The Wild World of the 2022 Minnesota Vikings
NFL Week 13 - It's Trading Places Week at the top of the Football Outsiders DVOA ratings, with a number of teams swapping spots while the team(s) in between them stay the same.
Let's start near the top with Baltimore and Dallas. The Cowboys crushed the Colts on Sunday night and move up to No. 2 in DVOA. The Cowboys are also now No. 1 in weighted DVOA, which lowers the strength of the earliest games to try to get a better idea of how good teams will be going forward. The Cowboys are now the No. 1 defense by five percentage points over the rest of the league, with San Francisco climbing to No. 2. We'll get to the 49ers in a moment.
Baltimore slid past Denver 10-9 but the Broncos significantly outplayed the Ravens in that game. Baltimore ended up with just 4.7% Post-Game Win Expectancy. The Broncos outgained the Ravens 5.2 to 4.1 yards per play and had a +2 turnover margin. So the Ravens drop in DVOA despite the win, two spots down to No. 4 where the Cowboys used to be.
The Philadelphia Eagles remain in between at No. 3 although they climbed up from 26.9% to 30.0% with a big win over the Titans.
Next swap: San Francisco and Kansas City. If you remember that Cincinnati was just one spot behind the Chiefs last week, you probably aren't surprised that the Bengals' win moved them past Kansas City. However, San Francisco leaped both of them with a big win over Miami, especially by shutting down the Dolphins offense. So we now have San Francisco fifth and Kansas City seventh, with Cincinnati remaining in between at No. 6.
Final swap: How about those red hot Detroit Lions? The Lions smashed Jacksonville and climb three spots to No. 13. Over the past six weeks, Detroit ranks seventh in overall DVOA including ninth on both offense and defense plus sixth on special teams. The Lions swap spots with the Tennessee Titans, who lost big to Philadelphia as mentioned above. They drop down to 16th but are still clear favorites to win the AFC South with the rest of the division also losing this week. Jacksonville plummets six spots from 18th to 24th in DVOA after the Lions' win.
Cleveland (No. 14) and Green Bay (No. 15) drop slightly but stay in the same places between the Lions and the Titans.
Speaking of the Lions, you may have seen that the 5-7 Lions are favored in this week's game against the 10-2 Vikings. Clearly, Vegas oddsmakers are smoking whatever DVOA is smoking when it comes to the crazy year the Vikings are having. Honestly, it doesn't matter what stat you look at, there's never been a 10-2 team anything like this year's Vikings. I've written about them so much but things just get crazier and crazier as they reel off close win after close win.
Check out the list of the lowest 10-2 teams in DVOA history and you can see just how far away the Vikings are from every other 10-2 team of the last 42 years except themselves in 2000.
|Worst 10-2 Teams by DVOA, 1981-2022|
I added weighted DVOA to the table so you could see just how little these teams are similar to this year's Vikings. Many of the worst 10-2 teams were on the upswing, getting hot in the second half of the season (1998 Falcons) or rebounding from particularly bad performances very early in the season (2003 Patriots). But the 2022 Vikings are actually... well, not quite on the downswing, but three of their four best games of the season came back in Weeks 1-6 before their bye. (The Jets game this week is the fourth of those four games.)
I thought we might end up in a situation where the Vikings were not just the worst 10-2 team in DVOA history but also worse than all the 9-3 teams. That doesn't turn out to be the case because the Vikings climbed a bit with 18.9% DVOA in the game against the Jets. So the Vikings do have one 9-3 team that comes in below them, the 2020 Cleveland Browns. Check out this list of the worst 9-3 or 10-2 teams, and how they finished the season:
|Worst 9-3 or 10-2 Teams by DVOA, 1981-2022|
It's interesting that none of the teams on this list come from any earlier than 1999. I'm not sure why that is. There certainly were plenty of overperforming teams in the 80s and 90s, but the most extreme ones just happened to be 8-4 or 7-5 instead of 9-3.
