Can Seahawks Keep Up High Offensive DVOA?
NFL Week 4 - The Buffalo Bills remain No. 1 in DVOA after Week 4 with a win over the Baltimore Ravens. It was a close win, so the Baltimore Ravens remain at No. 3. In between them are the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 2. The Eagles switch places with the team they beat this week, Jacksonville, which is now fourth. There's a pack of teams nearly tied there from fourth through seventh: Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Dallas, and San Francisco. Then Kansas City is eighth.
The placement of Tampa Bay and Kansas City is a bit unexpected after the Chiefs looked to be dominating the game between the two teams this week. Surprisingly, Tampa Bay actually ended up with the higher single-game DVOA in this one, 29.3% to 9.5%. This is where we get into the usual arguments about garbage time, but our research has showed that garbage time performance, although often down-weighted, is still predictive. The Chiefs had the higher Post-Game Win Expectancy (59%) because they ran more plays, but the Buccaneers were actually more efficient. (Tampa Bay ended up with 6.4 yards per play compared to just 5.4 yards per play for the Chiefs.)
There weren't a lot of really huge wins in Week 4. Every game in the NFL except for Buccaneers-Chiefs was within one possession at some point in the fourth quarter. Philadelphia was the only team to put up DVOA over 50% this week, with 63.7% against the Jaguars. However, there's still plenty of movement in the middle of the DVOA rankings for a couple of reasons. First, because teams are so close together, so small changes in the ratings mean larger changes in the rankings. Second, because this week we introduce opponent adjustments for the first time this year.
For example, Cleveland falls from seventh to 12th not only because the Browns lost to Atlanta but also because of adjustments for playing this year's third-easiest schedule so far. Denver, Pittsburgh, and Detroit each drop five spots. Houston drops six spots from 25th to 31st. Carolina, whose schedule so far ranks 29th, falls all the way from 18th to 28th after a sizeable loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The Panthers are the only team under -50% DVOA for the week.
Likewise, there are some big moves upward. The Chargers move from 15th into the top 10 after beating the Texans. Tennessee moves up six spots to 20th after beating the Colts. The Saints lost to Minnesota but have the highest DVOA for that game, 22.4% to -18.1%, and move up five spots to 22nd.
Is Seahawks Offense Real?
The biggest move up this week belongs to the Seattle Seahawks, who climb eight spots from 21st to 13th. Some of that is their win over Detroit, and some of it is the effect of a top-10 schedule now being added into adjustments. The Seahawks are shocking everyone with their powerful offense so far this season, which is basically tied for second in DVOA behind Baltimore. (Technically third, as changes in opponent adjustments based on how San Francisco played last night knocked them a rounding error behind Miami.) Seattle also ranks 31st in defensive DVOA. We knew the Seahawks defense was going to be bad this year. We thought their offense was going to be bad too. It's not, at least not so far, and that puts Seattle 13th overall going into Week 5.
Is there any way that Geno Smith and the Seahawks can keep this up? I think it's pretty unlikely. To compare Seattle to other recent teams in a similar situation, I looked at our preseason projections going back to 2010 and compared each year's projections to how good teams actually were in DVOA through four games.
Now, there's two ways you can do this. You can look at the difference between actual DVOA and projected DVOA. The problem with that is that some of the biggest "overachievers" will be teams that were already projected to be good and instead were phenomenal early. For example, one of the biggest differences between early-season DVOA and projected offense belongs to the 2013 Denver Broncos in Peyton Manning's first year there because they were over 50% through four games! But that's not really a team that "overachieved" in quite the same way as the 2022 Seahawks.
So instead, I looked at the difference between actual offensive DVOA rank and projected rank. Based on that measure, the 2022 Seattle Seahawks are tied with the 2011 Buffalo Bills as the biggest early-season offensive overachievers in recent years. Here's a list of those biggest overachievers, along with the starting quarterback through four games and how well that offense did the rest of the year:
|Biggest Offensive Improvements
from Preseason to First 4 Games, 2010-2022
after 4 G
Rest of Year
So the question we have to ask is whether the Seattle Seahawks are going to keep this up. Looking at this table, I think it is unlikely. Yes, the film shows that Smith is playing very well so far. But for the most part, the teams here that are similar to this year's Seahawks -- with a journeyman former backup quarterback pressed into duty as the starter -- reverted to expectations for the rest of the season. This is also true of some of the teams that would come next on this table, including the 2018 Denver Broncos (with Case Keenum). The teams that tended to keep their early-season offensive power for the entire season are the teams with young developing quarterbacks: not just the 2020 Bills and Josh Allen, but the 2011 Panthers (Cam Newton), 2019 Ravens (Lamar Jackson), and 2018 Chiefs (Patrick Mahomes) are just below the teams on this list. You also get some teams with snazzy new schemes, such as the Chip Kelly 2013 Eagles, or teams with both young quarterbacks and new schemes, such as the 2017 Rams.
