Titans vs. Worst No. 1 Seeds Ever
NFL Week 17 - We thought there might be a lot of shuffling on top of the Football Outsiders DVOA ratings this week after some surprising results in Week 17. But instead, the top three teams stayed exactly the same, although all three saw their actual DVOA ratings drop. Dallas is still No. 1 despite a loss to Arizona. Tampa Bay is still No. 2 despite a close win over a bad Jets team. Buffalo is still No. 3 despite playing a game against Atlanta that was much closer than the final score of 29-15 indicates. The Falcons narrowly outgained Buffalo on a per-play basis and won the turnover margin as well. Our Post-Game Win Expectancy (PGWE) formula suggests that given the VOA splits in this game, we would usually expect Buffalo to only win 20% of the time.
Dallas was at 30.0% DVOA last week and drops to 28.3% DVOA this week, which means we don't have any teams above 30% right now. This would be only the eighth year since 1983 where no team topped 30% DVOA during the regular season. This is where I note that I've made a decision not to do a bunch of comparisons of historical numbers to 2021 DVOA through 16 games in this week's analysis. Yes, the season is one game longer now and so the most accurate comprison of "like to like" would be to compare this year's ratings now to historical ratings, rather than doing a bunch of comparisons and lists next week. But the fact is that the 17-game season is here to stay, until it inevitably becomes the 18-game season, and it's easier to just do a big end of the season wrap-up when the season actually ends. So that's what I'm going to do next week.
Returning to a look at this week's ratings: New England moves up one spot to fourth in total DVOA after beating the Jaguars 50-10 on Sunday. The Patriots also move back to the top spot in weighted DVOA. Yes, I know it seems a bit ridiculous to have the Patriots and their rookie quarterback as our best team going into the final week of the season. Didn't we just run a Film Room piece pointing out Mac Jones' weaknesses and the reasons why the Patriots are not built for success in the postseason? Yes, we did. We also know that historically, big dominating wins are the best indicator of a team's success going forward. The Patriots now have three of the top six games of the season by DVOA, all coming during the last two months. The dichotomy between the Patriots' performance in their big wins and their performance in losses certainly suggests we once again have to look at how much weight to give blowouts. But as we have written many times, we give a lot of weight to blowouts because history suggests they're predictive.
As usual, there's more movement among the teams in weighted DVOA than in total DVOA, as we not only add on Week 17 games but also lower the weight of any game played more than five weeks ago. Dallas drops one spot to No. 2. Then Kansas City moves up to No. 3 in weighted DVOA. Kansas City had a DVOA over 30% for its loss to Cincinnati, with a PGWE of 78%. That game turned heavily on penalties, which are mostly not included in DVOA. The Chiefs only had 21 more penalty yards than the Bengals, but the timing of the penalties was terrible, starting with the illegal use of hands that essentially gave the Bengals the game at the end.
Behind the Chiefs are the Packers, who move up four spots in weighted DVOA to No. 4. I've been saying for a few weeks that what we really needed to see from Green Bay was a big, dominating victory. Well, they finally got one, 37-10 over Minnesota, although with the caveat that it came against a backup quarterback. Green Bay's DVOA for this game was 77%, the Packers' best single game of the season. It moves them up not only to fourth in weighted DVOA but to eighth in total DVOA and to the top spot in our Super Bowl odds.
The Packers are one of three playoff teams whose DVOA rating has been lower than their win-loss record for most of the season. Let's talk a little bit about the other two.
Tennessee Titans: Lowest DVOA Ever for a No. 1 Seed
Kansas City's loss to Cincinnati means that the Tennessee Titans will probably earn the No. 1 seed in the AFC. All they have to do is get past the Houston Texans this week. I got in a lot of trouble with Titans fans when I pointed this out on Twitter earlier this week, but the Titans will go into the playoffs with the lowest DVOA rating ever for a No. 1 seed. Their current DVOA of -2.4% would make them the first team to ever get a No. 1 seed with a below-average total DVOA. Here's a look at the worst No. 1 seeds by DVOA since 1983:
|Worst DVOA for No. 1 Seed, 1983-2021|
|*Strikebreaker games not included.|
In fact, right now the Titans have a lower DVOA than any No. 2 seed ever, not just any No. 1 seed ever, although a win over Houston in Week 18 is likely to change that. Three teams have earned No. 2 seeds with negative DVOA for the season: the 2005 Chicago Bears (-1.8%), the 2004 Atlanta Falcons (-1.7%), and the 2000 Minnesota Vikings (-1.3%). All of those teams were slightly ahead of the 2021 Titans.
There are a couple of things to point out here to give Titans fans reason for optimism despite their low DVOA rating. First, you may notice that almost none of the teams on the table above lost their first playoff game. Only the 1985 Raiders and 1992 Steelers lost in the divisional round. The power of that bye week is strong! The 2015 Broncos are on that table and they won the Super Bowl. But the 2015 Broncos also had a much better regular season than the 2021 Titans, with almost 20 points of DVOA separating them.
The other reason for optimism, as Titans so enthusiastically pointed out to me, is that the Titans have suffered a lot of injuries this year. They lost Derrick Henry for half the season. They played some games without either of their top two receivers, veterans A.J. Brown and Julio Jones. They've had a number of offensive line and defensive injuries as well. The Titans will be a lot healthier in the playoffs than they were in most of their losses this season. This is true! With a healthy roster, the Titans aren't really the worst team to ever win a No. 1 seed despite having the lowest DVOA. They're certainly better than the 2000 New York Giants, for example. The question is: how much do we want to mentally adjust the Titans' DVOA rating for the injuries they had to deal with? We don't have full AGL numbers for this season yet but the Titans certainly haven't faced as many injuries as, for example, the Baltimore Ravens. They'll be high in AGL, but not the highest team in the league. You may have seen a stat that the Titans have set an NFL record for the number of players used on the active roster, but even our own Titans expert Tom Gower told me that's often because Jon Robinson has "smartly been very aggressive with changing out bottom-of-the-roster players for specific matchup reasons." It's not entirely because of injuries.
