Week 4 DVOA Ratings

Tom Brady
Tom Brady
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

This week, we introduce opponent adjustments into our DVOA formula for the first time this season. Add that to another game's worth of data -- every game means a lot when there have only been four of them -- and this week's DVOA ratings look pretty scrambled compared to last week's ratings. We have a new team at No. 1, and it's probably a surprise: Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are now on top.

The Buccaneers are winning with balance. The offense is good (seventh) and the defense is better (second). The offense is particularly interesting because DVOA likes the Bucs so much more than other offensive statistics. The Bucs are just 17th in yards per play at 5.87 and their 46% success rate ranks 18th. They aren't particularly low in turnovers. Their drive stats aren't impressive: 27th in yards per drive, 14th in points per drive. One big reason they are excelling is that they rank fifth in offensive DVOA on third and fourth downs, but that doesn't fully explain why their DVOA is so much different from the other stats. They get a small boost from opponent adjustments, but that doesn't explain it either. Six DPIs help. But overall, DVOA seems to believe this is an offense that is more than the sum of its parts.

The defense is easier to decipher. The Bucs have allowed a 39% success rate, better than every defense except Pittsburgh. They rank fourth in yards per play allowed at 5.12. So only Indianapolis has a better defensive DVOA than the Bucs so far, and the Colts have allowed just 4.52 yards per play (also the best in the league).

Tampa Bay is a surprise No. 1 in DVOA this week but the Bucs don't have a huge lead. While the media may leap to crown a new king of the hill every week, the fact is that there really isn't a king of the hill this year. Kansas City isn't going to finish 16-0, Green Bay isn't unstoppable, and all the undefeated teams have weaknesses. No team is dominating its opponents week after week, and that's reflected in the DVOA ratings. Tampa Bay barely gets over 30%, finishing the week at 30.1%. Usually at this point of the season, the best team is at least over 40%. Only once in the 36-year history of DVOA has there been no team over 30% after Week 4: 1994, when the Seahawks were No. 1 at 27.6% at this point. The Bucs are just a couple of percentage points ahead of No. 2 Kansas City, and the Chiefs are just one point ahead of No. 3 Baltimore, and Indianapolis and Green Bay are also above 25%. The 2020 season has a lot of very good teams so far but nobody who is having a legendary start like last year's Patriots or the 2018 Rams.

We're seeing the same effect on the other end of the DVOA ratings. The New York Giants are currently last at -32.4% DVOA. Their offense is a dumpster fire, but their defense is above average, and the Giants have had only one really huge loss (to San Francisco in Week 3). Only once in the last 36 years was the last place team at this point higher than the 2020 Giants: the 2016 Jets at -31.1%. Usually the worst team at this point is down around -50%. Last year's Dolphins were the worst team ever after Week 4, at -90.9%.

The lack of outliers extends to individual units. You may have seen a lot of stats around the Internet about how stellar the Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers offense have been this season. For example, right now the Packers are averaging 3.97 points per drive which would blow away the all-time record of 3.37 set by the 2007 Patriots. It's very impressive, and the Packers are easily No. 1 in offensive DVOA so far this year. Yet their 30.4% rating doesn't even rank within the top dozen offenses of the last decade in terms of DVOA through Week 4. Why? Because lots of teams are putting up impressive offensive numbers this season. Overall scoring around the league is way up, as are other offensive numbers, and DVOA is normalized so that every year averages exactly zero.

To show you how extreme this is, take a look at "raw VOA," which is VOA before we apply the normalization variables for each season, and compare that to VOA with normalization applied:

With the opponent adjustments now added, most of the teams at the top of the DVOA ratings take a bit of a hit. The exception, the one team that goes up from VOA to DVOA, is Kansas City. However, I should note that this does expose a weakness in the way we apply opponent adjustments. Opponent adjustments are based on how well a team plays all year, and of course sometimes a team plays very differently when it has a lot of injuries and in particular a backup quarterback. Overall, the Patriots have been an average offense this season, but that's split into 20.7% with a healthy Cam Newton and -43.7% without Newton. So the Chiefs get very little adjustment for dominating the Patriots' backup quarterbacks. This is an effect that tends to become a lot less important once we've got more games under our belts, but it's worth noting especially early on.

The Patriots' poor performance drops them from 12th to 17th in DVOA, one of a number of teams to make big moves below the top ten. Cleveland moves up seven spots, Minnesota moves up 11 spots, and Carolina moves up nine. On the other hand, Arizona falls seven spots and Atlanta falls six spots.

Besides opponent adjustments, this week is also the season debut for the second weekly table that includes past and future schedule ratings. As usual early in the season, because our opponent adjustments are only at 40 percent strength, teams high in DVOA generally get listed with easy schedules and teams low in DVOA get listed with hard schedules. However, there are a few teams that stand out, both because of their schedule so far and because of how things will change going forward.

You are surely not shocked to know that Houston has played the hardest schedule so far by average DVOA of opponent, by a significant margin. The Chargers are second and Minnesota is third. New Orleans is the one team in the DVOA top 12 that has played a top-10 schedule so far (seventh).

The easiest schedule so far is also probably not shocking; it belongs to the San Francisco 49ers, who dismantled both the Jets and Giants. But things are going to get much more difficult from here on out. Based on current DVOA ratings, San Francisco has the No. 2 hardest remaining schedule in the league. The only team with a harder remaining slate of opponents? The Chicago Bears, who have played the No. 24 slate of opponents so far. Other teams whose schedules get harder from here on out include Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Tennessee.

The easiest remaining schedule based on current DVOA ratings belongs to the Dallas Cowboys, who have played a top-ten schedule in difficulty so far. And if you're wondering why the Chiefs have such a huge lead to win Super Bowl LV in our playoff odds simulation, one reason is that the Chiefs have the second-easiest remaining schedule based on current DVOA. Other teams where it gets easier from here on out include the Chargers (from No. 2 to No. 30!), the New York Giants, New Orleans, and Miami. 

