Chiefs Hottest Team in the Final Four
NFL Divisional - With a big win over the Buffalo Bills, scoring 42 points on this season's best defense, the Kansas City Chiefs moved up to No. 2 in the Football Outsiders weighted DVOA ratings after this weekend's exciting divisional round games. They're the highest of the four remaining teams. What might surprise you is that the Los Angeles Rams are right behind them in third place, with just 1.0% separating the two teams that will host next Sunday's conference championships.
San Francisco drops a spot to No. 5, mainly because Kansas City passed them. Cincinnati is now 12th in weighted DVOA, although the Bengals would be 10th if we removed the Week 18 game where they sat starters.
It's interesting to note that none of the top four teams from regular-season DVOA made the final four in the postseason. This is only the second time this has happened; the other was in 2009, when the final four teams had ranked 6, 7, 8, and 9 in the regular season. There was a bit of explanation that year, since the Colts and Saints saw their ratings dive late from games where they sat their starters. Everybody in the NFL commentariat was saying all year that this was a season where anybody could make it through the playoffs and things seemed very up in the air. These results match that statement. Contrast this with 2016, 2018, and 2020, years where three of the top four teams in DVOA made it to the conference championships.
(There has never been a year where the top four teams in DVOA all made it to the conference championships. That's part of the fun of the NFL playoffs!)
A reminder on the rules for postseason DVOA:
- All 32 teams are ranked, whether they made the playoffs or not. (I only included the top 16 in the table below, but you can find all the teams in the FO+ database.)
- Teams are ranked in order of weighted DVOA, not total season DVOA. Since weighted DVOA is meant to lower the strength of older games, these ratings do not include Weeks 1-5, and Weeks 6-13 are somewhat discounted.
- The ratings listed do not include the adjustments used in the ratings for our playoff odds report. At this point, those adjustments only matter for Cincinnati.
- Only weighted DVOA is listed for offense, defense, and special teams. Total DVOA is also listed, but adding 10 games to a 272-game sample won't change things very much.
- Teams are treated as having a bye week in any week where they did not play. Since most teams haven't played in two weeks, that means some of the ratings for non-playoff teams can start getting a little unreliable. Really, this is only to be used for playoff teams, the other teams are just there for ranking comparison purposes.
- DVOA, as always, takes a long-term view of an NFL team's performance. That means that the games of the last two weeks are just two games among many, so teams may be listed below other teams that they have beaten in the playoffs.
Usually I run the team table with weighted DVOA first and then the single-game DVOA for playoff games, but this week I'm going to switch it around because the single-game DVOA ratings are quite surprising. All four of the games ended up with very close scores, but DVOA only thinks that one of them was particularly close.
You may remember the Post-Game Win Expectancy metric I introduced back in Week 1, looking at how often we could expect a team to win a game given how well DVOA says it played in that game. Well, three teams had PGWE of 90% or more this weekend! We end up with Kansas City at 90%, Cincinnati at 92%, and the Los Angeles Rams at 98%. The only game that comes out very close in DVOA is San Francisco's win over Green Bay, which ends up with the Packers having a 52% PGWE.
The Bills and Chiefs is probably the biggest surprise, because the Bills had such an awesome offensive game. How does that translate to just 27% offensive DVOA for the game? First of all, there's very little adjustment for playing the Chiefs defense because while the Chiefs' defense was excellent over the last two-thirds of the season, it was very average for the season as a whole. Beyond that, the parts that make up the whole for Buffalo's offensive performance don't quite match the parts for Kansas City. The Chiefs had 7.6 yards per play with a 55% success rate. The Bills had 6.7 yards per play with a 48% success rate. That 75-yard touchdown throw did a lot of work for their final numbers. The team DVOA gap is similar to the gap between Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen from this morning's Quick Reads column. I certainly did not expect to see this much of a DVOA gap between the two teams, but that's some explanation.
For thoes curious, the final Kansas City offensive DVOA is not greatly impacted by the overtime drive. Without the overtime drive, Kansas City's offensive rating drops from 78% to 68%, which isn't really that much.
The gap between the Rams and Buccaneers is probably a bit more understandable than the gap between the Chiefs and Bills. The Rams suffered from terrible fumble recovery luck, losing all four of their fumbles on offense. They also suffered from fumble yardage luck. Not only is a blown snap usually recovered by the offense, it also usually doesn't lose 30 yards! The other big gap between the Rams and Buccaneers was on special teams. The Buccaneers had two kickoffs out of bounds and lousy kick returns of 4 and 14 yards. They also allowed punt returns of 21 and 33 yards. It was not the worst special teams game of the weekend, of course. We'll get to that in a second.
You may be wondering why the PGWE for Cincinnati is so high when the DVOA gap between the Bengals and Titans is much smaller than those other two games. The answer is pass/run splits. The Titans were particularly bad passing the ball, particularly due to the three interceptions, and PGWE gives more weight to pass offense than run offense.
Finally, the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers. Let's talk about the special teams performance of the Green Bay Packers. You may remember that the Packers finished dead last in special teams DVOA during the regular season. There was some talk on Twitter after Saturday night's debacle that the Packers had "historically bad" special teams. Not even close. Green Bay's rating during the regular season was -5.2%. Compare that to five different teams in history with special teams DVOA below -10%: the 2010 Chargers, 1997 Seahawks, 2020 Chargers, 2013 Redskins, and the worst special teams ever, the 2000 Buffalo Bills. Green Bay had a terrible game this week, but their entire season was nothing like what the 2000 Buffalo Bills went through.