Let's say, for example, that we say that the Titans real offense is only the offense when both A.J. Brown and Julio Jones are active. Now you've improved the Titans' offensive DVOA from -6.6% to 8.4%, which is pretty significant! You've also picked a sample that has just seven games, almost all of which occurred more than two months ago. And if you're a Titans fan, you also would probably argue that the Week 1 loss to the Cardinals doesn't matter anymore, just like that Packers Week 1 loss to New Orleans, so we would want to take that game out, and now we've got 16.0% offensive DVOA but it's a six-game sample. Don't even get me started trying to figure out which games should and shouldn't count on defense because like many teams during an NFL season -- especially during the last two NFL seasons with COVID -- the Titans have been shuffling players in and out of the lineup all season. Most of the other playoff teams could make a similar argument that we should only be looking at a certain subset of their games when their rosters were healthier. Obviously, a couple of playoff teams have been particularly healthy; the Patriots come to mind. But it's very difficult to determine the specific impact of injuries to players other than at the quarterback position, and the Titans never had to use their backup quarterback all season.
Cincinnati Bengals: EPA vs. DVOA
I've written plenty about the Green Bay Packers and the Tennessee Titans this year. I've written less about the Cincinnati Bengals. That's because I was able to explain what was going on with the Packers and Titans a lot easier. The Bengals situation is much more complicated. Right now, we have the Bengals 17th overall despite the 10-6 record and the win over Kansas City this week. This is different from some other metrics on the Internet, though not all of them. ESPN's FPI has the Bengals only 14th, close to where DVOA has them. PFR's Simple Rating System puts them 13th. But there's a big gap on both offense and defense between the Bengals' DVOA and their rating by raw EPA (Expected Points Added). Right now, the Bengals come out 18th in offensive DVOA and 20th in defensive DVOA. By comparison, they rank 11th in offensive EPA/play and 12th in defensive EPA/play according to RBSDM.com.
We're going to have to go deep into the weeds to try to determine what's going on here. But if you want to go weed-diving, come and join me. Note that most of the stats listed below do not include Monday Night Football, so they may differ from stats you see other places on this website.
Let's start with offense. There's a big first reason why DVOA differs from EPA when it comes to the Cincinnati offense, and that's strength of schedule. No team has played an easier slate of opposing defenses this season, especially against the pass. By DVOA, the best pass defense Cincinnati has faced this year is No. 10 Chicago, back in Week 2.
Here's a table comparing DVOA to VOA (without opponent adjustments) as well as EPA:
|Bengals Offense, 2021|
You can see from that table the gap between DVOA and VOA. You can also see that there's still a big gap to make up between Cincinnati's rank in VOA and EPA on pass plays. On run plays, there really is no gap. The difference is all on pass plays.
The next thing I looked at was down-by-down splits to see if that pointed to a reason for the difference. It certainly doesn't look like it:
|Bengals Pass Offense by Down, 2021|
The Bengals end up with a higher rank in EPA than in VOA on every down. So it's not an issue of whether a specific down is being overvalued by one of the metrics.
Here are three other theories about why the Bengals' pass EPA ranks higher than their pass VOA.
1) Penalties are an issue. The RBSDM EPA model includes all penalties, as long as it can determine that a penalty took place on a called run or pass play. As I noted earlier, we leave penalties out of DVOA for the most part, since they don't tend to be predictive. (We do include defensive pass interference, since it counts for such big yardage totals.) And Cincinnati has the league's biggest gap between its own penalties and penalties called on its opponents. This is a factor on both sides of the ball. In total, the Bengals are last in the NFL with 68 accepted penalties and fifth with 112 accepted penalties for their opponents. But it may not be as big an issue as it seems at first glance. Specifically on offense, the Bengals have 356 penalty yards by opponents but have lost 282 yards on penalties themselves. That gap isn't too big, since the Bengals opponents have a lot of smaller defensive penalties. (We'll get to the Bengals' penalty totals on defense below.)
2) Long plays are an issue. As you may know, DVOA starts to reduce the value of each additional yard on a long play over 40 yards. The reason for this is that often the only difference between a 60-yard pass play and a 40-yard pass play is the line of scrimmage and how much space was left before the ballcarrier reached the end zone. Overall, we've found that these super-explosive plays aren't necessarily as predictive as shorter successful plays. And the Bengals have a lot of these plays. They are second in the NFL with 16 pass plays of 40 or more yards. (The Rams are first at 17, by the way.)
As a result, there's a clear dichotomy between the Bengals' success rate on plays and yards per play. DVOA considers every play separately, it isn't like passer rating where you put a bunch of numbers into mixing bowl and a rating comes out. Nonetheless, you can simplify DVOA by thinking of it as a combination of three things: success rate, yards per play, and turnovers. The Bengals are pretty average in turnovers on both sides of the ball. However, they have 7.42 net yards per pass attempt (including sacks and DPIs), which ranks second in the league. But they also have a 48.1% success rate on pass plays, which ranks 12th. You can see that their VOA ranking on passes (11th) is much closer to success rate, while EPA (fourth) is much closer to net yards per attempt.
3) Touchdowns might be an issue. I'm less sure about this one, but I went and looked at the highest plays in EPA for the Bengals compared to their highest plays in our success value over average (aka the numerator of VOA). The top 19 plays in our values are all touchdowns. In EPA, six of the top 19 plays are not touchdowns. The Bengals have a surprising number of long plays that aren't touchdowns. For example, six of their 16 plays of 40 or more yards did not score. DVOA's success values give a bonus for a touchdown, and it's certainly possible that bonus is a little too high which is causing us to value short touchdowns more than other metrics while undervaluing long non-touchdown gains.
OK, that brings us to defense.
|Bengals Defense, 2021|
Once again, the issue is clearly passes rather than runs, as both DVOA and VOA are similar to EPA on running plays. And unlike for the offense, strength of schedule isn't really an issue on defense. Cincinnati's strength of schedule on defense ranks 12th, close to NFL average.