How do opponent adjustments affect the player stats so far? Here are players with particularly strong differences between DYAR and YAR:

  • The biggest, most obvious difference belongs to Melvin Gordon, who jumps all the way from No. 22 to No. 2 in rushing DYAR when we add in opponent adjustments. Gordon has played the run defenses ranked 1 (PIT), 2 (TB), 7 (NYJ), and 22 (TEN) so far this year. The game against Pittsburgh has the srongest effect because Gordon averaged 3.7 yards per carry with 37% success rate while all other running backs (primarily Saquon Barkley and David Johnson) have combined for 1.5 yards per carry with 21% success rate against the Steelers. The fact that Pittsburgh has played only three games makes the opponent adjustment a bit bigger than it would be otherwise.
  • Other running backs with hard schedules so far include Frank Gore, Ronald Jones, and Antonio Gibson. Easier schedules so far for Devin Singletary, Chris Carson, Alvin Kamara, and Austin Ekeler.
  • As often happens early on, the worst quarterbacks so far (Carson Wentz and Daniel Jones) come out with the biggest boosts from opponent adjustments. However, Justin Herbert and Deshaun Watson have also played tougher schedules so far.
  • Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers take a penalty from opponent adjustments, but so do Mitchell Trubisky and Joe Burrow. And Josh Allen, currently No. 1 in passing DYAR with very tiny lead on Rodgers, takes only a slight penalty from opponent adjustments.
  • The opponent adjustments for wide receivers and tight ends are pretty small this year. Marquise Brown gets the biggest bump up for wide receivers, while Tim Patrick of Denver has the biggest penalty. For tight ends, Hunter Henry gets the biggest boost while George Kittle gets the biggest penalty, which you already knew if you read today's Quick Reads.

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Football Outsiders playoff odds, snap counts, and the FO+ database are now all updated through Week 4.

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These are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through four weeks of 2020, 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 to 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.

Because it is early in the season, opponent adjustments are only at 40% strength; they will increase 10% every week through Week 10.

DAVE is a formula which combines our preseason forecast with current DVOA to get a more accurate projection of how a team will play the rest of the season. DAVE is currently 70% preseason forecast for teams with four games played and 78% preseason forecast for teams with three games played. This week's listed DAVE is based solely on projections with starting quarterbacks, even if that starting quarterback may miss the next week or two.

To save people some time, please use the following format for all complaints:

<team> is clearly ranked <too high/too low> because <reason unrelated to DVOA>. <subjective ranking system> is way better than this. <unrelated team-supporting or -denigrating comment, preferably with poor spelling and/or chat-acceptable spelling>


