think you can massage a bit more out of it but eventually there will have to be another line like the current 1983 one. Base play-by-play can get us to here and they can keep generating that. But I think you'll need another model that can pull in stuff already mentioned and that will likely be even more predictive and/or help with describing what we saw.
Is there any way that a feature can be added so that we can type in our screen name and get to all of our prior posts?
Older versions of the site used to have this. I used it all the time to help follow threads I had posted in. Now the best you could do is go to google and do a site:footballoutsiders.com jheidelberg Lamar Jackson for you search terms. I'm also saddened they have gone away from formulaic URLs for the DVOA and quickread articles. I was able to flip through all the 2017 Quick reads in a couple minutes just by changing the url to find the Adams link I used earlier. It would have taken probably 10 times longer to find that in 2021 format since the URLs are now the article titles and even using the menus to just go to Quick reads I'd have to guess a bit since if I go to say page 8 of those results I'll get titles like Week 11 Quick reads but a date of November 19, 8:39pm ET. I have no idea what year that is. Turns out it's 2018 and that is only because it's in the URL. Well that article has some graphs and stuff that say 2018 but not all. It has always driven me nuts that the datelines never had the year. Give us 3 years of the new URL formats and finding older references will get even trickier.
#69 by jheidelberg // Jan 13, 2022 - 7:19pm
Ironic that the comment I made that you found for me was titled, "Be careful what you wish for." So you found my comment in which I said that Trey Lance and Mac Jones had the best possibility for success since they were drafted by the 49ers and Patriots. Wow was I smart!!!
Then in the next paragraph I stated that if WFT wanted Mac Jones they should have just traded up. I like them winging it for a year with Ryan Fitzpatrick... Guess I was not so smart!
The written word can be damning, I don't know how you guys do this for a living!!!