Week 12 DVOA Preview: the Dolphins-Ravens Paradox
The 7-4 Baltimore Ravens climbed from fourth to second overall in the pre-Monday Night Football DVOA rankings despite their 28-27 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The 8-3 Miami Dolphins fell from seventh to eighth despite their 30-15 trouncing of the Houston Texans.
No, DVOA has not lost its mind. It's merely fighting the good fight against Recency Bias and outcome-oriented analysis.
The Ravens outperformed the Jaguars on Sunday, running more plays (68 to 61), averaging more net yards per play (6.1 to 5.4) and accumulating more net total yards (415 to 332). They led most of the afternoon. The Jaguars won thanks to a handful of high-leverage plays, including a pair of late-game fourth-down conversions. When a team forces a fumble and places its opponent in a third-and-21, no-timeouts-left situation while leading by seven points with 1:59 to play, it usually wins. That's just what the Ravens did against the Jaguars. And Sunday's Ravens loss mirrored their early-season losses to the Dolphins and Giants: they held two-score leads in the fourth quarter against all three opponents, only to lose in the last moments in unlikely ways.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, easily made oatmeal out of the Texans, and their DVOA rose from 12.6% to 14.4% as a result. Pummeling the lowly Texans can only move the needle on opponent-adjusted metrics so far, however, and the 7-4 Cincinnati Bengals climbed past the Dolphins into seventh place with a hard-fought 20-16 win over the much-tougher Tennessee Titans.
Perhaps if the Dolphins kept Tua Tagovailoa in the game and their feet on the pedal after leading 30-0 at halftime they would have climbed a notch in our DVOA rankings. But their goal was to keep Tua healthy for a playoff chase, not win an analytics title. And the Texans' second-half mini-comeback shouldn't be written off as "garbage time." The Texans made it a two-score game with nine minutes to play, and stranger comebacks have happened. Just ask the Ravens.
DVOA also remembers the Dolphins' three-game losing streak and nip-and-tuck victories over weaker opponents such as the Steelers, Bears and Lions. And it notes that the Dolphins have the second-worst special teams in the NFL, while the Ravens came within a few feet of winning on Sunday with a 67-yard Justin Tucker field goal.