There's one team that makes me think there might be some hope for Smith and the Seahawks, and that's the 2015 Buffalo Bills. Tyrod Taylor wasn't quite the same kind of journeyman as Smith, as he never had the chance to start in Baltimore, but he is an example of a veteran quarterback (fifth season) with very low expectations who had a surprisingly good offensive start -- and then kept it up all year.
The reason I don't think that Geno Smith is going to do what Tyrod Taylor did in 2015 is that we've already seen what Geno Smith does in the Seattle offense. Last year, with the same receivers and same offensive coordinator, Geno Smith had -3.2% passing DVOA in three starts. Yes, the offensive line is much improved this season, but Geno Smith is still the same guy he was a year ago. Now, that Geno Smith of a year ago was better than expected, so perhaps Seattle is better on offense than we had projected before the season. But I really don't think they're this much better, or even close to it. I expect their offensive DVOA to end the year ranked maybe in the high 20s, similar to the 2011 Bills.
No team this year has fallen short of its preseason offensive projection to an extent anywhere near how much Seattle is outperforming its projection. The closest teams are Cincinnati (projected 11th, currently 27th) and, ironically, Denver (projected ninth, currently 24th).
Denver is also the team that is outperforming its defensive projection by the biggest gap in rank. We had them projected all the way down at 29th and they are currently eighth in defensive DVOA. In the other direction, the biggest gaps between defensive projection and actual early defense belong to the New York Jets (projected seventh, currently 25th) and Cleveland (projected 12th, currently 30th).
Early Opponent Adjustments
As noted above, this is the first week we are including opponent adjustments in our ratings. They're still only at 40% strength, since at this point a large part of the opponent adjustment is how good you are yourself. (After all, you are one of the four opponents played so far by each of your opponents!) The Washington Commanders have played the NFL's toughest schedule through four games, including three teams currently in DVOA's top six (Philly, Jacksonville, and Dallas). The Miami Dolphins are right behind them, having of course beaten two of our top three teams (Buffalo and Baltimore).
The easiest schedule so far belongs to the Houston Texans, but the average DVOA of Houston's opponents is nowhere near as negative as the average DVOA of Washington and Miami's opponents is positive. Arizona, Cleveland, and Carolina have also all had easy schedules so far, but their schedules get a lot harder after this. All three teams rank in the top 7 for the average DVOA of their remaining opponents.
How do opponent adjustments affect the player stats so far?
- Carson Wentz has played the most difficult schedule of pass defenses, with Philadelphia, Dallas, and Jacksonville all in the top seven. Applying opponent adjustments takes his DYAR from horrible (30th without adjustments) to slightly less horrible (27th). Matthew Stafford has also played a tough schedule of pass defenses so far.
- Josh Allen has played the easiest schedule, which is why he is currently only eighth in passing DYAR. He would be fourth without the opponent adjustments. Baker Mayfield has also played an easy schedule, which is a little scary... he's actually been worse than it has looked.
- James Conner of Arizona gets the biggest DYAR boost from his schedule, with three games so far against top-10 run defenses (Rams, Chiefs, and Panthers). Joe Mixon and James Robinson also get bumped up.
- Rashaad Penny and the two Green Bay running backs have the biggest DYAR penalty due to schedule. Penny has played the best (San Francisco) and worst (Detroit) run defenses so far this season. All four of Green Bay's' opponents so far have below-average run defense, in particular the New England Patriots who are 10th in pass defense but 31st in run defense right now.
- The biggest DYAR boost for wide receivers belongs to Tyreek Hill while the biggest DYAR penalty from opponent adjustments belongs to Stefon Diggs. Diggs is No. 1 in receiving DYAR anyway. Hill is seventh.
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This is the Football Outsiders Top 16 through four weeks of 2022, 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). Click here for the full table.
OFFENSE and DEFENSE DVOA are adjusted for opponent and performance indoors and consider all fumbles, kept or lost, as equal value. Opponent adjustments are currently at 40% strength. 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.
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 and 30% actual performance. DAVE ratings are adjusted for various quarterback injuries based on an estimate of how much of the season will be played with backup quarterbacks.
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