Way Too Early 2021 DVOA Projections

Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Here's a new exercise: very, very early DVOA projections for 2021. Don't get too excited, because the goal here was to be incredibly simple.

First, I adjusted 2020 DVOA ratings based on games where teams sat starters or had COVID issues or used backup quarterbacks. For example, the Dallas offensive rating started with just the offensive DVOA from Weeks 1-4 when Dak Prescott was healthy. The New Orleans defensive rating removed the Week 12 game where Denver had no quarterbacks. Kansas City's rating doesn't include Week 17. And so on.

Next, I used very simple equations that project next year's DVOA based solely on last year's DVOA and the usual regression to the mean. Defense and special teams regress to the mean stronger than offense does.

Then I made a few changes based on roster change and development that we know is coming:

  • I gave a small bonus to teams with second-year starting quarterbacks.
  • I gave a small bonus to the Los Angeles Rams offense and a similar penalty to the Detroit offense.
  • I slightly improved the San Francisco defense based on all the injuries they suffered in 2020.
  • I manually set the Indianapolis offense at -3.0% due to Philip Rivers' retirement. I just wanted to pick a number about two-thirds down since we have no idea who will be playing quarterback for the Colts.
  • New Orleans offense is based solely on the four games with Taysom Hill at quarterback, with the expectation that Drew Brees will retire.
  • Philadelphia offense is based solely on games started by Jalen Hurts, with the expectation that Carson Wentz will be traded.

Then I re-normalized all the DVOA ratings so the league averaged 0.0%.

That's it. I didn't account for all the things that are accounted for in the usual preseason projections, such as three-year trends, coaching changes, turnover regression on defense (as opposed to general regression), and free-agent movement. I didn't account for players returning from COVID opt-outs and I didn't account for any injuries except for starting quarterbacks and San Francisco's defense. I didn't account for a possible Deshaun Watson trade. I didn't account for the lower salary cap and teams that might have to gut their rosters. (Hi, New Orleans.)

The goal here is just to see who looks best for next year based mainly on quarterbacks returning from injury and offense being more predictive than defense. Since this was a quick project plus we still don't know how many games are in the 2021 season, there are no schedule strength projections or win projections. You can play around with schedule strength yourselves in the comments if you feel like it.

Green Bay, as the top offense of 2020, has the top way-too-early projection for 2021.

GB 15.6% 1 17.0% 1 0.4% 17 -1.0% 25
TB 15.3% 2 10.6% 3 -5.7% 6 -1.0% 27
KC 12.7% 3 14.0% 2 1.1% 18 -0.2% 17
BUF 10.6% 4 8.0% 5 -0.7% 12 1.9% 4
SF 9.0% 5 4.1% 8 -5.8% 5 -0.9% 23
SEA 8.9% 6 6.8% 6 0.3% 16 2.4% 3
LAR 8.5% 7 3.3% 9 -6.6% 3 -1.4% 32
BAL 7.7% 8 2.4% 12 -2.6% 9 2.7% 2
PIT 4.6% 9 -3.3% 24 -7.9% 1 0.0% 14
NO 4.6% 10 -2.8% 20 -6.5% 4 0.9% 5
TEN 3.9% 11 9.7% 4 4.6% 29 -1.2% 29
DAL 3.3% 12 5.1% 7 2.5% 23 0.8% 7
IND 0.9% 13 -3.0% 22 -3.6% 7 0.3% 10
MIN -0.4% 14 2.4% 11 1.5% 19 -1.3% 31
ARI -0.4% 15 -2.3% 17 -2.5% 10 -0.5% 19
MIA -0.9% 16 -2.8% 19 -1.2% 11 0.8% 6
LAC -1.2% 17 1.7% 13 1.9% 21 -1.0% 26
CLE -1.9% 18 2.5% 10 3.3% 25 -1.1% 28
CAR -3.0% 19 0.2% 15 3.1% 24 -0.1% 16
CHI -3.0% 20 -6.4% 26 -2.8% 8 0.5% 8
NE -3.2% 21 -3.0% 21 3.3% 26 3.1% 1
ATL -3.5% 22 -2.7% 18 0.1% 14 -0.7% 21
WAS -3.7% 23 -10.8% 32 -7.1% 2 0.0% 15
LV -4.0% 24 -0.1% 16 4.0% 28 0.1% 13
HOU -6.1% 25 0.4% 14 5.8% 30 -0.6% 20
PHI -7.8% 26 -6.8% 27 0.2% 15 -0.8% 22
NYG -8.4% 27 -6.9% 28 1.6% 20 0.2% 12
CIN -9.6% 28 -6.3% 25 3.8% 27 0.5% 9
DET -10.0% 29 -3.1% 23 7.2% 32 0.2% 11
DEN -10.9% 30 -9.9% 30 0.1% 13 -0.9% 24
JAX -13.9% 31 -7.3% 29 6.2% 31 -0.4% 18
NYJ -14.0% 32 -10.6% 31 2.0% 22 -1.3% 30


