Bills Finish No. 1 in 2022 DVOA Ratings
NFL Week 18 - The Buffalo Bills finish the 2022 season on top of the Football Outsiders DVOA ratings. It wasn't quite a wire-to-wire victory, but it was very close. The Bills started out at No. 1 with a big opening day win over the defending champion Rams and then stayed in the No. 1 spot almost every week during the season. Only twice, after Week 9 and Week 14, did the Bills fall into second place. At no time this year did the Bills have DVOA under 30%.
Perhaps most impressive is that the Bills finished in the top four in all three phases of the game. Nyheim Hines' two kick return touchdowns in the final week boosted the Bills into the top spot in special teams; they were sixth after Week 17. The Bills also finished second in the league in offense and fourth in the league in defense.
This is a really, really rare accomplishment for the Bills. Buffalo is only the seventh team in the history of DVOA to finish in the top five in all three phases of the game. Here's a list of all these teams. The 2012 and 2015 Seattle Seahawks were the last teams to do it.
|Teams with Top 5 DVOA in All 3 Phases, 1981-2022|
It's much more common for a team to finish in the top five for both offense and defense, no matter the rating for special teams. The Bills are the 35th team since 1981 to accomplish this feat, last done by the 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
San Francisco's big final victory over Arizona moves the 49ers ahead of Philadelphia to finish the year at No. 2. The Eagles drop a bit after a close win over the Giants, and that's without any adjustments for the Giants playing mostly backups in Week 18. The Kansas City Chiefs move up from fifth to fourth with a big final win over the Raiders, and Cincinnati moves up two spots to finish fifth. Dallas is sixth.
Most advanced metrics have a "Big Six" this year consisting of these six teams. Our ratings are no different, with a couple of added wrinkles. First of all we still have Baltimore as essentially the seventh team in the "Big Six," even after their offensive decline without Lamar Jackson. We had the Ravens all the way up at No. 2 before Jackson's injury, and they've fallen from 28.4% DVOA through Week 12 to 17.9% DVOA to end the year. Still, that puts them very close to Cincinnati and Dallas for the season.
Our order is also a little different from some other metrics out there and a big part of that is schedule strength. Buffalo played an average schedule, while the next three teams all played easy schedules. Philadelphia played the easiest schedule in the league, San Francisco's schedule ranked 31st, and Kansas City's schedule ranked 29th. Dallas also had an easy schedule, while Cincinnati and Baltimore had top-10 difficult schedules. This is a big reason why, for example, San Francisco led the league in Pythagorean wins (and point differential) but not in DVOA. San Francisco is also No. 1 in non-adjusted VOA without considering opponents.
And, San Francisco also finishes the year No. 1 in weighted DVOA, our formula which lowers the weight of earlier games to get a better idea of how teams are playing now. The order for weighted DVOA is a bit different than regular full-season DVOA. It goes San Francisco, Buffalo, and then Kansas City and Cincinnati. Both teams have been on the rise in recent weeks. Philadelphia is fifth in weighted DVOA and then comes a team that didn't make the playoffs, the Detroit Lions. They finish sixth in weighted DVOA and it's a shame we won't get to see them play any longer. Dallas and Baltimore finish out the weighted top eight. The worst team in the league was Indianapolis.
Most of the top teams also had top offenses in 2022, led by the Kansas City Chiefs who finished No. 1 in both offensive DVOA and pass offense DVOA. As noted above, the Bills finished second followed by Philadelphia (which also was No. 1 in run offense), Cincinnati, and then the surprising Detroit Lions. San Francisco was sixth. There were a number of surprising offenses this year which made big leaps compared to how they finished in offensive DVOA in 2021. Detroit went from 29th to fifth. Miami went from 24th to seventh. Jacksonville went from 27th to ninth. And perhaps the most surprising given the personnel involved, the New York Giants jumped from dead last in offensive DVOA in 2021 to 10th for 2022. Meanwhile, a number of top offenses from 2021 had problems in 2022, including Tampa Bay, Dallas, New England, and both Los Angeles teams.