1 TB 30.1% 5 15.2% 4 3-1 9.0% 7 -24.1% 2 -3.1% 25
2 KC 28.0% 9 22.6% 1 4-0 21.9% 4 -13.0% 5 -6.9% 32
3 BAL 27.0% 6 17.7% 3 3-1 6.1% 11 -7.3% 9 13.6% 1
4 IND 25.3% 1 12.3% 6 3-1 -5.5% 24 -25.7% 1 5.1% 4
5 GB 25.2% 8 7.3% 10 4-0 30.4% 1 8.8% 26 3.6% 9
6 SEA 23.9% 4 12.5% 5 4-0 22.3% 3 3.8% 21 5.4% 3
7 PIT 20.7% 2 11.4% 7 3-0 1.4% 18 -18.5% 3 0.8% 13
8 NO 18.7% 11 19.6% 2 2-2 8.3% 8 -7.6% 8 2.7% 10
9 SF 17.0% 3 7.3% 9 2-2 4.8% 15 -12.1% 6 0.1% 15
10 BUF 16.4% 10 6.3% 11 4-0 19.5% 5 5.7% 22 2.5% 11
11 LAR 15.5% 7 8.3% 8 3-1 22.6% 2 0.5% 15 -6.6% 31
12 CLE 2.5% 19 -2.6% 19 3-1 7.5% 9 1.2% 17 -3.8% 27
13 MIN 2.5% 24 -0.7% 15 1-3 4.5% 16 -0.7% 13 -2.7% 23
14 TEN 2.2% 13 2.1% 13 3-0 5.9% 13 2.0% 18 -1.6% 18
15 JAX -1.3% 18 -7.8% 25 1-3 16.9% 6 16.2% 32 -2.0% 20
16 DAL -3.2% 14 3.6% 12 1-3 6.1% 12 7.9% 24 -1.4% 17
17 NE -4.1% 12 -1.8% 16 2-2 2.3% 17 6.8% 23 0.3% 14
18 LAC -5.4% 15 -3.2% 20 1-3 1.1% 19 2.4% 20 -4.0% 29
19 CAR -5.6% 28 -11.7% 26 2-2 5.8% 14 9.8% 28 -1.6% 19
20 CIN -6.4% 20 -12.1% 27 1-2-1 -9.8% 26 0.8% 16 4.2% 7
21 HOU -7.3% 23 -3.4% 21 0-4 0.3% 20 9.0% 27 1.3% 12
22 CHI -9.3% 17 -4.9% 22 3-1 -15.5% 27 -10.6% 7 -4.3% 30
23 ARI -9.8% 16 -2.3% 17 2-2 -7.6% 25 2.2% 19 -0.1% 16
24 DET -10.9% 22 -2.5% 18 1-3 -5.1% 23 10.8% 29 4.9% 6
25 LV -11.7% 25 -6.7% 24 2-2 6.4% 10 15.8% 30 -2.3% 22
26 MIA -12.1% 26 -14.1% 28 1-3 -2.9% 22 16.0% 31 6.8% 2
27 ATL -13.6% 21 -0.5% 14 0-4 -1.8% 21 7.9% 25 -3.8% 28
28 WAS -17.1% 27 -18.5% 32 1-3 -28.3% 29 -13.9% 4 -2.8% 24
29 NYJ -26.5% 31 -16.6% 31 0-4 -28.3% 28 -5.3% 10 -3.5% 26
30 PHI -29.7% 29 -5.3% 23 1-2-1 -34.2% 31 -0.5% 14 4.0% 8
31 DEN -30.1% 32 -15.9% 30 1-3 -30.1% 30 -2.1% 12 -2.1% 21
32 NYG -32.4% 30 -14.5% 29 0-4 -39.7% 32 -2.3% 11 5.0% 5
  • NON-ADJUSTED TOTAL DVOA does not include the adjustments for opponent strength or the adjustments for weather and altitude in special teams, and only penalizes offenses for lost fumbles rather than all fumbles.
  • ESTIMATED WINS uses a statistic known as "Forest Index" that emphasizes consistency as well as DVOA in the most important specific situations: red zone defense, first quarter offense, and performance in the second half when the score is close. It then projects a number of wins adjusted to a league-average schedule and a league-average rate of recovering fumbles. Teams that have had their bye week are projected as if they had played one game per week.
  • PAST SCHEDULE lists average DVOA of opponents played this season, ranked from hardest schedule (#1, most positive) to easiest schedule (#32, most negative). It is not adjusted for which games are home or road.
  • FUTURE SCHEDULE lists average DVOA of opponents still left to play this season, ranked from hardest schedule (#1, most positive) to easiest schedule (#32, most negative). It is not adjusted for which games are home or road.
  • VARIANCE measures the statistical variance of the team's weekly DVOA performance. Teams are ranked from most consistent (#1, lowest variance) to least consistent (#32, highest variance).
1 TB 30.1% 3-1 36.3% 3.5 1 -5.6% 23 -0.6% 20 6.6% 17
2 KC 28.0% 4-0 25.2% 3.3 4 2.5% 14 -6.8% 31 7.4% 19
3 BAL 27.0% 3-1 32.5% 2.4 12 1.5% 17 -1.0% 22 30.8% 31
4 IND 25.3% 3-1 33.1% 2.6 9 -8.6% 27 2.9% 9 18.4% 30
5 GB 25.2% 4-0 28.5% 3.1 5 -0.8% 20 0.3% 18 7.2% 18
6 SEA 23.9% 4-0 32.2% 3.5 2 -8.2% 25 -3.5% 27 1.1% 4
7 PIT 20.7% 3-0 39.8% 3.3 3 -23.3% 31 3.0% 8 0.3% 1
8 NO 18.7% 2-2 21.2% 2.8 7 8.2% 7 -2.9% 26 0.7% 2
9 SF 17.0% 2-2 22.3% 2.6 11 -24.6% 32 7.7% 2 16.0% 29
10 BUF 16.4% 4-0 18.4% 3.1 6 -8.7% 28 0.0% 19 2.1% 7
11 LAR 15.5% 3-1 24.2% 2.6 10 -12.2% 30 1.9% 14 10.3% 23
12 CLE 2.5% 3-1 9.5% 2.7 8 0.1% 19 -1.6% 23 49.0% 32
13 MIN 2.5% 1-3 -2.6% 2.3 13 11.4% 3 2.8% 10 12.7% 26
14 TEN 2.2% 3-0 8.9% 2.2 14 -9.6% 29 7.7% 3 3.2% 13
15 JAX -1.3% 1-3 -0.9% 1.7 16 2.3% 15 5.4% 4 14.7% 28
16 DAL -3.2% 1-3 -9.5% 1.5 19 7.1% 9 -9.0% 32 2.8% 10
17 NE -4.1% 2-2 -1.8% 1.3 24 7.1% 10 -2.1% 24 11.6% 24
18 LAC -5.4% 1-3 -8.6% 1.4 21 11.5% 2 -6.5% 30 3.3% 14
19 CAR -5.6% 2-2 -6.3% 1.2 26 0.8% 18 2.4% 12 3.9% 16
20 CIN -6.4% 1-2-1 -4.9% 1.8 15 -8.5% 26 4.4% 6 2.5% 8
21 HOU -7.3% 0-4 -13.6% 1.0 29 19.5% 1 4.1% 7 2.1% 6
22 CHI -9.3% 3-1 2.1% 1.7 17 -7.9% 24 8.1% 1 0.8% 3
23 ARI -9.8% 2-2 -2.2% 1.6 18 -4.1% 22 0.3% 17 2.9% 12
24 DET -10.9% 1-3 -13.0% 1.4 20 6.2% 13 2.8% 11 3.7% 15
25 LV -11.7% 2-2 -16.4% 1.2 25 6.3% 12 -0.8% 21 2.8% 11
26 MIA -12.1% 1-3 -7.8% 1.4 22 8.7% 6 -3.6% 28 9.4% 21
27 ATL -13.6% 0-4 -12.7% 1.2 27 9.2% 5 4.9% 5 1.2% 5
28 WAS -17.1% 1-3 -16.6% 1.1 28 -2.5% 21 -3.9% 29 8.4% 20
29 NYJ -26.5% 0-4 -31.4% 1.3 23 7.1% 8 2.3% 13 9.9% 22
30 PHI -29.7% 1-2-1 -26.8% 0.7 32 2.2% 16 1.7% 16 2.7% 9
31 DEN -30.1% 1-3 -26.9% 0.9 30 6.6% 11 1.8% 15 11.9% 25
32 NYG -32.4% 0-4 -41.2% 0.8 31 11.0% 4 -2.7% 25 12.9% 27


80 comments, Last at 09 Oct 2020, 3:57pm

1 As of right now Dallas has…

As of right now Dallas has the easiest schedule (full season, not just remaining games), because despite playing the strongest NFC and AFC divisions, the rest of their own division sucks enough to override that. Seattle has the second-easiest, due to playing the weakest NFC and AFC divisions (and the rest of their division isn't strong enough to override that). Meanwhile, the underachieving 0-4 teams of Houston and Atlanta have the toughest schedules, which I guess is good if you want a coaching change (though Houston already has had one).

