Buffalo Bills Clear Favorites in 2022 DVOA Projections
NFL Week 1 - The Buffalo Bills are clear favorites in 2022 according to our DVOA projections and season simulation. The Bills are projected in the top five for offense, defense, and special teams in these new projections, updated from the season forecasts in Football Outsiders Almanac 2022.
For those new to our website, you can find an explanation of DVOA here. Note that there's a big difference between DVOA and projected DVOA. The DVOA ratings that appear on the website during the season are based on the actual play-by-play that happens during the season, with no future projection whatsoever. The numbers here are a forecast, with offense, defense, and special teams DVOA all projected separately using a system based on looking at trends for teams going back to 2009. Our system starts by considering the team's DVOA over the past three seasons and, on offense, a separate projection for the starting quarterback. Then we look at a number of other variables which suggest when a team will be better or worse than would otherwise be expected due to standard regression towards the mean. Factors include major offseason personnel changes, coaching experience, recent draft history, age and combined tenure on the offensive line, and certain players returning from injury (or, in the case of these updates, certain players getting injured in the preseason).
The numbers we are presenting here are exactly what the projection system spit out. As we say every year: "A few of them will look strange to you. A few of them look strange to us." As always, the offensive projections come out in a wider range than defensive projections because offense performance tends to be easier to predict (and more consistent from year to year) than defensive performance. If you are looking for subjective projections, Thursday we will be running our usual staff predictions article where we all talk about where we think the numbers are wrong.
We've also done a new full playoff odds report simulation based on these updated DVOA projections, and I've added the playoff odds and Super Bowl championship odds to the table below. At the start of a new season, our simulation is very conservative about the average number of wins and losses expected for each team. This year's simulation was even more conservative than usual, both in terms of DVOA and wins. I know, it looks very strange for us to have no team projected with 11 wins. Last year, we had five teams projected at 10.5 wins or higher. This year, we have two. Obviously, the NFL is going to have teams that are 11-6 or better, and it is going to have teams that are 6-11 or worse. It may seem like our simulation predicts half the league to be near .500, but we know that won't happen. We also use a "dynamic" playoff odds simulation. Each time it plays through the season, it adds 1.5% to the DVOA of every winner and subtracts 1.5% from the DVOA of every loser before moving on to the next week's games. This reflects the fact that DVOA projections are just estimates, and actual performance during the season gives us better knowledge of how good or bad teams really are.
Personnel changes aren't the only difference between this updated simulation and the one we did for Football Outsiders Almanac 2022. This is a smaller simulation which only uses one set of mean projected DVOA ratings, rather than using 1,000 different sets of ratings to represent that some teams have a wider range of probable performance quality than others. The smaller simulation comes out with a wider range of outcomes than the more complicated simulation we do for the book. In the book, the Bills led the NFL with 10.2 average wins. Now they are at 10.6.
Buffalo remains our clear No. 1 team overall going into the 2022 season but we have new No. 1 teams on both offense and defense. I've been saying on various promotional podcast appearances that the offensive line injuries in Tampa Bay didn't drop the Buccaneers below the Kansas City Chiefs in our offensive projections but once I did a final update on the offensive line variables, guess what? The offensive line injuries did, in fact, drop the Buccaneers into second place behind the Chiefs. On defense, a couple of small changes in projected starting lineups move the New Orleans Saints slightly lower than the Pittsburgh Steelers. Baltimore is the No. 1 projected special teams unit. (One other change I made from the book simulation: Kansas City has a higher special teams projection here based on the fact that the Chiefs, like Baltimore and New England, have been somewhat consistent on special teams ranking in the top five for seven of the last nine years since Dave Toub took over as special teams coordinator.)
There's this general conventional wisdom that the AFC is super difficult this year because of how good the best teams are, but our projections suggest that the opposite is true. The AFC is more difficult not because it has the best teams but because the NFC has the worst teams. The bottom dozen teams in the league by DVOA projection consist of the entire AFC South and eight NFC teams. Yes, we have the entire AFC West projected with more mean wins than the entire AFC South, but it is even worse in DVOA. Thanks to some personnel movement in the preseason, the entire rest of the AFC comes out ahead of the best team of the AFC South (Indianapolis). In the book, Arizona had the hardest projected schedule in the league. Now, Arizona is fourth but the other seven out of the top eight schedules in the league belong to AFC teams.