Let's look at things by down:
|Bengals Pass Defense by Down, 2021|
Same problem we had with offense. There's no reason to believe that DVOA is doing something specifically different than EPA on any particular down. On each down, EPA ranks better than VOA.
Next, I looked at penalties. This is a bigger issue with Cincinnati's defensive ratings than with the offensive ratings. The Bengals have had only 257 yards on defensive penalties this year. Their opponents have 448 yards on offensive penalties. That's the biggest gap in the league in favor of a defense. (The biggest gap in the other direction: San Francisco has had 596 yards on defensive penalties compared to just 291 yards on offensive penalties for opponents! Tampa Bay also has a huge gap, with 487 yards on defensive penalties and just 209 yards on offensive penalties for opponents.)
This is where I admit that otherwise, I am stumped right now at what is causing this difference between how EPA rates the Cincinnati pass defense and how DVOA rates the Cincinnati pass defense. Big gains are not the issue, as the Bengals have allowed an average 10 gains of 40 or more yards. And looking at success rate and yards per play gives you a result that's the opposite of what we would expect. You may remember that on offense, the success rate was closer to the rank for VOA and the yards per play was closer to the rank for EPA. That's because DVOA is essentially built around success rates with bonuses for extra yardage, while EPA is more built around raw gains for each play. OK, but the success rate for the Bengals pass defense is 46.1% (14th) while net yards per play allowed is 6.36 (20th). That means the rank for success rate is closer to the rank for EPA, while the rank for net yards per play allowed is closer to the rank for DVOA!
Anyway, more research will need to be done on why DVOA has the Bengals so much lower than EPA, particularly on defense. Which rating is more accurate? I suppose we'll find out come the postseason, although we won't really find out in the postseason because there is too much randomness in the postseason to judge metrics based on what happens when one team plays 1-4 games. Research on how to improve DVOA's predictive ability is based on years and years of data rather than a handful of games.
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Here is the Football Outsiders Top 16 through 17 weeks of 2021, 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 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 gives recent games more strength than older games to get a better idea of how well teams are playing now.
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>
Click here for the full table.
64 comments, Last at 10 Jan 2022, 9:51am
#1 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jan 04, 2022 - 5:12pm
Dang it NE, you made JAX look as bad as we all knew they were this year and ATL is no longer dead last in DVOA and I really wanted a new record for most wins by the worst team in DVOA. DET snuck by them too. It's gonna take some major game 17 results to get ATL back down there.
#4 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jan 04, 2022 - 6:21pm
Sure, ATL had something to do with it to but it was more about JAX. The ATL and DET swap (since DET passed them too) was more about 2 regular spectrum game changes happening in opposite directions though again DET moved more than ATL.
Ordering by last week (worst to better)
ATL went from -33.7% DVOA to -30.7%. That's +3%.
JAX went from -30.2% DVOA to -36.2%. That's -6%
DET went from -28.3% DVOA to -31.9%. That's -3.6%
So had JAX not played so badly, ATL even with the win wouldn't have passed them, they would have still swapped with DET.
I wasn't too worried about DET, they'll get a good DVOA against the GB back-ups* next week even if GB wins in the "Jordan Love tries to pull a Matt Flynn" bowl.
JAX though are playing the Colts and while IND is not a juggernaut JAX has the kind of D that IND can shred. So while I was expecting them to drop playing NE, I wasn't expecting that big a drop.
ATL is playing NO and I just don't know what that game will produce. I expect that like most of the season ATL won't move much more than 3% either way though.
So yes I shouldn't just rule out that ATL actually played a decent game but the teams they were trying to "hold off" generated a larger portion of the movement.
* OK this isn't completely fair. There may be more currently starting players for GB in that game than one might think considering the entire offensive line already is back-ups or 3rd or 4th stringers and you don't want to go too deep down the roster for a full game and play guys that might get your back-ups killed too. They like to use 2 RB so I don't think it will be just Taylor at RB one of Dillon or Jones will likely get some snaps. Rodgers with the toe won't (or shouldn't) play. Adams shouldn't play. You probably won't see either MVS or Lazard (whichever of the 2 is more banged up). D is harder to say. All the active corners pretty much have to play when they go dime.
Edit: OK this if for my * it appears that GB is not going to give Rodgers 3 full weeks to help heal the damn toe. https://www.packers.com/news/packers-will-play-starters-this-week-at-detroit-week-18-2021-season
#16 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 04, 2022 - 9:23pm
It's asinine. Fueled by the 2011 nightmare vs the (CHAMPION) Giants. That and personal glory (Rodgers 4k, Adams Packers rec yards record).
Yet the nightmare that should be fueling them is 2017 when, ironically, Rodgers also had a lower body injury and played in a meaningless game against the Lions, in which he got concussed (again).
This team I swear...just...making me sweat for nothing. The best thing that could happen from not resting them is...nothing! Nobody gets hurt! On the other hand the worst thing that could happen would be Jordan Love starting his 2nd career game in the playoffs with minimal in game reps!
(and there's packers fans applauding such a decision...)
#18 by dank067 // Jan 04, 2022 - 10:00pm
I wonder if LaFleur is worried the team would come out flat in the divisional round because of how bad they looked in Week 1 after virtually none of their starters played in the preseason. The offense also came out extremely flat in Week 1 of 2019, though the defense was fine in that game. They came out hot in 2020 but no one played any preseason games that year.
LaFleur very much belongs to the school of not putting players at risk and they've been pretty conservative about injuries throughout his tenure. This decision would seem to totally cut against that. Maybe he's also trying to mimic (to some degree) the fact that they've had to play hard all the way through their final regular season game the last two seasons? They've played well in the divisional round in both 2019 and 2020. Who knows. The risk of a catastrophic injury isn't necessarily high, but it's also hard to know what the benefits of playing the starters really are. Teams have done well and poorly doing after things both ways over the years.