Also interesting that the bottom 5 teams in total DVOA all have bottom-5 offenses, but all of their defenses are above average. No team has been an utter trainwreck on both sides of the ball so far.

4 Team rankings

NO has the only team in the top-10 in every area (BAL almost does also), whereas ATL has no unit in the top 20 (best ranking is its 21st ranked offense).

2 The thought of Arians…

The thought of Arians fooling another team into hiring Toilet Bowles has me giddy. Keep this coming!

9 Why the dislike for Todd…

Why the dislike for Todd Bowles? I thought he did a good job in NYC, having the misfortune of playing for a team that went all in on veterans one year and then a roster purge the next. 

34 There's a long, long history…

There's a long, long history of people who are really good coordinators, and really bad head coaches.  Bowles was less than successful as a head coach, but . . .it's the Jets.  I mean . . . it's the Jets.  Bowles ran some good defenses in Arizona, and his first year in Tampa last year was a big uptick for that defense, and they've improved this year.

Some people should just be coordinators, and not be head coaches. OH HAI NORV TURNER HOW ARE YOU.

43 Even Wade Phillips won 56%…

Even Wade Phillips won 56% of his games as head coach.  If we remove the three(!) times he was an interim head coach, he won 10+ games in 4 of his 8+ seasons.  He went to the playoffs 5 times.  He had only two losing seasons: his last year in Denver when he went 7-9 (7-7 with Elway and 0-2 with Hugh Millen) and his last year in Dallas when he got fired after a 1-7 start. 

Phillips' successors in Buffalo (Gregg Williams) and Dallas (Jason Garrett) were less successful than he was.  But, Mike Shanahan did turn the Broncos around.

I don't know if there is some personal stuff, or clubhouse stuff that goes on that I don't know about, but it seems like Phillips always kind of got screwed.

50 As a head coach, Phillips…

As a head coach, Phillips was Just Another Guy.  Not particularly good or bad.  As a DC, he's a genius and one of the few coaches who noticeably improves the performance of a unit.  That's why he should stick to being a DC.

36 It's the Peter Principle…

It's the Peter Principle played out in an environment where it can be easily observed.  Guys who are really good at their job are more likely to be promoted to a new job which requires a different set of skills.  Some of them will thrive, but many of them won't.  The ones who won't didn't suddenly become bad at the job they used to excel at, and if they go back to that old role, they can thrive again.

Of course, there's another subset of coordinators who weren't good at their jobs, but who looked like they were because of their head coach and the organization around them.  When they get promoted, there's a small chance that they'll actually be better as a head coach than they were as a coordinator, and a large chance that things will go poorly.  Windsor North fans know all about this experience.


38 Of course, there's another…

Of course, there's another subset of coordinators who weren't good at their jobs, but who looked like they were because of their head coach and the organization around them.  When they get promoted, there's a small chance that they'll actually be better as a head coach than they were as a coordinator, and a large chance that things will go poorly.

Jim Caldwell?

It's unclear whether or not he's a good OC or a HC, but he's been to a SB as a HC and won one as an OC and won 56% of his games with the Lions. I suspect he's decent at both, but like Gace, his legacy is built on being Peyton Manning's personal coach.

45 Josh McDaniels might be…

Josh McDaniels might be worth another shot as HC.  As mentioned in the O'Brien thread, McDaniels the GM may have destroyed any chance McDaniels the HC had of succeeding.  He was only 33 years old when he was coach in Denver.

The situation with Indianapolis gives me pause about his ethics, but maybe it doesn't mean anything.

58 Flores

People seem to think highly of Flores in Miami. I haven't watched them enough to have a feel for it, but they seemed to have played hard for him and won more games than expected given their talent level. He might be the one good one in that coaching tree.

I suspect McDaniels might be okay if he's ever given another chance but I wouldn't wager anything on it. 

60 Following Adam Gase

In reply to by jh_eldred

and having a lack of talent has done wonders for his perception.  The bar is so low that I believe he will be given time to build if he is actually worth anything.  I haven't seen a ton of his games, but the few I have seen, they resembled an NFL team.  Which is more than I can say for whatever is happening in New Jersey.

This last game did make me scratch my head as to why he was playing so conservatively?  I mean isn't the whole point of starting Fitzpatrick to NOT play it safe?  It would make more sense if Tua was already starting and he was trying to protect him.

77 From what I understand…

From what I understand Seattle completely changed their defensive strategy for that game, eschewing the heavy blitzing they were doing for rushing four and playing soft man and/or zone with everyone else. I don't think it was so much that Miami having a conservative gameplan as it was Seattle keeping everything in front of them. Seattle never truly pulled away either so Miami was probably fine taking what was given to them.

44 As a Dolphins fan, I liked…

As a Dolphins fan, I liked that Brian Flores hired Caldwell to be an assistant HC and QB coach.  That seemed like a good way to try to stabilize the offense.

But then he had health issues and left the team.  And apparently the Dolphins didn't bring him back this year.  Is Caldwell healthy now? 

52 Former Lion Glover Quin has…

Former Lion Glover Quin has a podcast that Caldwell was recently a guest on.  Among other things (some interesting things including that the ownership basically forced Bob Quin to keep him on as head coach after the 2015 season), Caldwell said that the health issues forcing him to leave the Dolphins are behind him for now.

3 NFC Seems Just About Right

I have been a DVOA skeptic. But comparing to my own eyes, this rating seems spot on. The NFC appears to be a three horse race at the top-- Bucs, Pack, Seahawks-- but at such an early stage and with injury and COVID risk, how can you rule out the likes of the Saints, 49ers or Rams? And TB does appear to have the best balance of the group-- Packers get a week off and then go to Florida for the third installment of Rodgers v Brady the next week. I am hard pressed to find any other team that can be taken seriously in the conference, though of course the East has to produce a winner and one of the six above could stumble and be replaced by some heretofore unnoted team. (Bears? Panthers?)