53 comments, Last at 18 Feb 2021, 10:33pm

1 Based on Joe Barry's previous record as DC,

the Packers defensive DVOA could end up being really high, which is to say really bad.  Was it the "X"'s and "O"'s or Jiimmy's and Joe's?  Time will tell.  Special teams can only go up from what it was.

7 Let's look at both stints


2006: 7.2% DVOA (25th) year before

2007: 10.4% DVOA (30th)

2008: 20.9% DVOA (31st)

2009: 14.7% DVOA (30th) year after 


2014: -0.9% DVOA (15th) year before

2015: 6% DVOA (21st)

2016: 7% DVOA (25th)

2017: -3.5% DVOA (12th) year after


3rd times the charm? 

9 They have enough talented…

They have enough talented players dispersed through the defense that I think their floor (with reasonable health) shouldn't be too far from where they finished this year, around league average. They were projected by DVOA to have one of the worst defenses in the NFL in 2020 because of regression in things like turnovers and pass rush - and those things came true! - and they still managed to finish the season about where they did in 2019.

They might have to make a surprise cut or two, and the position they most need to upgrade (#2 CB) could be a tough one given cap constraints. But absent the types of injuries that would tank any defense, I'm looking forward to seeing if the new DC can give them a boost, even if his track record isn't inspiring.

6 Crow.

That would be hilarious!

Jameis would be a total gunslinger in the Steeler's offense.  It would be a throwback to the Arians days!

Unfortunately, I mainly see tons of INT's and less TD's than Big Ben has produced.

No risk-it, no biscuit!



5 Saints demise.

Aren't the Saints way over the cap?

If they return everyone from last year (sans Brees), they could win 8-10 games on talent alone, but they won't do anything come playoff time.  

Maybe Payton has more in the playbook for Hill?  Could Winston cut down on the TO's and play a decent QB for once?

If you're Saints fan, you're understandably clinging to hope.  I think Brees retiring ended this window.  

If you can somehow land Watson, you're one of the favorites.

8 Yes. $70 something mil

In reply to by DIVISION

Everyone seems to assume Winston is coming back, which to me is weird. He's a UFA. He'll (rightfully) want a raise and probably by a few million. Can they do that without gutting their roster even more? 

10 On one hand, you would think…

On one hand, you would think Winston would have a few options to pick from in free agency. On the other hand, his tepid market from last offseason plus the interest that teams apparently (???) have in acquiring Carson Wentz's contract have me thinking that Winston isn't going to be very sought after.

36 He won't be.

The last imagine of Winston in NFL heads minds is his 30/30 season, getting fired and replaced by a GOAT who promptly took that same team and made them SB champs.

I know this is a simplistic view, but some of these NFL GM's aren't the brightest minds.

Winston will probably resign with NO for a cheap price.  I don't see him being in demand after what he did in Tampa.