The 2000 Buffalo Bills had -15.4% special teams DVOA. They ranked dead last on kickoffs, kick returns, and punt returns. They were 30th on punts and 26th on kickoffs. Steve Christie's average kickoff went only 55.6 yards, 7.5 yards less than the NFL average. Once Christie's kick had come down, Buffalo allowed opponents kick returns worth an estimated 22 points more than the league average, twice the figure of any other team. The average opposing drive after a 2000 Buffalo Bills kickoff started at the 37-yard line. This year's Packers were not that bad.
Nonetheless, the Packers do have two of the three worst special teams games of this season. This game against the 49ers comes out as the worst special teams game of the year. Then you have Minnesota against Carolina in Week 6, and then the Packers against Chicago in Week 14. That was the game where the Packers allowed a punt return touchdown, kicked the ball out of bounds once, shanked a punt for 22 yards, gave up kick returns of 40 and 42 yards, and let the Bears recover an onside kick. However, onside kicks are not included in special teams DVOA. When you add in that play, the Week 14 game was probably the worst special teams game of the year and this playoff game was second.
For fun, I went and looked up the worst special teams DVOA games in playoff history. Can it possibly get worse than it was for the Packers this week? It can! These are the nine games with special teams DVOA below -30%.
9) 1996 Patriots, Super Bowl vs. Packers: -30.5% DVOA
Desmond Howard won Super Bowl MVP thanks to a kick return touchdown and punt returns of 32 and 34 yards.
8) 1984 Steelers, Divisional vs. Broncos: -30.8% DVOA
Gary Anderson missed three out of four field goals including one from just 26 yards -- at altitude! (Denver's Rich Karlis also missed two field goals.) The Steelers also had a blocked punt and a muffed punt.
7) 2021 Packers, Divisional vs. 49ers: -31.4% DVOA
You know this one. Blocked punt for a touchdown, blocked field goal, and 30 yards allowed per kick return.
6) 2009 Cardinals, Divisional vs. Saints: -32.2% DVOA
Reggie Bush had an 83-yard punt return touchdown. Neil Rackers put a kickoff out of bounds and missed a 50-yard field goal indoors.
5) 2010 Packers, Divisional vs. Falcons, -32.8% DVOA
Not only was Saturday's Packers game not the worst special teams game in playoff history, it wasn't even the worst Packers special teams game in playoff history. This one wasn't either, by the way. Eric Weems had a kick return touchdown. Mason Crosby missed a 50-yard field goal indoors. Short kickoffs, with four that didn't make it past the Atlanta 10. James Starks muffed a punt return for 0 yards, though the Packers recovered.
4) 2002 Packers, Wild Card vs. Falcons: -33.5% DVOA
Both teams had terrible days on special teams. Green Bay's only punt of the game was blocked. Ryan Longwell missed two field goals. Robert Ferguson had a 2-yard kick return on a short kick. The Packers don't get credit for two missed Atlanta field goals or a muffed Atlanta punt return.
3) 2004 Rams, Divisional vs. Falcons: -38.1% DVOA
Allen Rossum had 152 yards on three punt returns, one a 68-yard touchdown. Zero-yard punt return by Brandon Manumaleuna, and Antoine Cason averaged just 20.3 yards per kick return.
2) 1998 Broncos, Super Bowl vs. Falcons: -38.6% DVOA
Yes, four of the five worst special teams games of the playoffs came against the Falcons for some odd reason. On this one, Denver missed two field goals and Tim Dwight had a kick return touchdown plus kick returns of 31 and 42 yards.
1) 2012 Ravens, Divisional vs. Broncos: -43.0% DVOA
The most shocking one of these games because the Ravens were one of the best special teams units of all time during the regular season! Trindon Holliday had both a punt return touchdown and a kick return touchdown. Jacoby Jones had a muffed kickoff that he only returned to the 6. The Ravens also had negative value on punt returns; Ed Reed had one return for 0 yards, for example. Even Justin Tucker couldn't keep the Ravens from having this terrible special teams game.
I will also point out that these games -- the Packers game from Saturday night, along with the rest of them -- fall short of the worst special teams DVOA games in regular-season history. The absolute worst game was the Rams against the Bears in Week 14 of 2006, the Monday Night contest where Mike Tirico got to scream "Devin Hester, YOU ARE RIDICULOUS." Hester had two kickoff returns for touchdowns. The Rams also had an aborted extra point and missed a 48-yard field goal indoors. Three of Willie Ponder's kick returns ended short of the 20, and one of those was fumbled (although the Rams recovered). Special teams DVOA: -61.9%. Estimated value of special teams in points: -19.4 points. Whoa.
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To save people some time, we remind everyone to put their angry troll hatred into the official zlionsfan angry troll hatred Mad Libs form:
<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>
If you are new to our website, you can read the explanation of how DVOA is figured here. As always, positive numbers represent more points so DEFENSE is better when it is NEGATIVE.
There are no adjustments here for sitting starters in Week 18, although we do adjust the ratings that we use in the playoff odds report.
Teams in yellow are still alive in the playoffs. Teams in gray lost this past weekend.
Click here for a look at full-season DVOA with offensive and defensive splits, including the playoffs.