For once would love to see form hold, and have a Final Four involving Brady, Rodgers, Wilson and take your pick of Brees or the two young gun coaches in California.

13 Tampa lost to the only even…

Tampa lost to the only even mediocre offense they’ve faced. Otherwise they got Denver, Carolina, and the a Punctured Lung backups.

Thats a better slate than SF’s, but not by a lot.

5 The only difference between…

The only difference between No. 1 Tampa Bay and No. 2 Kansas City is special teams. The Buccaneers have their traditionally bad special teams, but the Chiefs have been even worse.

6 ???

 "While the media may leap to crown a new king of the hill every week, the fact is that there really isn't a king of the hill this year."

I'm confused. Do you mean there is no king of the hill other than the Chiefs?

30 Imagine you have a hill that…

In reply to by murftastic

Imagine you have a hill that's 100 feet high and all the teams are trying to climb it. The Giants are maybe 20 feet up the hill, the Broncos 25, the Eagles 30. Then you've got a bunch of team clustered over the next 30 or 40 feet, and then there's the Chiefs, 80 feet up. That puts them ahead of everyone else, but they're still not at the top of the hill, and thus can't be kings of the hill. 

That's what's going on this year. Usually after four weeks there's a team or two, maybe three, that have really separated themselves from the pack. Not in 2020. The teams at the top this year are very closely clustered to each other, and not that far from the teams in the middle of the pack.

61 You're right

In reply to by scraps

Murray probably won't end up even that high based on passing alone. Though he does still have two games against the Seahawks left... so I guess I'll take that back. 

73 Josh Allen in DYAR

Not a Bills fan--but if he stays in the top-10, or even top-15, then he has improved enough to make the Bills dangerous this year, and for the next few years. BUF at home in January is not a place you want to visit.

11 WAS wins the "one of these…

WAS wins the "one of these things is not like the other" award, with the 4th ranked D along with the 29th ranked O and 24th ranked ST.

If they insert Smith as QB, I wonder if that'd be enough to improve their O from awful to middling?  and would that, in turn, be enough to win their division this year?

Long-term wise, developing Haskins seems more important than an early playoff exit, but it'd be a shame to waste those defensive numbers if they're at all sustainable.  I'm still hoping for discussions about an historically great Football Team defense, but I may have to settle for discussions about historically big gaps between the quality of the D and the O.

15 It's early, but it looks…

It's early, but it looks like WFT is on pace to have a bigger split between its weak offense and strong defense than either the 2005 Bears (who Ron Rivera will remember well) or the 2015 Broncos (...who Ron Rivera will remember well).

Those were the first two teams who came to mind for me, probably because they managed to be successful. There are probably a decent number of other examples though where it happened on bad teams that were horrendous on offense with average or good defenses - it looks like the 2018 Bills and Cardinals actually finished their seasons with about as big of a gap as WFT has now. Actually, same thing with this year's Giants.

20 The 2015 Broncos was also…

The 2015 Broncos was also the first team that I thought of, but the second was the 1992 Seahawks, which finished with the last-place Off. DVOA of -41.7% and 3rd-place Def. DVOA of -15.7%, good for a 2-14 finish. Cortez Kennedy won the Defensive Player of the Year despite that record, a feat that J.J. Watt couldn't replicate during his 2-14 season.

21 Ooh, that's a good one. And…

Ooh, that's a good one. And bringing the conversation back to the early 90's helped me think of the legendary '91 Eagles. I think they're gonna be the one to beat: -24.6% on offense, -42.4% on defense.

28 Don't forget...

the Chargers team with Junior Seau and Rookie QB Ryan Leaf.  I believe they finished 2nd in defensive yards... and they had Rookie Ryan Leaf leading their offense.

31 Leaf’s backup Craig Welihan …

In reply to by gomer_rs

Leaf’s backup Craig Welihan (who ended up starting a bunch of games due to injuries/benching), was almost as bad as Leaf himself.  A few years ago, Aaron wrote an ESPN article of the worst quarterbacked teams in NFL history, and the 1998 Chargers were number 1 with a bullet.  They will likely remain so, until DVOA turns its spotlight to the mid-1970’s Atlanta Falcons.  Junior Seau, Rodney Harrison, and the rest of the Chargers D was so awesome, that they someone won 5 games despite their horrid offense.  Leaf missed the next season due to injuries, and the Chargers were quarterbacked by the elderly pair of Jim Harbaugh and Erik Kramer.  They were still bad, but far better than the previous years pair (they managed to complete more than 50% of their passes for instance), and led the Chargers to a respectable 8-8 record.  When Leaf returned in 2000, the Chargers bottomed out at 1-15 (which allowed them to draft Ladanlian Tomlinson the next season).

37 Yikes, each of those '98-'00…

Yikes, each of those '98-'00 Chargers teams had a pretty strong DVOA split there, but the '98 team in particular checks with about a 41% gap between O and D. If WFT ends up switching back and forth between Haskins, Kyle Allen (up next!) and then Alex Smith, they could play out that Chargers 3 year run this season.

22 WFT??

This is literally the first time I have read that, and it looks so damn much like WTF... probably a logical connection there.  Took a moment for the (lack of a) name to register for me.

48 I've said this before, but I…

I've said this before, but I used to watch a ton of QB prospect game film just for fun. Not talking highlight reels, just play by play full games. Haskins is the absolute worst QB prospect I have ever seen talked about as a top 10 pick. Trubisky by comparison was simply bizarrely overhyped. Haskins is the very first prospect I have seen where I couldn't tell you what he does well. His arm was horribly inaccurate. He has zero scrambling ability. His pocket presence is poor. I suppose his arm strength is okay, but it's a 7/10 okay as opposed to a Josh Allen or Pat Mahomes type arm.