The odds of getting the No. 1 pick listed below (and listed on the playoff odds report page) do not incorporate traded picks. Projected division champions are colored in light yellow and projected wild-card teams are colored in light purple.
|RK||SCHED||RK||NO. 1 PICK
In general, our forecast each year will "project" the playoffs to look very similar to the playoffs from the year before. (Obviously, we're projecting probabilities here rather than a clear dichotomy where certain teams are playoff teams and other teams are not.) This year, we are projecting five new playoff teams: Baltimore, Indianapolis, and the Los Angeles Chargers in the AFC, Minnesota and New Orleans in the NFC. (Denver was going to be a projected playoff team, but the Raiders have passed them slightly in this new simulation.) Remember that some of the teams at the bottom of our projections are going to surprise and make the playoffs. Last year, the teams at the bottom of our projections all came out at the bottom of the league, but we had Cincinnati 23rd and while they weren't that much higher in DVOA, of course they made it all the way to the Super Bowl.
Three teams have improved their projected mean DVOA by at least 2.5% since the simulation we ran for the book, and five teams have declined by at least 2.5%. Let's take a look at those teams, beginning with the four teams that have improved:
- Obviously, the Cleveland Browns have changed the most since our simulation in the book because at that time we were assuming that Deshaun Watson would be suspended for the entire season. Watson will play six games this year and Cleveland's offensive DVOA projection is 11% higher with Watson at quarterback than Jacoby Brissett. With Watson, we project the Browns as a top-five offense. Note that the offensive projection in the table above represents 11 games of Brissett and six of Watson, but the simulation is based on Watson playing the last six games and any playoff games which is why the Browns have higher Super Bowl odds than other teams with similar average wins. The schedule strength ratings also account for the six games where playing Cleveland is a much harder game from Week 13 to Week 18 (Houston, New Orleans, Washington, and the three AFC North rivals).
- The New York Jets improve because of changes on the offensive line, which may seem counterintuitive because Mechi Becton got hurt and was lost for the year. There's an offensive line variable based on age and experience on the offensive line, so going from Becton to Duane Brown is a big change. I admit, this may be a bit too much of a change, moving the Jets almost up to the Dolphins and out of the AFC East basement, but like I said above, sometimes our numbers have weird results and we just accept that. The Jets already have very good defensive and special teams projections; the former is based on all the new talent and talent returning from injury (Carl Lawson, Lamarcus Joyner) and is discussed further in Football Outsiders Almanac 2022.
- Seattle improves because of Geno Smith replacing Drew Lock as the starting quarterback. Some of that is the fact that Smith has a higher "team-free quarterback projection" and part of it is that teams with poor projected quarterbacks do even worse if those quarterbacks are new to the team. Lock is and Smith is not.
And the five teams that declined significantly since the book:
- Tennessee declined significantly on defense because of the ACL tear for Harold Landry. That was enough to drop them into a projected last place in a very close AFC South where we have every team with an average projection below .500.
- Dallas declined on offense because of the injury to Tyron Smith.
- Denver declined on offense because of the injury to Tim Patrick. Tim Patrick has been really good the last couple years! The personnel change variables for skill position players are based on DYAR and Tim Patrick had 190 receiving DYAR last year (20th) and 183 receiving DYAR the year before (22nd).
- Tampa Bay declined on offense, as noted above, because of the injuries to Ryan Jensen and Aaron Stinnie.
- San Francisco is the opposite of the New York Jets, where the decline in the offensive projection is due to offensive line changes and you can quibble with that if you would like. The 49ers will be starting a rookie fourth-round pick at right guard (Spencer Burford), a second-year player with very little game experience at left guard (Aaron Banks), and a journeyman center with only three NFL starts (Jake Brendel) instead of Alex Mack.