17 Winston in Sean Paytons system

In reply to by DIVISION

In Sean Paytons system, and with his new lasik-surgery improved vision (I wear contacts, and that was by far the most challenging thing for me about playing quarterback, making quick downfield reads with nearsighted vision...Ended up as a WR-CB-KR...)...

Winston will by design cut down on turnovers...and he WANTS to cut down on the TO another huge factor...I thing everyone is selling this way too short. Winston will have a monster (in a good way) season for the Saints

37 Can we bet?

I'll take even money that Winston isn't even NO's starter this year.

He may stay as the back-up, but I don't see him as their starter.

What makes you so optimistic?


18 Saints over cap

In reply to by DIVISION

Brees restructured (speculation is b/c of retirement) to save the Saints about $24 million on the cap. So, as poster #8 mentions, they are around $75 million over for right now, instead of almost $100 million.

Current speculation is that CB Lattimore, RT Ramcyzk, and LT Armstead get extensions to lower their cap numbers. Taysom Hill is another candidate too. It's possible they restructure Thomas and Kamara to lower their cap numbers--but what I have seen from the Saints' ESPN reporter is that most of the big cap savings will need to come from guys they plan to keep, not guys that are overpaid and will get cut. Sure, there are some of the latter--but my memory tells me that those guys will save a couple of million each, maybe 12-15 total. The extension guys on the other hand, may be $5-7 million each. We will probably hear some things coming out of NO by the end of the month.

32 vision improved quarterbacks

What data do we have on quarterbacks who improved their vision?

Bob Greise famously started to wear glasses in 1977.  He promptly threw for his highest TD total (22).   his rating went up (78.9 to 87.8) but he'd had higher ratings before (90.9 in 1971).   He also played on a dolphins team that needed to throw more.   Curiois if advanced stats would show more....

any others?


3 Slight optimism for Arizona?

Moving up four spots to 15?

I would hope Murray makes a jump this year with more reps with Hopkins and they jump in to the Top 10.

Teams like Pittsburgh, New Orleans, San Fran, Indianapolis should be dropping down.

If San Fran goes with Jimmy G this year, they're in for a rough road.

New Orleans is going to see a decline with Hill or Winston.

Diminished Big Ben still playing?

Brissett in Indy?



12 Re: Indy. Brissett isn't…

Re: Indy. Brissett isn't under contract either. And I can't see them offering him a starter-level $$$ contract. So as of right now their only QB under contract is Jacob Eason. Who says he's ready to start, but I find it exceedingly unlikely he'll be their opening day starter. If you gave me odds on Eason, Brissett, or the field - the easy money is on the field I'd say. They've got enough money to sign someone and there are more starter-level QBs at least theoretically potentially available this offseason than I can remember in my lifetime. They don't have a ton of high value picks to trade though so they are weaker players on that front. But I see them signing someone. Hell, it could even be Luck although that rumor has been squashed at least for now.

52 If he's the weak link on…

If he's the weak link on that team, why are the 49ers 22-8 with him, and 6-24 without him?  THAT's a "clear case" of the QB being the weak link? 

Sounds like you haven't watched the team that much.  If you want to learn something new about Garoppolo, dial up the 2019 49ers-Saints game, 48-46.  It's a great game in any case, nominated for game of the year in numerous places. 

11 Too early projection has NE…

Too early projection has NE as #1 ST.  Somehow that seems to me to suggest that there might be something to the early dirty.

13 Does the DVOA of an…

Does the DVOA of an assistant’s unit at a previous stop have any correlation with the DVOA of their next one? I would imagine that this correlation would be very spotty at best.

21 I’d be interested to see if…

I’d be interested to see if there are any coordinators that can reliably improve an offense or defense in year 1. It’s a small and biased sample, of course, but might be interesting to look at. Wade Phillips had that reputation, but I don’t know if it’s ever been studied and proven conclusively. 

14 49ers

If that's the way-too-early DVOA projection for the offense, then why so much clamor to replace Jimmy G?  Would a replacement QB really improve the offense by enough to offset the costs of getting him?

