Hottest Team in the NFL? San Francisco 49ers
NFL Week 14 - The Philadelphia Eagles have climbed back into the top spot in our DVOA ratings, narrowly over the Buffalo Bills. The Eagles have single-game DVOA over 60% for each of their last two wins. I thought that the Bills might jump back into first place after the opponent adjustments from Monday Night Football, but the Patriots and Cardinals had one of those games where both teams end up with negative DVOA so the Bills didn't get any kind of boost from the Patriots' win.
The more interesting move this week, however, might be the San Francisco 49ers moving into the top spot in weighted DVOA. The 49ers have had their three best performances of the year over the last four weeks, including two of the top five games of the year by DVOA.
Top 5 games by DVOA this season:
1 #ChiefsKingdom 44-23 over SF Wk 7 (130.2%)
2 #FlyEaglesFly 35-13 over PIT Wk 8 (106.0%)
3 #BillsMafia 41-7 over TEN Wk 2 (93.1%)
4 #FTTB 38-10 over ARI Wk 11 (84.9%)
5 #FTTB 35-7 over TB Wk 14 (84.0%)
— Aaron Schatz 🏈 (@FO_ASchatz) December 13, 2022
There are two bad games that stand out from the 49ers' season. First, the Week 1 loss to Chicago, because it took place in terrible weather conditions and was the only game where the majority of offense was led by Trey Lance. Second, the Week 7 loss to Kansas City, which was very bad even after adjusting for how good the Kansas City offense is overall. Take out Week 1, and the 49ers rank second with 31.9% average DVOA in games since Week 2. Take out Week 7 as well, and the 49ers would be the best team in the league.
As those two games move further into the past, the 49ers rise in weighted DVOA until the point where they have now reached No. 1.
The 49ers' defense, now acclaimed as the best in the league this season, still ranks No. 2 on the year in DVOA behind Dallas but is No. 1 in weighted defensive DVOA. The San Francisco offense is 10th on the year but sixth in weighted DVOA. The offense, of course, is particularly interesting now that the 49ers will have to start seventh-round rookie Brock Purdy. Purdy had an excellent game in his first start against Tampa Bay. That does not mean that Purdy is as good as Jimmy Garoppolo or that the 49ers are going to the Super Bowl. Plenty of rookies had one very good game, often in their first start, only to see their performance settle back to match expectations in future games. Kyle Allen, for example, threw for 228 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score back in his first start in 2018. Allen then doubled down with four passing touchdowns in his first start of 2019. Neither of these games, it turns out, was the harbinger for the Kyle Allen Era. Then again, Kyle Allen did not have Kyle Shanahan to run his offense.
The 49ers, of course, have the largest gap between their total DVOA and weighted DVOA for 2022. Other teams that have improved over the course of the season include the Washington Commanders, Cincinnati Bengals, and Detroit Lions. The Lions this week broke into the top 10 for weighted DVOA although our playoff odds simulation still has them making the postseason only 21% of the time.
Here are the seven teams with at least a 2.0% gain between total DVOA and weighted DVOA:
On the other side, the team that has fallen the most this year is Tampa Bay. That big loss to San Francisco this week certainly doesn't help, but the Bucs' best games of the year by DVOA were mostly in the first month of the season, starting with a 19-3 win over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1 (51.4% DVOA) and including their 41-31 loss to Kansas City in Week 4 where they had the higher DVOA (35.6% for that game).
Another team that's fallen might be a surprise, and that's Buffalo. The Bills' top three games of the season were all before their Week 7 bye, so even though they are playing well in recent weeks, their weighted DVOA is not as impressive as their full-season DVOA.
Lower down on the DVOA table, there were a couple of big movers. The Atlanta Falcons climbed three spots in DVOA to No. 16 despite not doing anything. They had the week off. But they watched teams ahead of them drop down while their own schedule looks harder after Week 14 results. (The average DVOA of Atlanta's past opponents went from -3.8% to -3.3% this week.)