#22 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 04, 2022 - 11:57pm
Because then he'd have to explain coming out flat against the Chargers in 2019 with regular week rest. And why ever even play for a bye.
Teams have done well and poorly doing after things both ways over the years.
And that's why you err on the side of caution. The sample size of teams resting the last week is small anyways (like lets also ignore the '88 49ers winning it ALL despite it, yeah going back that far because the sample size is small).
I feel like I'm taking crazy pills with the amount of support he's getting here. There's just like no good that can come from it outside of pixie dust make believe "rust" as if that was reason for us losing in 2011, etc.
I'd support it if we were fighting for something as frivolous as the the 6th or 7th seed but this is just NOTHING! What a great time to get the backups some reps in case their called upon later in the playoffs too.
#23 by dank067 // Jan 05, 2022 - 12:31am
The 2019 Chargers game was obviously part of the California curse that they've broken. (*googles Super Bowl location*) That they've hopefully broken...
It's LaFleur's job to gauge how the team is feeling, how they tend to perform in practice, etc., and to use that information to judge the best way to prepare them going forward. He's normally pretty risk-averse when it comes to player health. It does seem a little out of character, but I guess I trust him? He's done a really nice job with this team over the past 3 years, especially this year when they've dealt with a ton of injuries. And I'm sure the backups will get plenty of snaps either way.
#24 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jan 05, 2022 - 3:09am
Yeah his typical conservative approach to injuries it what really surprised me. That game is against Detroit so smoke about who to prepare for? Why? Which is why I actually felt like they really mean to do it. I just don't think it's a great idea for a team this banged up where a couple more weeks could be huge. If you are worried about "rust" then look into what other coaches who have been great coming out of bye weeks have done to keep the team ready to go. LaFleur has show a willingness to learn and adapt, so do it.
The only reason I could see for Rodgers/Adams/etc to play is if Bakhtiari is actually ready to go and they want to get a few reps (a series at most) with him and the reconfigured line (as I expect it would just be Bakh at LT but that Nijman might swap to the right as I think at this stage he is better than Kelly). It's still not a great reason but I can at least understand an argument for the offense to get a few snaps together at game speed before the playoffs with some players coming off long injury stints. Also I think you could evaluate Bakh and get him some game speed play with Jordan Love throwing to Juwan Winfree, Amari Rodgers, and Equanimeous St. Brown with Patrick Taylor taking hand offs just fine.
Mostly though, even with that, Bakh is in his 9th season he shouldn't need it. He's played next to Runyan before (not a ton since Runyan is the ... #4 guard? Jenkins, Patrick, Newman, Runyan, yeah 4). Same goes with Cobb, he's played so long with Rodgers he doesn't need anything outside practice.
All the defensive players who might be coming back might make a little more sense as this is a new scheme. The counter again is they are all veterans, and they have all had game experience with multiple systems and adjusting to them. It's also not quite as important on D to have experience with the rest of the players. Stokes knowing how Alexander handles his responsibilities when they are corners on the opposite side of the field isn't as big a deal as an offensive tackle knowing how the guard next to him deals with a twist. It's not completely irrelevant but again practice should cover it. Sure if Alexander is back where are you playing Stokes, Alexander, and Douglas? They started using King against the better TE at the very end of the BAL game and he got some more snaps in the slot against CLE and MIN so they know what they can do with him now that he's been firmly pushed down the chart. Alexander has played the slot before so if you don't want to stress the rookie with learning more or shift Douglas from where's he's doing well then you just got a huge upgrade over Chandon Sullivan even if it's not the optimal usage, it's easy to slot in and it's still a better defense. Do you need to see them against Goff/Boyle (I haven't been following their injury report) and the better St. Brown brother?
Just take advantage of locking things up a week early and take the extra rest. Get Amari Rodgers some more game speed snaps and see if he's gotten over the nerves that had his routes looking like crap against Arizona last time he was pressed into service at WR. I say that because by all accounts he didn't screw up routes like that in practice. Sure it would be Love throwing to him and that doesn't solve the "Rodgers doesn't trust him" issues but when it felt like a confidence thing getting him some more game snaps to help with that could be huge down the line since we all know that MVS, ESB, Lazard, and Adams all miss games pretty much every year, so getting knocked out of a playoff game is not unreasonable.
Finally I'm sorry I did my little * note when talking about ATL, JAX, and DET DVOA's. I was trying to keep that post mostly on point and now I've started this. LOL
#27 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 05, 2022 - 8:37am
That falls into the same bucket as rust, momentum, etc. Things that people put way too much focus on, that are there...until they aren't. No evidence of them. I was saving the quote for the week of quotes but Ryan Clark said (about Joe Judge) this week: "Judge me by the things you can't measure."
As DPF replied, go ask the 88 49ers how they survived. Go ask, well maybe study, why last years Chiefs made it to the SB despite resting. "Rust" doesn't guarantee an L.
I'll trust Lafleur playing Aaron Jones over Dillon in the 4th as some fans scream for Dillon to justify the 2nd round investment. Stuff like that. This is a situation where he's missing the forest for the trees. I'm comfortable calling him out from my 20,000 foot view as he seems to be too close to see the whole picture.
The connection between playing a quarter or two in Detroit vs the 2-13-1 Lions and then hosting Philly, or whoever, is just not real enough to risk your stars and take away reps from the backups.
#29 by Dave from DC // Jan 05, 2022 - 9:51am
As a Pack fan, I would rest liberally, especially given all the injury issues this year. But I would be interested in seeing a rigorous analysis of this question, though I don't know of any. Without that, it's hard to say whether the injury risk presented by a couple of series together--how big is that, I wonder?--is greater than whatever benefit the players might gain from playing (even if it's placebo effect). You'd need some way to quantify both aspects of the issue.
#40 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 05, 2022 - 11:25am
But I bet the conclusions would be inconclusive due to small sample size. Therefore we continue to err on the side of caution. The chances aren't high but it's still >0%.