The Vikings also stand out among history's 10-2 teams if we use conventional stats. For example, only six teams in NFL history have had negative net yardage with a 10-2 record. The Vikings, at -754 yards, are the most negative of those teams. The 2010 Patriots were at -445 yards; the other 10-2 teams that had net negative yardage were the 1984 Seahawks, 1965 Browns, 1986 Jets, and 1960 Eagles. The Vikings also have the lowest point differential of any 10-2 team in history at +10 points. The 2019 Seahawks, at +36, were the only other 10-2 team below +40.
And here's what's even more remarkable... the Vikings are probably going to keep winning. The Vikings now have the No. 30 remaining schedule in the NFL by average DVOA of opponent, with no games left against the top dozen teams in the league. DVOA will favor their opponents when they travel to Detroit this Sunday and Green Bay in Week 17, but those are definitely winnable games for an average team. Even if Vegas does have the Lions favored this week!
Introducing Game Variance
What's the best way to measure a team's consistency?
Right now, we measure consistency at Football Outsiders with variance. This is a basic statistical formula that's similar to standard deviation. It measures the average of squared deviations from the mean of a sample. But does this match the way we tend to think about a team's consistency as fans?
Let me throw things back to last season for a moment. Here's our week-to-week DVOA graph for last year's New York Giants. The Giants ranked 23rd in variance last season.
This does look like a high variance team at first. Look at the big changes between Week 5 and Week 7, for example! But look a little closer and things appear more consistent. For the first part of the season, the Giants were mostly an average team overall. Then Daniel Jones got hurt in the Week 12 game against the Eagles and the team collapsed. The first few games are mostly grouped together. The last few games are mostly grouped together.
A team that the public tends to think of as inconsistent would have a graph that pinged up and down and up and down all season long. When we think of inconsistent, we tend to think of teams that play very differently from week to week. We think of something more like what the Giants did in Weeks 6 and 7 of last year, where they lost 38-11 to the Rams and then beat the Panthers 25-3. That's inconsistent. The Giants come out with a high variance because they had a lot of average games and a lot of very, very bad games and most of those games were a significant distance from their mean performance which was around -30%. But for the most part, they weren't constantly alternating between good games and bad games.
Compare that to, say, this year's Atlanta Falcons:
The Falcons have been up and down all year long. They have seven games below 0% DVOA but only twice have they had two of them in a row. By variance the way we do it now, the 2021 Giants (15.2%) were a much more inconsistent team than this year's Falcons (7.9%). But when you look at the graphics... the Falcons kind of look the less consistent team, right?
So I've been playing around with an idea I call "game variance." It's a different way to measure consistency that concentrates on how the team's performance changes from week to week without looking at the team's average for the entire season. It's very simple. Game variance takes the changes in single-game DVOA from each week to the next week and then averages the absolute values of those changes.
The 2021 Giants had a game variance of 35.5%, which ranked fifth in the league last year. By this measure, they were one of the most consistent teams from week to week. The 2022 Falcons have a game variance of 45.3%, which currently ranks 24th. So by game variance, the Falcons are the more inconsistent of the two teams.
On the extremes, both methods tend to pick out the same teams as the most or least consistent. The two most consistent teams in the league this year, by both measures, are Washington and the New York Giants. The most inconsistent team in the league, by both measures, is Carolina. But in between, these are some differences. Tampa Bay, Tennessee, and Denver have all been more consistent by game variance. Green Bay and Arizona have been more consistent by standard variance. Here's a look at all 32 teams, including offense and defense split out.
My first thought looking at this table is that I talk a lot about Josh Allen being inconsistent but based on these numbers he's actually been quite consistent this season. And how about the difference between the Pittsburgh offense and the Pittsburgh defense?
I'm curious to hear in the comments what the readers think about the two forms of variance. Which one do you think is a better measure of a team's consistency? Would you like to see us switch from VAR to GVAR in the future?
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This is the Football Outsiders Top 16 through 13 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.
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>