The Jaguars-Titans game also had a strong effect on the DVOA rankings. The Titans fall from 16th to 20th, and have gone from 13th to 20th in two weeks. The Jaguars climb back from 24th to 18th.
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This is the Football Outsiders Top 16 through 14 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. 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.
WEIGHTED DVOA represents an attempt to figure out how a team is playing right now, as opposed to over the season as a whole, by making recent games more important than earlier games.
You'll notice that DAVE (DVOA Adjusted for Variation Early) is now gone from our tables; with 13 games played for every team, the use of preseason priors has fully washed out of our system.
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>
42 comments, Last at 15 Dec 2022, 12:52pm
#18 by Oncorhynchus // Dec 13, 2022 - 3:57pm
2016 Eagles too. 6th in DVOA but finished 7-9 and in the bottom of the pile of the last iteration of NFC Beast. (DAL #2 DVOA, NYG #8, WAS #9)
They traded their 2017 pick to the Browns (so that they could draft Carson Wentz in 2016), which the Browns traded to Houston, who selected Deshaun Watson. Howie won the Superbowl and then turned Carson Wentz back into #1st round pick which he carried forward in other trades to be a potential top-5 pick next year. The less said about the other partners and assets (and assholes) in that threeway trade, the better.
#19 by Oncorhynchus // Dec 13, 2022 - 4:17pm
From what I can tell that 2016 Eagles squad and the 2004 Chiefs squad are the only teams to finish in the top-10 in DVOA with losing records (ignoring teams that finished .500). The 2004 Chiefs edge out the 2016 Eagles with 14.3% to 13.3% DVOA, though the 2016 Eagles were ranked higher.
#2 by colonialbob // Dec 13, 2022 - 12:52pm
Is the amount of shuffling among the top 5 teams this late in the year normal, or is it more than the average year? It feels like every week is "X jumped to number 1, Y slipped a couple of spots, and these two teams changed places," and I'm wondering if that's just an indication that really the top 5 are all pretty similar and it just depends on who has the best game each week as to who actually tops the list.
#6 by Kaepernicus // Dec 13, 2022 - 1:41pm
I don't have the numbers to back it up but this season seems to have a lot more starting QB injuries than I can remember. I think we may have some really inflated spot DVOA numbers because of the drop off in play between the back ups and starters at QB. It would be interesting to get a league wide study on AGL at the QB position year over year. Also we have lost a lot of starting tackles it seems.
#20 by Aaron Brooks G… // Dec 13, 2022 - 4:23pm
The 49ers are like a one-winged angel, where the more you damage them the more powerful they become. Can you imagine them on their QB5? They'd be stomping Dallas like 73-0.
#42 by TomC // Dec 14, 2022 - 8:20am
The strangest thing about this year is that no fan base has desperately tried to bring the FOMBC down on themselves and their team. The obvious candidate this year is Minnesota, but Vikings fans on this site actually tend to underrate their team. (Will would be more comfortable if they were 0-13.)
#4 by JoelBarlow // Dec 13, 2022 - 1:22pm
Is anyone good? How much DVOA is there to go around?
I believe it has been stated earlier that the best teams this year have relatively small DVOAs. And in these numbers there's a pretty big drop after 7 teams.
#9 by Kaepernicus // Dec 13, 2022 - 2:45pm
A couple things about the 49ers blowout loss to KC in week 7. That was Jimmie Ward, Nick Bosa, and Trent Williams first game back after various injuries. It was the second game after losing starting CB Moseley for the season, which they still hadn't sorted out the replacement scheme. It was CMC's first game with the team after getting traded mid-week. It also followed a 2 week east coast road trip where they stayed in WV between games. Andy Reid put together an incredible game plan that utilized more WR sweeps than I have seen and really exploited the SF lack of depth on defensive line in that game. That was the second worst roster the 49ers have fielded all year behind the awful preseason team they ran against the Falcons the week before. If KC and SF were to play again today it would be much closer due to Arik Armstead being back and Jimmie Ward being settled in as the slot CB. The game didn't get out of hand until the last 10 minutes of the 4th quarter. It was a surprisingly similar game script to the SB in 2019.