I remember watching Haskins film and thinking "this guy is barely draftable." Then I realized that his stats were great, not because he was good, but because he was throwing a bunch of screens that his massively talent-overmatching Ohio State team would take for 40 yards per. Next year Fields came in and did even better statistically, because I could come in for that team and do well statistically.

I have never seen any reason to be optimistic about Haskins, and if Smith can come in and play in that below-average-but-competent manner of his than the WTF has a real chance at playoffs, with that division. If they don't play Smith, then they're throwing away their defense and a chance for playoffs, to develop a non-prospect.

59 Christian Ponder was the…

Christian Ponder was the other guy in this category. He didn't look that good at college, didn't put up great numbers, wasn't very accurate, and had a noodle for an arm. He was an okay athlete but not good enough to impact the offense in any meaningful way. Unlike Haskins, Ponder was at least considered a tepid at best prospect until some inexplicable pre-draft hype moved him up draft boards, leading to Minnesota badly reaching for him due to an ownership mandate to draft a QB in the first round. Even with the mandate, that they decided on Ponder over Kaepernick and Dalton in the same draft is absolutely baffling (Tyrod was also in that draft FWIW but was a 6th round pick).

62 Man, can you imagine wanting…

Man, can you imagine wanting to draft JJ Watt, and having the owner force you into a QB? I know that doesn't explain Ponder over whomever else, but even still. I shudder at the thought.

And I never saw Ponder play myself, but I can certainly believe it. I was just scratching my head figuring out why anyone wanted Haskins at all.

63 At his peak in 2012, Ponder…

At his peak in 2012, Ponder looked like a mediocre but passable NFL quarterback because AP was having a monster season and defenses were trying to stuff the box to stop him.  Every other season I watched Ponder play, he looked like Jeff Driskel with a weaker arm and less scrambling ability.

12 Las Vegas

LV is clearly rated too highly because their defence is rated too highly. DVOA clearly cannot appreciate the two things it does well—miss tackles and take penalties.

18 Amazing Ravens special teams DVOA

I know that it is early but an amazing 13.6% DVOA.  Last year the most variant special teams DVOA was -5.1% (LAC).  I don't recall a balanced team ranked so high (number 3 in DVOA) that got more DVOA from special teams than either offense or defense. And they have more special teams DVOA than offensive and defensive DVOA combined!   

This number is incredible as special teams are becoming more and more irrelevant (and thus have less DVOA variance) as the kickoff from the 35 results in a touchback so often, and with analytics, teams go for 4th down more often, resulting in fewer punts and field goal attempts. 

Unfortunately as a Ravens fan I understand regression towards the mean and that 13.6% DVOA is not sustainable for the season.  



46 Moving extra point back makes game more strategic also

In reply to by scraps

One forgotten play this week was the Eagles going for 2 after their first TD.  The Eagles lead 8-0, and then the 49ers for some reason do not try for the 2 point conversion until their TD in the 4th quarter.  They failed and stayed behind by 5 points.  Had Pederson simply had his team go up 7-0, the 49ers would have only trailed by 3 (assuming that they make the last extra point in the 4th quarter, not needing to go for 2) and needing just a FG with 100 seconds and 90 yards from the end zone, likely has regulation ending in a FG attempt to send the game into OT.  Also, I am so disappointed that this didn't happen as I wanted to revisit the "value of a tie" discussion that I was involved in last week.  In addition, a tie would have resulted in the winless (0-2-2) Eagles having a share of first place.

47 "and then the 49ers for some…

"and then the 49ers for some reason do not try for the 2 point conversion until their TD in the 4th quarter"

If they had tried and failed on one, and everything else played out the same, they would only be up 13-11 going into the fourth quarter, meaning a FG from Philadephia would give them the lead. Also, I'd imagine that Philadephia would have played differently on defense on the last drive if SF could tie the game with a field goal.

54 Conversely not enough 2 point attempts, especially when trailing

If they make the first two point conversion and then kick an extra point, they are up 15-11 and that would leave an Eagles FG a point short. If they miss the first two point conversion, they can go for a second one and if successful be at the same 14-11 score.  The only way to be in worse shape is to miss both extra points (12-11 lead after 3 quarters).  This will only happen  52% times 52% =  27 percent of the time (based upon 48% success rate for two point conversions)

It has been discussed endlessly that if you need a 2 point conversion go for it early.  The simplest situation that many (maybe most) of NFL coaches have not figured out is this:

Down 14 in 4th quarter late:

1.  Score TD go for 2 you make 48% success

     Then next TD go for 1           96% success

Win  46%  OT 4%

2.  Score TD go for two and fail  52% failure

     Score TD and go for two 48% succeed


3.  Fail on both 2 point conversions 52% twice


Thus you have 46% win probability, 29% OT probability 27% loss probability 

vs the alternative


1.  Kick the extra point twice:

96% twice = 92 percent OT

2. Miss the first extra point  4%

Make a two: 48%

2% OT

3.  Miss the first extra point  4%

Fail at the two on the second TD:  52% 

Lose 2% of time

4.   Make the first extra point, miss the second:  lose 4% of time


Seems like coaches play for OT 94% lose in regulation 6% instead of win 46%, 29% OT 27% lose in regulation.

This is what analytics is all about, this is simple math.


And now with kicking being worse,  you don't kick the extra point at 96% which would make these odds even lower for kicking.  



57 Yes, that scenario was…

Yes, that scenario was talked about in the newest Scramble for the Ball article. The key point there is "if you need a 2 point conversion go for it early." Coaches don't think that they need a 2-point conversion in that scenario, because they don't want to make a risky coaching decision that costs them the game. And coaches certainly don't think that they need a 2-point conversion after scoring a TD to make it 8-6.