38 Does this need to be explained to you?

In reply to by Stendhal1

Jimmy G is below replacement level.  Look at it this way.  Even a game manager could make that 15-20 yard vertical toss to win the SB against the Chiefs.  Alex Smith makes that.  

I'm a Cards fan, so I don't clamor for the Niners to replace Jimmy G.  I hope they keep him for years and years.  One less serious threat in the NFC West.

They should have jumped on Tom Brady last off-season and they may have been the ones to hoist he trophy this year.

Now, I'm not sure there's anyone out there shy of Watson or maybe Matt Ryan who would help them at this point.

What looked to be a great foundation in San Fran is looking to be wasted by some poor moves by John Lynch.

47 Jimmy G is below replacement…

Jimmy G is below replacement level. 

Sounds like you don't know what "replacement level" means.  Nick Mullens is a bit better than a replacement-level QB with 76 DYAR.  Nick Mullens. 

Even in only 150 attempts last year, Garoppolo was well over replacement at almost 200 DYAR.  In a full season, 2019, Garopplo had 724 DYAR, good for 11th in the league.  A replacement-level QB that year was Mitch Trubisky. 

In short, replacement-level QBs are Nick Mullens, Mitch Trubisky, Gardner Minshew, etc.  Garoppolo is way better than any of those guys. 

You can read what "replacement level" means here:  https://www.footballoutsiders.com/info/methods#dyar

50 One of those rare times...

...when I don't go with the metric.

Having watched all those QB's, I don't see Jimmy G as any better or worse than any of them.

This is a guy who couldn't make a 20 yard pass to win a SB.

Even Jim McMahon could do that...



51 You're not going with the…

You're not going with the metric because of one bad throw?  It would be an awfully strange kind of analysis if every QB were judged only by their worst throws.  You could make Tom Brady like a horrible QB that way.

In any case, it's easy to prove that you're wrong about Jimmy G being "below replacement level."  A replacement level QB is a QB with a DYAR of 0.  That's how "replacement level" is defined...it's what the whole concept of "replacement level" was invented to mean.  Jimmy G has never been anywhere near that low.  Therefore, he is not a replacement level QB, Q.E.D.

15 JJ Watt Released

“Did not want to go through a rebuild”. If he goes ring hunting, then Maybe TB’s defense will be even better.

God knows the Raiders need him..

16 HA!

In reply to by Raiderfan

He's coming home to GB!

For the minimum!

23 I wish

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

I agree he'd look great next to Clark. Only place JJ plays for minimum is if he goes to Pittsburgh to play with his brothers. Packers should have drafted TJ instead of King. 

31 Even now one cannot mention the Watt vs King matter

In reply to by justanothersteve

on Packer forums as there is a subset of Packer fans who just fall on that comment like the wrath of god.  Insist that Watt coming out of Wisconsin had as much injury baggage as King so making that comment is wildly unfair or some such.


FWIW I acknowledge my Badger homerism but thought Watt would be a good NFL player.  Saw the guy fight through way too many double teams and still make the play as well as making instinctive plays that only legit players do whatever the level of competition.  Same with Borland.


Oh well

53 Revisionist history from the homers

trying to defend the team. TJ Watt would have been a perfectly acceptable pick at 29. The worst part about the trade though was cutting Vince Biegel (no one was clamoring for him on day 1 or even 2 like they were for TJ...because TJ was actually worth 29) after one year and now he's a nice little player down in Miami. 

Man Borland was awesome too. Kinda sorta knew his family but can't blame him for walking away. Hopefully he's doing good. 

39 Landing spots.

In reply to by Raiderfan

Most people are saying Pittsburgh due to his brothers, but are they really close to a championship?  I think their window with Big Ben has closed.

I'm going with Tampa, Arizona or Las Vegas.

Tampa - Could be a part-time player and bolster their D-Line

Zona - Reunites with Hopkins.