KC had their best rushing performance of the year in that game and demolished Jimmy G all day in the pocket. It was a bad game but nowhere near as bad as the ATL game the week before. You could tell Trent Williams and Nick Bosa were not 100% after missing most of the previous 2 games. The single biggest takeaway from that game was you can't settle for field goals against the Chiefs. This is an obvious truth. Also Chris Jones owns Jimmy G's soul ever since the SB. Jones was the single most dominant player in that game just like he was in the SB.
#27 by Kaepernicus // Dec 13, 2022 - 7:28pm
They built that roster with mostly day 2 or later picks and key trades for veterans. That is why the Lance trade has barely affected the roster. They missed on the 3rd round RBs in back to back drafts and found really good RBs in the 6th or UDFA to make up for it.
#29 by Oncorhynchus // Dec 13, 2022 - 8:09pm
Their offensive line is somewhere between the 7th and 10th best. If you exclude the QB, that's half their offensive roster. George Kittle is also something like 7th to 10th best TE. They do not have the best top to bottom roster in the NFL. But Christian McCaffery is pretty good. And Aiyuk is as high as 14th by DYAR for receivers.
#30 by Oncorhynchus // Dec 13, 2022 - 8:38pm
Honestly, it's hard not to rank the Eagles better in most position groups.
The Eagles are definitely better in these groups: O-Line, QB, TE (assuming Goedert returns from IR), WR
The Niners have the better halfback (despite Miles Sanders leading in DYAR) and better fullback (of which the Eagles have not).
On Defense: Eagles D-Line is better at pass rush, but worse at run-stop (but maybe they fixed that?) Eagles CBs are better, but Safeties are worse. Niners definitely have the better linebacker group, probably best in the NFL.
Special Teams: Eagles - Kicking and kick returns, SF - Punting and punt returns.
When these two teams meet in the NFCG (SF #3 seed taking out the #6 Commanders in WC and #5 Cowboys in DIV; Eagles #1 seed taking out the #7 Detroit in DIV - Detroit having beaten #2 Minnesota), the Niners will have to hope to replicate the Commanders game of getting ahead early, controlling the clock with a run-heavy game and keeping the Eagles offense on the sideline and they will have to sustain this through 4 quarters which is not Shanahan's MO. If they fall behind by more than 10 points, I don't see them mounting a comeback.
#26 by t.d. // Dec 13, 2022 - 7:14pm
Jags have a decent chance to jump the Titans and steal the division, given both teams' closing schedules; Josh Allen playing through the elbow injury (they were talking about possible Tommy John surgery when it happened) and the Dolphins' being exposed the past couple weeks make it look like a two horse race in the AFC (Mahomes-Burrow Part IV), while the NFC sure looks like its still Philly-Dallas-SF and a bunch of hot garbage (unless the Lions can sneak in as the seven seed)
#37 by occams_pointed… // Dec 13, 2022 - 11:22pm
It's weird how people are suddenly counting out the Bills when they have inside track at home field advantage!
None of the AFC wild card teams is yet appearing to finish strong. The Chargers might from here but it would just be a weak schedule for them making them look good at the end.
Baltimore has the inside track to win the North but it's hard to envision them beating the Bills or Chiefs.
#43 by BlueStarDude // Dec 14, 2022 - 8:39am
I am fortunate to have experienced the 90s good times (after experiencing the whole of the 80s heartbreaks and bottoming-out). But I think I have whiplash now from all of the monthly/weekly hot takes, more or less back to the Parcells rejuvenation of 2003.
Which reminds me — 19 years ago yesterday (my daughter's birthday) I learned of FO — hard to believe FO will be 20 next year!
#32 by Case4christ // Dec 13, 2022 - 9:03pm
How are the Niners special teams suddenly good? I could have sworn they were near the bottom in ST most of the season (and, for that matter, most recent seasons). Any ideas on how it's turned around so fast? I know Ray Ray is doing better and Gould has stopped missing lately, but still, it's typically pretty hard to get significant movement in the ST rating since it's less weighted than the other phases.