I'm not sure there's a placebo effect because that would imply...they just don't try if they rest? But do when play? That doesn't make any sense either.
The only reason I will accept it is if the players are push that hard. But it's also his job to stress it like I am. Let them know whatever they're chasing my not be worth it as they can go down and not come back up. Only allow them because it'll keep the relationship well. Rust, etc aren't reasons though.
#41 by dank067 // Jan 05, 2022 - 11:44am
When I say I trust LaFleur, I guess I'm saying that he seems pretty intelligent and that I trust that he's thinking about these tradeoffs in a smart way and not just a superstitious way. A bunch of players did say right after the game that they'd like to play next week, and I have to imagine that's a really big factor in why LaFleur is probably going to play them. Maybe they feel like they have a really good routine right now, maybe they feel like preparing as normal and getting some in-game reps is best for their own performance, I don't know. But yes, I do agree that the coach should put a very high priority on trying to keep the team as healthy as possible, and not just defer to Davante because he wants to set the yardage record... ultimately, it's up to LaFleur.
#46 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 05, 2022 - 2:55pm
But being good in one area doesn't mean it applies to all. Maybe he is superstitious. This is just the one time it's gotten shown. Then again, I think they left at a different time (later) during the whole "California curse" thing when going back one time. Maybe there's something actually tangible there but...this may just a time where many coaches don't think about it and a lot of the people in this specific building are just telling him about 2011. Probably easier to blame that loss (essentially) on a guy no longer in the building and his idea to rest instead of just admitting the Giants played well. Smart people can still have slip ups. Like Lafleur taking the FG in the NFCCG. Learn from it and move on. That's the real value.
#51 by Tutenkharnage // Jan 05, 2022 - 4:07pm
Of all the teams in the league I might try to pad stats against in a meaningless finale, Dan Campbell's Patella Munchers seem like one of the worst candidates, if not the worst candidate. This is a colossally dumb decision, and it has to be judged as such now because if you wait to judge it in hindsight, the narratives kick in, most of which have been mentioned here already.
#44 by Dave from DC // Jan 05, 2022 - 12:14pm
wouldn't be a question of whether or not players try, but whether or not they feel prepared. As dank067 points out, a number of players have come forward saying they want to play. I'm guessing their underlying reasons for wanting to play are pretty weak, but if they believe them to be strong, well....
Again, if I were coach I would play as many backups as possible, but if the players really push and claim it will help them, at what point does it become self-fulfilling? That's why I'd love to know just how much of a risk the team would really run if they were to indulge the players' preference.
#47 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 05, 2022 - 2:59pm
They're gonna say they're ready regardless. I think the simple answer is they want to chase records and it should be easy against a 2-13-1 team. They love the little W. They love breaking Jordys single season record (despite more games). They love round numbers like 4000, etc. And they simply love playing! Game is fun. Especially when you can beat up a division "rival."
Like I said at the end though, if Lafleur is being pressured (by the players) he can "cave" and play them...for a bit. Once their objectives (records) are completed, pull em, even if it's 1st and goal at the 1.
#60 by BJR // Jan 06, 2022 - 6:33am
I wonder what the Players Union thinks about that. The extra game was their prime point of negotiation in the recent CBA, but here are a set of players with the perfect opportunity to avoid the extra game, and they are choosing to play anyway? (Of course contract incentives and other targets cloud matters here).
And just to echo your thoughts about the stupidity of playing important starters in a meaningless game.
#61 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 06, 2022 - 8:57am
And it's not the ones that wanted the extra that want to play this meaningless one either.
Injury chance may be low but those that were ok with the extra game won't get as much of the benefit as they should get. Ironic.
#48 by Tutenkharnage // Jan 05, 2022 - 3:41pm
You argue constantly in favor of teams running meaningless plays because "Hey! Nothing happens most of the time!" ... but you're going to balk when a particular quarterback decides to play, even knowing that quarterbacks make it through a game unscathed the majority of the time?
Hey! Nothing happens! You've got nothing to worry about ;-)
#54 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 05, 2022 - 5:08pm
Hate to see it when someone continues to strawman and use hyperboles.
Comparing increasing a lead/cutting a deficit right before halftime =/= playing valuable players in a game where seeding/fate can't change.
Not hard to understand. You're the only one here conflating those two. Alas...one day you won't want to argue just for the sake of arguing. My point here doesn't help your point there. Go Pack Go.
#62 by Tutenkharnage // Jan 06, 2022 - 9:41am
The Packers players—at least some of them—see value in playing this game. This goes beyond seeding, which is a restriction you’re placing on the benefits. They clearly aren’t, and they’re considering things like routine, rust, and so on. Are some of those self-fulfilling narratives? Probably! Does that mean they don’t count to the players? Nope.
This is exactly the other argument. The risks outweigh the benefits because the risks are disastrous and are not worth it even though nothing will happen most of the time. And the risks are slanted against the team that is deciding to take the unnecessary risk.
Now, with all that said, there’s a balancing act here, and I don’t envy LaFleur. McDermott was out in the same position last year, and he let the starters go for about a half. Players who want to play are going to like that. On the other side of the coin, Payton and Dungy passed on chances for undefeated seasons in 2009 even though players on both teams were very adamant about wanting to go for the perfect season, and it “worked” in the sense that they both made the Super Bowl. Whether this “works” for the Packers will likely be judged by whether they make the NFCCG and look good getting there, just like Cincy’s decision to rest Burrow and other starters will likely be judged after the fact. I would rest them and not risk Rodgers against the Lions, but I’m not the coach and don’t have my finger on the pulse of the team. I still think it’s a bad decision, though.
#63 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 06, 2022 - 10:07am
I put in plain words (again) and you're still the only one to fight it.
"Goes beyond seeding" aka judge me on the things you can't measure! Perfect! (Thanks for the quote Ryan Clark)
Running a play or two before halftime to AGAIN I repeat, cut a deficit or increase a lead isn't NEAR the same thing as...a team being locked into their fate already. Oh but it goes beyond! The proof of that being...nothing! Just feelings of pride! There's no positives to this like there can be in the middle of a flippin game.