This highlights one of the interesting results of the 2022 season, which is that there was a lot less correlation between offenses last year and offenses this year than there usually is. In fact, it looks like offensive year-to-year correlation is down in general over the last few years. The correlation coefficient for offensive DVOA was just .22 between 2021 and 2022. We often write about how offense is more predictive than defense and special teams. Not between 2021 and 2022. The correlation of DVOA this year to last year was higher for both defense (.36) and, very slightly, special teams (.23). This was the lowest year-to-year correlation for offensive DVOA since 2014-2015, which was also at .22.
This is part of a more general trend; over the last decade or so, year-to-year correlation for offense has gone down from what it was in the past while year-to-year correlation for defense and special teams went up slightly.
For 2011-2021, the correlation coefficient from year to year was .42 for offense, .38 for defense, and .36 for special teams.
For 2002-2011, the correlation coefficient from year to year was .53 for offense, .34 for defense, and .30 for special teams.
I'll do more research on this, I'm sure. For example, I'm curious if the correlation coefficient has changed for teams that keep the same quarterback from year to year, or is this the function of more teams changing quarterbacks between recent seasons? And if year-to-year correlation has gone down for offensive DVOA, what about its predictive ability during a season compared to defense and special teams?
Returning to our look at 2022 final numbers, the Indianapolis Colts had the worst offensive DVOA for this season and the Colts and Texans were far and away the worst offenses, more than 10 percentage points lower than the rest of the league. The Colts had the worst passing game, the Texans the worst running game. The Colts offense is really the only unit this year that was historically good or bad to the extreme. Their -31.7% offensive DVOA ranks 13th among the worst offenses tracked since 1981.
On defense, the San Francisco 49ers finish No. 1 this season ahead of the Dallas Cowboys. San Francisco's final rating of -14.1% comes very close to being the worst No. 1 defense we've ever had, but the 2007 Tennessee Titans were a little bit lower at -13.9%. So the 49ers were the strongest defense of the year, but they weren't historically unstoppable or anything like that. (Just ask Jarrett Stidham.) New England finishes third on defense, followed by Buffalo and the New York Jets. The AFC East was a tough place to play offense this year! And how about those Jets, who were the worst defense in the league in 2021 and moved up into the top five this season.
It's interesting to note that the top team in each element of defense didn't make the top five overall. Philadelphia, the top pass defense, ends up sixth in defense overall because they were just 21st against the run. Tennessee, the top run defense, was just 19th overall because they were 28th against the pass.
The Chicago Bears had the worst defense in the league. What a weird sentence to type! Las Vegas and Atlanta were also pretty bad on defense. After all the bad run defenses we saw this year, all the words used to describe the Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Chargers and Green Bay Packers, it was the New York Giants who finished dead last in run defense DVOA.
As noted above, the Buffalo Bills finished No. 1 in special teams. Houston and Baltimore were second and third, followed by Seattle. This was the 11th straight year that Baltimore finished in the top 10 for special teams, and the ninth time out of those 11 years where the Ravens finished in the top four. But it was not a very good year for another classically strong special teams unit. You may remember that the New England Patriots had above-average special teams for 25 straight seasons from 1996 through 2020. That remarkable streak finally ended last year when the Patriots finished ever so slightly below 0.0%. Well, this year the Patriots somehow plummeted to last place in special teams. Two kick return touchdowns by Nyheim Hines in Week 18 certainly didn't help, but the Patriots were already 27th going into that game. They allowed another kick return touchdown earlier in the year, to Kene Nwangwu of the Vikings, and their punting was awful all year. We estimate that net kickoffs were worth -20.6 points worth of field position to the Patriots after adjusting for weather. That ranks them as the ninth-worst team since 1981 in terms of kickoff value. However, at -4.3% DVOA, their special teams are the best to ever rank last, surpassing last year's Packers. Really, the only bad parts were kickoffs and punts, and of course they had very good value on punt returns with Marcus Jones and his punt return touchdown to beat the Jets in Week 11.