I mean, analytics would say that you should always go for 2 after every TD, because since 2015, 2-point conversions have succeeded 50.9% of the time and extra points 94% of the time. The conversion rate was lower in the past, but with offenses getting better and better they're getting converted more often than not now. But even 2-point conversion fanatics like Pederson isn't doing that. It also doesn't help that decisions like going for 2 when down by 8 has never won a game for any team at least since 1994.

64 Ehh. Even a very slight…

Ehh. Even a very slight decrease in effectiveness with increased 2 point attempt frequency would even that out, and because it ends up being high leverage, it's not *that* surprising teams reserve 2 point attempts.

Effectively, kicking the XP gives your opponents no information, going for 2 does. Given the very slight difference (less than 0.1 points) it's easy to believe it might be worth it.

65 The lower variance around…

The lower variance around the 1-point PAT is definitely a factor in its favour, but really should only be so late in the game, when you have higher confidence that 1 point is enough.

Earlier in the game, you should favour the higher expected return, regardless of variance.  There's likely a few reasons I think why coaches don't, some reasonable, some less so:

1.  They're old and haven't adapted fully to the longer distance for the 1-point attempt, which they still think of as "automatic".

2. If the 1-point attempt is missed, its the kicker's fault, not the coach's.  Your guy should be able to make them, even if other guys miss, and if he doesn't, you'll replace him.

3. There haven't been enough 2-point PATs attempted to have confidence in the historical probability of success.

4. Even if you have confidence in the historic probabilities, that doesn't necessary tell you what your chance of success is with your guys against their guys and this particular play call.  You may not be confident that your odds are as good as the historical ones.

5. 2-point PATs plays are the same as short-distance TD attempt plays.  Teams only prepare for a few of these plays.  They don't want to "waste" them on a meaningless 2-point attempt, when they may need that play for a TD attempt later in the game.


That last point is the hidden factor one I suspect most reasonably keeps coaches from wanting to go for 2 as often as the math may suggest they should.

68 Yeah, point 5 is what I was…

Yeah, point 5 is what I was saying. Although I think you're framing it wrong, in that I don't think it's that they "only prepare for a few of these plays," it's more that they don't want to use the ones they're best at unless they have to, because using a play means it's going to be less successful if you try to use it in the future.

That's what I meant by handing information to the defense. You make a really good point in that since 2-point plays are short-distance TD attempts, that information is much more valuable as a potential TD play. If it's got a ~50% success rate, using it as a TD play means it's worth as much as ~2 full points, rather than the ~0.1 points it's worth as a 2-point attempt over a 1-point attempt.

The reason I hate suggestions like point 1 are that it's insane to believe the entire league is reticent to try a simple tactic that might gain them an advantage when teams routinely do wacko crazy things like "let's put our QB out at WR for 9-10 plays" and it works.

I think the biggest issue modern analytics has with football is they don't understand that the NFL has far more resource management concerns than they realize - reusing plays against a good defense is a really, really bad idea.

76 Yes, you've framed the issue…

Yes, you've framed the issue better than I did.  I agree entirely that the more often you use a particular play, the less effective it becomes.  Since 2-point conversions compete against possible TDs, that's a big argument against going for 2-points unless you know it materially increases your odds to win.

My point 1 was partially intended to be tongue-in-cheek.  All human beings do, however, have a tendency to round odds, and anything that is a 95%+ chance of success gets rounded to 1.  So while the math may say that kicking is worth 0.96 points, coaches are going to think about it as 1 point.  

The bigger point, though, on which you are correct, is that if the value gained is so small that thinking of a kick as being worth 0.96 versus 1.0 changes your decision, there are probably more important factors at play than the raw, historical expected returns based on past results.

79 Point 1 (coaches are scared…

Point 1 (coaches are scared of new things) is very often used for just about everything that people who only imagine football as a simple play-by-play zero-sum game point to. It's really really simple to show that as soon as you add the possibility of defense learning into a play, you can get very odd equilibrium points. But the fact that people insist on imagining football as a really simple game and then figuring these multibillion dollar organizations are afraid of algebra just confuses the hell out of me.

Especially because point 5 (defenses learn, so save high leverage plays for the highest leverage situations) is entirely backed up by any detailed analysis of football or conversations with coaches. Scripted sequences and play patterning are talked about all the time nowadays.

69 really?

Teams only prepare for a few of these [short-distance TD attempt] plays.

Maybe they should prepare more; after all, success is incredibly important.


72 More short TD plays

In reply to by scraps

I think that it has to do with "guaranteed TD"-type plays. Every 2 point conversion is 4th and goal from the 2. Even on 4th and goal, except in end-game situations, there is value on leaving the other team backed up to their goal line; that value doesn't exist on a 2 point attempt.

Also, there are other plays a team can run in goal-to-go situations, that result in positive yardage, but not a TD. While worthless on 4th and goal, or a 2 point attempt, they can be run on 1st-3rd downs. So, throwing a pass short of the end zone on 4th down or a 2 pointer is rarely advisable--but on other goal-to-go plays, this is not the case.

The other big factor is the compressed room for the defense. Going deep is not an option, so DB's don't really have to worry about getting beat over the top. If a team is playing some type of zone, those holes are much smaller than "normal." There is no "checkdown" realistically available. 

So, I don't think having plays for it is the problem--it's that once they are on film, using them again means that they can be studied and defended. In a given week, there may be a couple that do not result in a favorable matchup for the offense--so those are not part of the plan. Any in-game injury to the offense may have nullified an advantage, or given the defense an advantage--so there goes another play or two that we had prepped during the week. So, now we're down to one pass play and one run play that we haven't used in the last 8-10 games. Let's hope they didn't study back further, since we used the one I think will work 2 years ago.

74 Regarding #5, don't teams…

Regarding #5, don't teams usually have multiple plays that can be run from the same formation?