You're the only weirdo here that doesnt see it. Read the room.
Also the Bills weren't locked into their seed. They just couldn't get the 1 seed aka bye.
#3 by BlueStarDude // Jan 04, 2022 - 6:20pm
RE: "Yes, the season is one game longer now and so the most accurate comprison of ‘like to like’ would be to compare this year's ratings now to historical ratings,"
You're for sure not just making the easier call but also the right call. 16 out of 17 is not the same as 16 out of 16 anyway—brings in a bunch of different variables—so yeah, might as well wait.
I wish Dallas had dropped out of #1 though. Seems like a bad year to be the #1 team. :)
#5 by CHIP72 // Jan 04, 2022 - 6:36pm
...no #1 teams this season, just a whole bunch of teams ranked between #4 and #12, some of whom by rule have to rank in the top 3 and some of whom by rule have to rank below 12th.
The Cowboys strike me as a team that could win the Super Bowl but could also lose in their first game...which is just like about 9 or 10 of the other playoff teams this year!
#8 by Romodini // Jan 04, 2022 - 7:21pm
I think it's interesting that Schatz mentions that penalties mostly aren't included in DVOA analysis, as it might explain why the Cowboys play by play efficiency might look good to DVOA, while their actual games appear sloppy with numerous penalties. All of the Cowboys' close games this year have had a lot of penalties involved.
The Cowboys do not perform well under reffing crews such as Shawn Hochuli and Scott Novak that throw a lot of flags (they won one of four) and that also seem to have, let's say "questionable" interpretation of rules. I would bet that the success of this year's Dallas team comes down a lot to which crew is assigned to their playoff game(s). Although I think any run-in with Green Bay is a likely loss due to the matchup.
#6 by Romodini // Jan 04, 2022 - 7:09pm
After 17 weeks, it seems pretty difficult to claim Green Bay isn't clearly the top team in the NFC, regardless of what DVOA says. Weighted DVOA at least, has finally caught up to them.
They had a fluke blowout loss the first game of the season, a ridiculous field goal circus with the Bengals, got saved by the refs against the Browns, and nearly lost to a decimated Ravens team... but if that's the worst there is to indict them, it's not much.
The Rams nearly lost to that same bad Ravens team, have a streaky quarterback that throws multiple interceptions on his own side of the field practically every game, and have already had embarrassing losses to Green Bay, the Titans, and 49ers.
The Bucs somehow lost to a terribly QB'd Saints team twice, the no name football team, narrowly beat the Jets, and have lost two of their 3 number one receivers for the rest of the year.
The Cardinals also already lost to an injured Green Bay, had the most embarrassing loss of all the NFC teams in the Detroit game, and barely beat an inconsistent Cowboys team even with the calls on their side.
The Cowboys have a similar share of embarrassing losses along with an offense that's lost it's running game and has had its passing game mostly solved: All a (competent) defense has to do is show one look pre-snap, wait for Dak to audible to a play that he thinks will beat their look, then change that look post snap to one that counteracts what they know Dak went to. Dak gets confused, rushes through his progressions, loses his mechanics, refuses to throw downfield, and stays in a rut until the 4th quarter when the offense goes to no huddle and he no longer has to think long enough to screw up his accuracy or doubt himself.
The Cowboys defense is also only effective if it gets pressure that leads to turnovers -- all their losses illustrate this. They lost every one of their games in which they also lost the turnover battle, except for the Bucs game in which they forced three more turnovers and still somehow choked. So if the Boys were to win in the wildcard round, they'd have to travel to the Packers who are led by a QB that doesn't throw interceptions, that can methodically drive down the field and chew clock (as all the teams that beat Dallas have done) and could stand in the pocket for ten seconds at a time if he wanted. How would picking the Cowboys to win this game based on their superior DVOA make any sense? Is there anyone who would seriously trust a DVOA based prediction in that matchup?
It really does seem like there is something missing in overall DVOA that punishes the Packers too harshly and doesn't punish teams like the Cowboys and Rams enough for showing up big against most pushover teams while succumbing to sloppiness and miscues in others. Maybe it needs to be somehow more matchup dependent when used as a tool to predict games, because there is no way the supposedly number one ranked Cowboys are beating the Packers in Lambeau.
And the Cowboys effectively gave up their chance of finally getting past the divisional round with the Arizona loss. Had they won, they'd be facing a mediocre Eagles or Saints team as the 2nd seed, followed by a likely matchup with a turnover prone Rams team in the divisional, which would have played right to their strengths.
#9 by oaktoon // Jan 04, 2022 - 7:24pm
But I think Rams-Niners is the most eventful game of Week 18. Rams win, they preserve the 2 seed and knock out the Niners if NO beats ATL. Which pretty much forces ARIZ @ DALL and TB Rams getting PHILLY/NO in some order. Lose and Rams will either get Cardinals in first round or Niners for a third time knowing Shanahan has their number. So while the Niners are facing elimination the Rams are facing a much tougher road... Not to mention I don't think anyone of the top seeds really wants to mess with SF-- no matter who the QB is....
#21 by jheidelberg // Jan 04, 2022 - 11:26pm
The NFL is counting on IND beating JAX making this a win and you are in, lose and you are out game.
However, if JAX pulls the upset, then a tie would get both teams in. Here is an article speculating about the coaches having a gentlemen's agreement before the game and taking a knee for the entire game so that the resulting 0-0 tie gets them both in.
Here is the last line of the article:
If the Eagles were willing to tank for a draft pick, it doesn't seem so crazy to think that the Chargers and Raiders would do it to get in the playoffs. The NFL would be irate if this happened, which is why the league will likely be rooting for the Colts to beat the Jaguars.
I never believe in the fix is on, but to even suggest that the league is "rooting" for the Colts to win brings up some ugly scenarios. Of course the league would not dare do the "fairness" scenario, in which all games that matter are played at 4:25 and lose out on a SNF revenue game.