We can't finish out our look at the 2022 DVOA ratings without one last look at the crazy season for the Minnesota Vikings. (Well, not one last look. They made the playoffs, so we'll look at them some more in the future too.)
The Vikings finish the year with -13.8% DVOA, which moves them just ahead of the Carolina Panthers and into 27th place for the season. The Vikings end up with the ninth-lowest DVOA ever for a playoff team.
|Lowest DVOA for Playoff Teams, 1981-2022|
The Vikings have the second-worst DVOA ever for a team with at least 11 wins. The 2012 Colts were the only other team to win at least 11 games and put up a DVOA below -10%.
Minnesota was outscored on the season despite going 13-4, which had never happened before. Thus, the Vikings have the largest difference in modern NFL history between Pythagorean projection (based on points scored and allowed) and actual wins. Here's the full table of the biggest differences going all the way back to 1950:
|Greatest Pythagorean vs. Actual Win Pct Difference, 1950-2022|
A few more notes on 2022 before we get to the big table:
- One of the common subjects we covered, especially early in the season, was how packed together this year's teams were, with a very low standard deviation for DVOA. (You can also see this in the win-loss records, as 18 different teams fell between 7-10 and 10-7 this season.) In the end, this year's DVOA ratings have standard deviation of 16.3%. This is the sixth-lowest standard deviation for any season, trailing (in order) 1983, 2016, 2001, 1988, and 1981.
- And if it felt like there were more bad teams than usual, well, there were. By rule, the DVOA average for every season is 0.0%. However, only 14 of 32 teams this year had positive DVOA ratings. Five teams came within a percentage points of average: Pittsburgh, New England, New York Jets, Tampa Bay, and the Los Angeles Chargers.
- The Vikings were not the only team with negative DVOA to make the playoffs. Tampa Bay and the Chargers were very slightly negative, and the New York Giants finished 21st in DVOA at -4.3%. The Giants will play the Vikings in the "Battle of the Frauds" this week. I'm kidding, but "Battle of the DVOA Exceptions" doesn't roll off the tongue quite as well.
- I wrote last week about some historic sack rates. Philadelphia's adjusted sack rate dropped a little bit in Week 18, as did the adjusted sack rate for the Chicago offense. In the end, the Eagles still finish second all-time in adjusted sack rate, while the Bears offense is now in a tie with the 2005 Texans for second place behind the 2002 Texans.
- Dallas led the league with a 64% fumble recovery rate, not including muffed kicks and punts. That was highlighted by recovering 16 of 25 fumbles on defense. Washington and Las Vegas also had good fumble recovery luck this year. Tennessee, Cleveland, New York Jets, and Tampa Bay had the worst fumble recovery luck with each team falling between a 38% and 39% recovery rate.
- One thing we were better at than usual this year: predicting schedule strength. In Football Outsiders Almanac 2022, we listed Philadelphia with the easiest projected schedule. Philadelphia did, in fact, finish last in schedule strength this year. The New York Jets had the hardest schedule in the league, followed by the Steelers, Dolphins, and Bengals. All four teams were predicted among the seven hardest schedules in FO Almanac 2022.
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Football Outsiders playoff odds, snap counts, and the FO+ database are now all updated through Week 18. A reminder that all our free stats pages, including DVOA and player position stats, require registration to view. This is not a paywall! You only need to register (for free) and then log in to the site to view these pages.
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We'll review the best and worst player stats of the year in a special Quick Reads tomorrow.
Please note that while this article is called "Final 2022 DVOA Ratings," we will continue with postseason weighted DVOA ratings each Monday through the playoffs. There also may be small changes in the final 2022 DVOA ratings based on postseason changes to the play-by-play.
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Here is the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through the entire 2022 regular season, 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.
LAST YEAR represents rank in 2021.
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>
For the full table, including variance, schedule strength, and non-adjusted VOA, visit the Football Outsiders DVOA database.