Just because a team through a quick slant to the WR last time they tried a 2-point conversion, the defense can't assume that the next time they try using that same formation will be the same pass.

In fact, if a 2-point play succeeded, and the team lined up in the exact same formation the next time - won't the defense be inclined to think the same play is being run?  They might cheat towards what happened before but then the offense does something different this time.


That would probably be an interesting analytical study - to actually look at teams when they run the same play, or plays from the same formation, and see how defenses react to them on the second or third time.  But this would probably be difficult to analyze and the sample sizes would be so small.

75 Defenses don't just key off…

Defenses don't just key off of formations. There's formation, motion, blocking, quarterback's eyes, etc. Especially down near the end zone, the defense does have a pretty big advantage: if you look at 3rd/4th and 2 conversion results elsewhere on the field, for instance, conversion rates are closer to ~60-65% running. But at the goal line that's significantly lower.

Near the goal line there's not that many plays you can actually run, and any information you give the defense is just going to help them.

80 This is true for both ends…

This is true for both ends of the goal line. Offense is much harder at those ends and then roughly gets better the further it gets more inward.


By the way, this is why I dislike the term bend but don't break. Like everything else, its a product of hindsight. No defense happily concedes yardage all the way to the red zone and then decides to stiffen. Now, there are some defenses that are aggressive and some that are passive and will concede different things as a matter of tradeoffs, but that's not the same as saying we will stiffen in the red zone, all other situations be damned. 

67 Even in basketball, there is…

Even in basketball, there is utility in a mid-range jumper. Sometimes conversion rate (median value) matters more than mean value. Football doesn't have enough scores in a game for volume averaging, so "very likely 7" can be worth more than "6 or 8, based on a coin toss".

19 Minnesota is getting an…

Minnesota is getting an insane opponent adjustment for its pass defense DVOA: -14%. I'm going to stake out a wild claim that they won't finish as a top-10 pass defense, even by 2020 standards. (And it sounds like Danielle Hunter is being advised to sit out the season.)

Two other Packers opponents (NO & DET) also have adjustments of about -7%, which are among the two other largest I can tell, alongside Houston (-8%).

Pittsburgh has about as large of an adjustment as MIN going in the other direction (+13%) for its pass defense, but as Aaron mentions in the article some of that is likely due to only having played 3 games.

24 It's still striking to me

That SEA ST are ranked so highly.  Granted it's only 4 games, but I would say it's likely a by product of the OFF efficiency in the redzone.  Myers hasn't bleeped up a game yet and Russ is limiting his opportunities to do so.  Tack on a great start to the year for Dixson punting and they may buy themselves enough time to workout their DEF concerns to an adequate level.  Sixth position seems about right to me, at least until they hit the midseason gauntlet.

It will also be interesting to see how SF can hold things together while they wait for players to return from injury.  I can't write them off just yet.  The LAR seem to be chief competition, and their game against BUF will continue to look better as the year progresses.  AS for ARZ, I have no idea now.  If they were the team I expected, then they would have been .500 over the last two games at least.  SEA's upcoming games with them will likely go as they have in recent years with the road team strangely having the edge.  It won't matter for them though if they keep dropping games they should win.

27 Seattle did get lucky with…

Seattle did get lucky with special teams on two occasions. One was when Pollard muffed a kickoff on the 1-yard line, then slipped when he went to pick it up. The second was when Dickson punted to New England at the end of the first half. Normally there would have been someone back to catch it and possibly return it, but Belichick didn't want to risk anything with that little time and Seattle capitalized, downing it on the 2.

29 maybe this is really not relevant; i dunno....

But Brian Schneider, the special teams coach who ran special teams into the ground for at least a few years* to the frustration of the fanbase, hasn't been here since the beginning of the season for personal reasons (I don't think anybody has reported anything else since), and, well, the special teams are so far has been noticeably good.  Hope it continues.

*but also, years ago in Seattle, Brian Schneider ran special teams that were pretty good. 


51 Personal reasons

could imply some not so great things in 2020, so I wish him and his family all the best.  It is odd that there hasn't been any further word on the matter.

All that said, I'm hoping Pete has gotten used to the idea of him not being around.

26 "As often happens early on,…

"As often happens early on, the worst quarterbacks so far (Carson Wentz and Daniel Jones) come out with the biggest boosts from opponent adjustments." Perhaps individual player adjustments should be calculated with the common games removed. So that Jones doesn't get a larger adjustment for making the opposing defenses look better than they are in non Jones games.

32 Green Bay defense

has a chance to get better.  Clark returning will be a positive nudge. The team needs to figure out why Savage seems to be in a funk.  Finding a way so that Preston Smith can get out of coverage responsibilities and rush more frequently will also help.  I do think this unit could be average later in the year 


39 Unfortunately I'm afraid…

Unfortunately I'm afraid that part of the reason they might be overusing the Smiths in coverage (especially Preston) is because all of the inside linebacker injuries have them trying to lean on those more dependable players to take on those responsibilities instead of the very inexperienced ILBs. Don't know if that will fix itself with better health/more playing time for some of those other guys. Having Clark back will definitely help the pass rush, but I'm still pretty uncomfortable with the secondary.

55 NFC Playoff odds

NFC Playoff odds look a little off to me.  How does NO have a lower chance of appearing in conference championship game, and winning the conference championship than TB or GB, yet have a greater chance of winning the SB than either of these two teams?  

56 Because Tampa Bay has a…

In reply to by burbman

Because Green Bay and Tampa Bay have better win-loss records, they have a better chance of winning the division and getting a home playoff game (or, better yet, a first-round bye) and an easier path the NFC championship game. New Orleans will probably have to win a road game or two to get the NFCCG, so they have lower odds to get there. However, they still have a higher DAVE than Green Bay or Tampa Bay, which means that if they can get into the NFCCG, they have a better chance of winning there, and in the Super Bowl.