Yes, DVOA Suggests Dolphins Are Overrated
NFL Week 3 - The Buffalo Bills remain as the No. 1 team in our DVOA ratings, even after this week's loss to the Miami Dolphins. The Bills had a strong enough lead a week ago that one bad game isn't enough to knock them out of the top spot, even as their rating drops nearly 30 percentage points.
The dramatically improved Jacksonville Jaguars remain at No. 2 after a big win over the Los Angeles Chargers; as I pointed out on Twitter yesterday, this is the best Jaguars start ever by DVOA. The Baltimore Ravens stay at No. 3 after a healthy win over the New England Patriots. Kansas City drops from fourth to eighth after a loss to Indianapolis, which helps Philadelphia and Tampa Bay (despite a close loss) each move up one spot in the top five.
The biggest surprise at the top of our ratings is the team that is missing. We said before the season that our projections suggested more parity than usual this year, and that's in fact what has happened. Only two teams remain undefeated after just three games. One of them is Philadelphia. Where is the other one, the Miami Dolphins?
Miami is climbing to the top of some subjective power rankings around the Internet. That's not the case here at Football Outsiders. We've got the undefeated Miami Dolphins just 11th in the league through three games. You aren't expecting to see them behind teams such as Dallas and Cleveland, or the 1-2 San Francisco 49ers.
Dolphins fans certainly see things very differently. So do subjective power rankings which tend to be based primarily on wins and losses. Other advanced metrics, however, are more in line with DVOA. Pro Football Reference's SRS, which has undefeated Philadelphia No. 1, has Miami eighth. ESPN's FPI has Miami even lower than we do, currently 15th. Vegas oddsmakers clearly don't believe in the Dolphins' superiority either, as Miami is currently a four-point underdog in Cincinnati on Thursday night. Take out home-field advantage and that suggests the 1-2 Bengals are still better than the Dolphins. That's actually what our DAVE ratings have as well, with Cincinnati currently 15th and Miami right behind at 16th.
Let's break down that Miami DVOA to try to explain why the Dolphins are 11th despite going undefeated so far this year. First, remember the idea of Guts and Stomps. The best teams in the league are typically identified through big wins. Miami beat the Patriots 20-7 in Week 1 but their subsequent wins have come by just four and two points.
I assume nobody is too surprised to see the Dolphins second on offense instead of first. No. 1 Baltimore is averaging 7.1 yards per play this season compared to 6.5 yards per play for the Dolphins. Ranking second is certainly very nice considering where we all would have put the Dolphins offense in the preseason. (The preseason projections had them 13th.)
No, the difference between our numbers and public perception is related to Miami's defense. Right now, the Dolphins rank only 24th in defensive DVOA through three games. That's a better match for Miami's rank in yards allowed (31st) than the Dolphins' rank in points allowed (16th).
Look at some of the complementary parts that add up to DVOA and you can see why Miami is ranked so low. There's talent on the Miami defense, which Cale Clinton writes about in today's Any Given Sunday, but the results aren't very good this year on a per-play basis. The Dolphins have allowed a 51% success rate on defense; only Atlanta and Arizona have been worse. They have allowed 6.3 yards per play, which ranks 27th in the league so far. The Dolphins are in the middle of the league with four turnovers: one interception of Mac Jones and three fumble recoveries out of six fumbles on defense. The pass/run split is bad for the Dolphins, since we know pass defense (where they rank 29th) is more important than run defense (where they rank seventh).
The win over Buffalo was the coming out party for the Miami defense, but even in that game Miami had a below-average defensive DVOA (i.e. above zero). They allowed a lot of yards that didn't result in points. The Bills had a 60-yard drive that resulted in a missed field goal and then a 73-yard drive that ended with a failed fourth-and-goal from the 2. Usually, allowing drives like that is going to mean giving up scores. There were also meaningless yards that the Bills gained in the final drive of each half, neither of which led to points. But taking those plays out of DVOA moves Miami's defensive rating for this game from 12.3% all the way to 5.1%. Not much of an improvement.
Miami also ranks just 29th on special teams so far. Allowing a kick return touchdown to Baltimore's Devin Duvernay plays a role in that, as does the butt punt. Miami's own returns have been nothing special. The good news is that special teams is the least predictive of the three units so that's one place where the Dolphins will probably get better going forward.
Another point in the Dolphins' favor is the schedule they have played. Next week, we begin to filter opponent adjustments into our DVOA ratings, but as of now we're still not including them because it is early in the season. Miami has played the second-toughest schedule in the league so far, with both the Bills and Ravens in our top three. If we were to use 100% opponent adjustments -- something we don't do this early in the season, because we don't truly know how good teams are after just three games -- Miami would rise to No. 5 in DVOA and No. 1 on offense.