Vegas - Fits a huge need for Gruden and the mold of what they need culture-wise.

20 Denver's projection is too…

Denver's projection is too low because you don't understand how their badass 3-headed WR trio is going to "unlock" Drew Lock. Watching John Elaway give motivational speeches is way better than this. MOUNTAIN TIME ZONE 4 LYFE!!!!

22 New England is clearly…

New England is clearly ranked too low, because Belecheck is the football Jenius of the universe. His 9 ringz is way better than this. Belecheck's prized draft pick Kellen Mond in the 2nd will make all Pats fans forget that Brady schmo ever existed and will be the living embodiment of Nike! PATRIOTS 4EVER!

On a serious note though, in seeing the Senior bowl MVP list, some decent QB's lately, and if NE could swing Mond in the 2nd I think that'd be a better route than going with Newton. Or even Mac, who was surrounded with talent at Alabama and will likely go too high. Newton's arm is shot and has no consistency. Brissett is decent but is limited by his field reading abilities. Although it also would be hilarious seeing Fitzmagic in NE.

If the Patriots could finally draft a decent receiver that would help. How is it that they always find the worst one in the bunch?

The Pats are going to be having tough battles in their division compared to their history; Buffalo is a contender, Miami is mostly rebuilt, and the Jets are probably no longer a laughingstock.

40 A Dick.

I got serious news for you, Richie.   New England is in for a rough few years post-GOAT if they think these short term plug-n-play QB options are going to do anything for them in the division.

They will be in 3rd place again this coming year no matter what they do, save for getting Watson (maybe).

High end receiving talent isn't coming through that door for Belichick.  The major aspect of losing Brady is losing the cache that he brings with him.  Tampa has it.  

Unfortunately for Belichick, he now has to eat crow, probably until Brady retires.

24 The bizarre narrative about…

The bizarre narrative about the Bucs this season was that they "sold out" to "win now". Quite the opposite. Yes, they acquired some key veteran talent on one year contracts to round out the team, but that didn't put them in a hole this year. They have a fantastic cap situation at $40m. They can easily extend Brady to free up more cash. They have some of the best talent in the NFL already playing at a high level on rookie contracts on offense and defense. They literally could not be better poised to start next year with a similarly perfect mix of superstars, veteran role players, and talented youth. When the Superbowl champion is just hitting its stride on both defense and offense, the league needs to be on notice.

25 The bizarre narrative about…

The bizarre narrative about the Bucs this season was that they "sold out" to "win now". Quite the opposite. Yes, they acquired some key veteran talent on one year contracts to round out the team, but that didn't put them in a hole this year. They have a fantastic cap situation at $40m. They can easily extend Brady to free up more cash. They have some of the best talent in the NFL already playing at a high level on rookie contracts on offense and defense. They literally could not be better poised to start next year with a similarly perfect mix of superstars, veteran role players, and talented youth. When the Superbowl champion is just hitting its stride on both defense and offense, the league needs to be on notice.

26 The bizarre narrative about…

The bizarre narrative about the Bucs this season was that they "sold out" to "win now". Quite the opposite. Yes, they acquired some key veteran talent on one year contracts to round out the team, but that didn't put them in a hole this year. They have a fantastic cap situation at $40m. They can easily extend Brady to free up more cash. They have some of the best talent in the NFL already playing at a high level on rookie contracts on offense and defense. They literally could not be better poised to start next year with a similarly perfect mix of superstars, veteran role players, and talented youth. When the Superbowl champion is just hitting its stride on both defense and offense, the league needs to be on notice.

27 The Buccaneers have almost…

The Buccaneers have almost 30 million in cap room right now, but according to Over the Cap they have only 15 million in effective cap space because they only have 30 players signed right now.  Suh, Barrett and David are all free agents right now.  They'll probably be fine for the coming season if they extend Brady but they won't be able to keep all of those three.