If the league can root for the Colts, I can root for the NFL being irate.
#30 by NYChem // Jan 05, 2022 - 9:55am
As a steelers fan, I actually enjoyed the one positive about their tie - I felt I didn't have to click on ANY of the million tie break scenarios articles of the last three weeks, since I was pretty sure we weren't going to be tied with anyone. But as soon as it played out in week 17 (even before the Monday nighter) I thought of that as a possibility. And then someone at CBS writes an article about it (thanks for the link). Though obviously absurd to take knees for 70 minutes, I mean, yeah, it would be in both teams interest to tie if the colts lose. The league would go ballistic for sure, and I mean, NBC, I could hear Collinsworth trying to drum up interest in the possibility of a fumbled snap getting kicked through the endzone for a safety, while Al talks about how everyone betting the under must be elated, and Vegas taking second half props off the board. I doubt it will play out that way, but the only downside is optics and Herbert and Carr ending with over -100 rushing yards each.
#58 by seesau // Jan 06, 2022 - 4:53am
The league can sanction teams for collusion if they purposely lost or drew a game and it might even run afoul of actual laws in some way due to various contracts the NFL has with television companies, plus there's sports betting. There's no chance at all they open the game taking knees. Maybe if the game is actually tied toward the end 4th the fact that a tie is good enough will effect their strategy at the end of the game and overtime, but I doubt there would be any sort of agreement.
#11 by Darren // Jan 04, 2022 - 8:48pm
I still think TB has the best team. They can win without AB or Godwin. Packers have surprised me, I thought their line would be a problem, but the reason they have the best odds is that they have the bye and home-field advantage. Both teams looked awful against NO, but I'd take TB over any team on a neutral field.
All teams are unpredictable, especially this season. Saying Dallas can't win in Green Bay is hyperbole.
We remember DVOA being right about TB last year, maybe it's right about GB this year. Maybe. I trust DVOA's evaluation of Tennessee (bad) more than GB (meh).
#12 by oaktoon // Jan 04, 2022 - 8:54pm
As is Tenn bad-- Truth is with weighted DVOA GB is now 4th-- and not very far behind the leaders. Their record with LaFleur as coach at Lambeau is 24-3.... yep, played poorly and lost to TB in the title game last year. yes, they could lose at Lambeau to several different NFC teams. But 24-3 is pretty damn imposing... As is 13-1 since the opener with Rodgers at QB....
But a betting man would be wise not to go against them-- presuming TB beats the Rams, they come to Lambeau nowhere near as healthy as they were last year-- while GB could have the services of 3 different Pro Bowl or All-Pro players (Bahktiari, Alexander and Z. Smith) after not having any of them since late September...
They might be a lot of things--- meh ain't one of them...
#7 by jgov // Jan 04, 2022 - 7:19pm
I'm surprised the 2008 Titans didn't make the list of worst number one seeds. My mind went there immediately for a comparison given it's the same franchise and both teams are the rare #1 seed with a mediocre passing offense (though the 2021 Titans are surely better than the 2008 Titans at passing with their WRs at full strength).
#34 by Aaron Schatz // Jan 05, 2022 - 10:48am
2008 Titans were fifth that year with 24.2% DVOA. Great defense. Although their defense was fifth in the league that year, it had a better DVOA (-18.3%) than any defense this season!
#10 by Drunken5yearold // Jan 04, 2022 - 7:46pm
Dallas having the best defense in the league may qualify as the biggest surprise of the year. I thought taking Parsons so high was a mistake but he's been amazing. Not sure what else has been a big contributor. The only time I watched them this year was week 2 against the Chargers, and I wasn't that impressed. They got bailed out a ton by silly Chargers penalties and questionable ref calls.
Also, there's a mistake on the numbers for Austin Ekeler. The running backs page has him at 0 fumbles on the year but he had two against Cleveland and two against Cincy.
#36 by Aaron Schatz // Jan 05, 2022 - 10:52am
Howdy! Ekeler's four fumbles have all come on receptions rather than on carries, and if you go to the RB page you'll notice he is listed with four fumbles in the receiving stats, but none in the rushing stats. You had me worried there for a second!
#39 by Romodini // Jan 05, 2022 - 11:23am
The Dallas defense didn't look that great in that game and has improved since. But their ability to generate turnovers was evident from the first game of the season.
Dan Quinn surprisingly has had a big effect -- he's at least smart enough to start Randy Gregory, something his predecessor Mike Nolan seemed unwilling to do. The biggest thing is that he's created a defense that actually generates pressure and turnovers.
#14 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 04, 2022 - 9:07pm
"This is where I note that I've made a decision not to do a bunch of comparisons of historical numbers to 2021 DVOA through 16 games in this week's analysis."
You couldn't do both? But you'll give us an all rookie team 2 weeks ahead of time?
#17 by RobotBoy // Jan 04, 2022 - 9:54pm
I'm curious if players who took last year off have a lower injury rate this year than guys who played. Probably too many variables to make a clean comparison but there's an argument to be made that having a full year to recover from the beating of a lifetime of football was helpful.
#19 by El Muneco // Jan 04, 2022 - 10:25pm
The NFC West... Per DVOA... Is exactly what it was predicted to be at the start of the season?
The Rams slightly above the other three, but all of them in the top 12?
So, even excepting the Geno Smith and Trey Lance Experiences, the big gap in perception is that that Hawks and 49ers lost a few close but winnable games to bad teams.
#20 by theowl // Jan 04, 2022 - 11:11pm
The three teams the Niners lost to outside of thir division were the Packers, Colts and Titans. The only Wild Card competitor they didn't beat is the Saints, who they didn't play... which is why they probably won"t make the playoffs. It is hard to make the playoffs when you lose five division games.
#38 by David // Jan 05, 2022 - 11:14am
I dunno, speaking as 49ers fan, I think DVOA is overrating the 49ers.