The Surprising Teams Above Miami
Schedule strength -- or, in this case, not yet accounting for schedule strength -- plays a role in the ranking of some of the teams which unexpectedly come out ahead of Miami. Let's take a quick look at four of those teams, each of whom have played a below-average schedule through three games.
Dallas (6): It's now been three games, including a win over Minnesota last season. At what point do we start actually believing in Cooper Rush? Bryan Knowles will be writing more about this later in the week, but Rush is currently eighth in passing DVOA. The Dallas offense is 15th overall because, after a terrible Week 1, the Cowboys are the No. 6 offense of Weeks 2-3. Meanwhile, we thought the Cowboys would still have a good defense this year, and they have, currently eighth in DVOA. Dallas ends up with single-game DVOA over 50% for both its Week 2 win over Cincinnati and its Week 3 win over the New York Giants, and that all puts the Cowboys sixth overall in DVOA.
Cleveland (7): Jacoby Brissett's performance through three games makes even less sense than Rush's performance through two games, because we had more of a track record for Brissett. The Browns' backup quarterback is seventh in passing DVOA right now while the Cleveland running game is second in DVOA behind only New England. The Browns defense has been a bit of a disappointment, currently 23rd, but the offense has lifted them to a 2-1 record with their only loss that ridiculous late comeback by the Jets.
San Francisco (9): I know, I know. Anyone who watched that 49ers-Broncos slogfest on Sunday Night Football has to wonder what on earth San Francisco is doing here. The answer is that they've played very good defense all season. Some of that is a little monsoon-enabled, of course, but the 49ers have allowed an average of 12.3 points per game. They're third in defensive DVOA so far, and that's enough to get them into the top 10 overall despite a below-average offense.
Denver (10): I know, I know. Anyone who watched that 49ers-Broncos slogfest on Sunday Night Football has to wonder what on earth Denver is doing here. The answer is that they've played very good defense all season. I wrote all offseason about how last year's Denver defense was a bit of a statistial mirage, but this year's defense is facing an average number of drives and stopping opposing offenses with much more efficiency. The Broncos have allowed an average of 12.0 points per game. They're fifth in defensive DVOA so far, and that's enough to get them into the top 10 overall despite a below-average offense.
Schedule Strength for Week 4 Onwards
This is something I usually like to do after three weeks, look at how schedule strength for the rest of the season is different if you look at DVOA and DAVE.
The DAVE calculations here also try to adjust for the major injuries that I'm adjusting for in the playoff odds report. So your future schedule DAVE is different depending on whether you are playing the Jacoby Brissett Browns or the Deshaun Watson Browns, I tried to estimate when Dak Prescott is returning for the Cowboys, and so on.
For the most part, the hardest and easiest schedules remaining match what we expected in our preseason projections, which makes sense since preseason projections are still 78% of the DAVE calculations. The hardest schedules are packed into the AFC North, where the Bengals and Steelers have clearly the two toughest remaining schedules according to DAVE (and two of the three hardest based just on DVOA from the first three games). The Browns are fourth and the Ravens are seventh. Other teams with particularly tough remaining schedules include the Jets, Saints, and Chiefs. In particular, the Browns and Chiefs schedules are going to get much tougher than they were in the first three games of the year.
The easiest remaining schedules based on DVOA belong to Seattle and San Francisco, but the easiest remaining schedule based on DAVE still belongs to the team we thought had the easiest schedule before the season, the Philadelphia Eagles. A big part of that difference is playing the Los Angeles Rams twice, since the Rams are currently 22nd in DVOA but eighth in DAVE. The Eagles, on the other hand, still have two games against both the Cowboys and the Giants, teams which rank better in DVOA than they do in DAVE.
The Cowboys also have one of the easiest remaining schedules based on DAVE ratings. So do Minnesota, Washington, and Indianapolis.
Here's a full table showing schedule strength both so far and over the rest of the season. Both current DVOA and DAVE are listed.
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These is the Football Outsiders Top 16 through three 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.) Please note that there are no opponent adjustments in DVOA until after Week 4, which is why it is listed here as VOA. Click here for the full table.
OFFENSE and DEFENSE VOA are adjusted for 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.
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 78% preseason forecast and 22% actual performance. DAVE ratings for Dallas and Cleveland are based on projections for the entire rest of the season, including games with both starting and backup quarterbacks. DAVE for Pittsburgh is based on a projection that has T.J. Watt returning at midseason.
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>