This DVOA prediction is way too soon also because 13 teams are over the cap, with 7 being at least 20 million over right now.  4 teams have over 60 million in room (Jaguars, Jets, Patriots and Colts) and may be able to massively improve their projections, depending upon what they do.  The Covid effect on the league is not over yet.

33 I imagine David is gone…

I imagine David is gone. Devin White will be due for an extension next season, and you can't justify having that much cash tied up at LB. Unless David takes a short term, team friendly deal, but he's 31, so this is his last chance for a good payday.

Godwin is also a free agent. The WR free-agent market is stacked this year, so he might not be able to command the price he wants, but you still figure he will be in demand. And Tampa appear to have enough depth at WR to absorb his loss. 

41 You're understating the "Brady" effect.

Having already watched several interviews post-SB, it's apparent that most of the team will be back.  I predict they keep all the FA's they want to keep on short-term deals, cheap deals.

David is already on record saying he'll be back for at least next year.

Godwin doesn't matter because they have major depth at the position and AB is actually more important because he has the chemistry with Brady.  You keep AB over Godwin.  Basically, give Godwin a chance to come back if he's willing to take less but if he wants a payday you don't give it to him at the expense of a defensive player.


28 SEA vs. LAR

I don't get Seattle being one spot ahead of the Rams. The Rams were a better team this year and just significantly upgraded at QB. Assuming they don't lose any key players from the defense and can find a speedy WR in the draft or FA, I see them as a top 5 preseason team. 

The most interesting placement is the 49ers at 5. They were one of the most injured teams in recent memory in 2020, giving them something like a season long mulligan on both offense and defense. 6 feels a tab optimistic, but they do still have much of the core from the SB roster. 

29 DVOA says Seattle (20.1%…

In reply to by jgov

DVOA says Seattle (20.1% DVOA, fifth) was better than the Rams (15.4%, ninth) in the regular season. Obviously, the Rams were the better team in the playoffs.

30 SF was #11 despite all the…

In reply to by jgov

SF was #11 despite all the injuries, and even then they still underperformed (in terms of W-L) both their DVOA and pythogorean win expecations.  History tells us those teams are almost always better the following year.  Add in the expectation of major talent influx (via returning starters), it seems pretty reasonable to expect them to be a top 5-10 team.

48 I'm less optimistic about…

In reply to by jgov

I'm less optimistic about the 49ers.  They have a pricey roster, a lot of free agents, and only $14 million in cap room to sign them all.  They only have one starter under contract in the secondary.  If they can manage to extend Fred Warner, sign Trent Williams and Jason Verrett, and somehow get our from under Dee Ford's contract, and pick up a worthwhile center someplace so their QB doesn't get killed, and cobble together a working secondary out of spare parts, and bring in a decent draft haul, and if their defense doesn't miss Saleh too much, then yeah, they might be pretty good.  That's so many ifs.

42 DVOA mind-boggle.

I never saw the quality in Seattle that DVOA illustrated.  The Rams were a very good team all year with some quality wins, including over the eventual SB champs.

The fact that the Rams curb-stomped Seattle in the 1st round was not a surprise at all.  I never thought Seattle was the best team in the division to begin with.  


43 NE D

Who know what to expect from the NE offense next season - Belichick under center, McDaniels running outs? But I see the defense as being better than 26th. There's talent there - a number of young players who would have red-shirted in a normal season were forced into starting roles (great experience but not so great for winning games), the secondary has Gilmore and Jackson, and Hightower will be back which is a positive, even if he has reached the antiquity of 30. Plus the Pats have plenty of cap space to plug holes. I read the ranking criteria and this isn't a criticism: I'm fascinated to see how things differ after a 'normal' preseason.

44 NE Chowder...

In reply to by RobotBoy

7-9 is probably optimistic based on what you have on offense.  The defense can be great if everyone comes back, but that won't necessarily translate to wins.

Going to be a rough few years in NE until you find a long-term QB and some actual NFL quality receivers.

Snagging Byrd off the Cards' practice squad is not what I had in mind.