Obviously, this happens more the other way around - fans of teams tend to comment when DVOA suggests the team isn't as strong as their perception, but I really feel DVOA is overrating the 49ers. I find it hard to square the team I'm watching regularly with a top 10 team (top quartile, in overall DVOA)
I don't know why, and I'm not suggesting DVOA is wrong as such. Maybe that although the team is efficient, that isn't necessarily correlated with winning.
#45 by bruddog // Jan 05, 2022 - 2:45pm
As a 49er fan myself, they do seem slightly overrated by DVOA
However the 49ers have had a couple close losses with very untimely turnovers by Jimmy.
But one big hidden stat they have that I don't think shows up at all or fully in DVOA is they are dead last in net penalty EPA per game. They are at -1.75 EPA per game from penalties.
#25 by nat // Jan 05, 2022 - 7:23am
In fact, right now the Titans have a lower DVOA than any No. 2 seed ever, not just any No. 1 seed ever, although a win over Houston in Week 18 is likely to change that.
Since DVOA is adjusted for the strength/weakness of the opponent, isn’t playing Houston just as likely to lower the Titans’ DVOA? They’d need more than a win. They’d need to win by more than DVOA predicts they will.
They certainly could do that. Or not. Neither should be more likely.
#32 by RickD // Jan 05, 2022 - 10:09am
But in practice, any win over any team tends to help a team's DVOA, no matter how bad the opponent. I think this is justifiable, since the win adds to the positive information about the winning team. A presumed win isn't as informative as an actual win.
#35 by Aaron Schatz // Jan 05, 2022 - 10:49am
I guess I'm sort of assuming that the Titans, with the No. 1 seed to play for and a healthier roster than earlier this year, are likely to beat Houston by a substantial margin rather than close. But you're right, a close win might actually keep their DVOA constant or even drop it slightly.
#42 by nat // Jan 05, 2022 - 11:49am
I suspect you are right. There are reasons to think the Titans might beat DVOA expectations in this particular game.
I am glad for the caveat, though. I get sick of DVOA novices saying things like “Team X’s DVOA is too high because they have had a squishy schedule.” The D in DVOA is one of the strengths of your system. There is no systematic reason to think that playing a weak team will increase your team’s DVOA.
DYAR can be inflated by an easy schedule, because playing weak defenses can get you more plays. But DVOA is intended to adjust for opponents, and works pretty well.
#26 by big10freak // Jan 05, 2022 - 8:36am
Having watched a number of Bengals games I am surprised the variance value is not higher. This is the classic young team that lurches one direction or the other based on who knows what. One week this team is humiliating Pittsburgh. Next week they allow a West Coast team having to play at 1 p.m. EST punch them in the mouth right out of the gate.
After beating the Ravens and then falling behind KC I figured, as I am sure most Bengals were thinking, 'here we go again'. But instead Cincy kept scrapping and pulled out the win.
The Bengals are a fun but flawed team. Come the playoffs I could see them losing 44-17 or the O-line has a day, the d-line covers for the back 7 and Bengals win 38-30.
#28 by Shylo // Jan 05, 2022 - 8:46am
Not that I'm sure Schatz reads the comments section but I think a lot of the grief that Schatz got is that he seemed very gleeful pointing it out, and I'm not sure how many of the Titans fans I follow on Twitter know Schatz is a NE fan but it does come across as some sour grapes, but to be honest, I thought the Titans blew the #1 seed after blowing the Steelers game, but if the Titans win the #1 seed at 12-5, then that means everyone blew it. Everyone can point to "shouldas", but the Titans could have maxed out at 15-2 (or min-ed out even lower than that). I respect that DVOA makes it hard to model a constantly changing team.
I also think that what you get from Titans fans (myself included) from an emotional standpoint is a frustration and a longing. They've been close a couple of times, but no reward yet. We'll probably be obnoxious if they can take home the championship this year (and I hope they will!) but there's plenty of football left to play, and barring the Titans beefing it again, see you in Nashville.
#33 by RickD // Jan 05, 2022 - 10:17am
Also a Pats' fan, but to my eyes the Titans have been the most consistent team in the AFC. Beating the Colts twice, the Chiefs, the Bills, the Rams in LA...the loss to the Jets is embarrassing, but most of the top teams have a similar loss. The Pats beat the Titans soundly - I look at all the missing players that day for the Titans, while DVOA doesn't really appreciate that. They've looked more consistent than the Chiefs, even though the Chiefs' peak might be higher.
#37 by Aaron Schatz // Jan 05, 2022 - 10:54am
I can respect that opinion. Really, if I came off as giddy it's because I'm always a little giddy when a team is "the best ever" or "the worst ever" because I find it so interesting. No sour grapes, certainly before the season began I never would have even expected the Patriots to be in contention for the 1 seed and the fact that they had a shot at it at one point was pretty amazing.
#49 by luisguilherme // Jan 05, 2022 - 3:56pm
The Seahawks have are the #12 ranked team by DVOA. They are second in variance, meaning they are very consistent. So how do you explain their lackluster record? Is it because the NFC is either too weak or too strong? (the top 4 teams in Forest Index are the division leaders in the NFC, and they dominate both the top and the bottom of the DVOA table).
#50 by Vincent Verhei // Jan 05, 2022 - 4:03pm
They are 2-5 in games decided by eight points or less, including 0-2 in overtime. Switch a handful of plays and they have eight or nine wins instead of six, while their DVOA and variance would remain basically unchanged.
#57 by capnhook33 // Jan 05, 2022 - 8:16pm
This is exactly what I talked about earlier in the year. The Bengals have a high variance factor, which is going to throw off some of these predictive things. Since some of these metrics are based on counting stats, the Bengals get hurt because they run far less plays than opponents, and often on Offense it was all or nothing (at one point they led in explosive plays but also in 3 and out%). I think this in turn hurts their play-to-play efficiency numbers on both sides of the ball, since if the defense has to play more plays, they are likely to get worn down and in turn give up more yardage and often in bigger chunks.