DVOA Analysis
Football Outsiders' revolutionary metrics that break down every single play of the NFL season

Week 3 DVOA Ratings

by Aaron Schatz

Green Bay remains on top of the Football Outsiders ratings after three weeks, despite last night's close 20-17 loss to Chicago. The Packers' first two victories were big enough to keep a below-average game from knocking them out of the top slot. Before applying opponent adjustments -- those won't start until next week -- last night's game was the rare contest where both teams ended up with a rating below 0%. All of those False Start penalties result in a penalty for one team, but they don't boost the rating of the defense involved. The same goes for the two missed field goals (yes, that includes the one that was blocked, since blocking field goals isn't generally a predictive event).

That "double-negative" game is a big reason why Chicago is a surprising 14th this week despite starting 3-0. The Bears may have three wins, but all three have been very close. They certainly haven't been as dominating as a 2-1 team like Atlanta or Philadelphia. The flip-side equivalent to Chicago would be the Cleveland Browns, who rank 19th despite three losses. Those losses were all close, and Cleveland's single-game ratings are, in order -1.9%, -3.5%, and -24.6%. Another team that has been more impressive than its record is the Dallas Cowboys, who rank in the top ten even though they didn't win until this past week.

All of these ratings, of course, are still somewhat shaky because it is too early to include opponent adjustments. The 3-0 Kansas City Chiefs are a good example of this problem. When we predicted before the season that Kansas City would win the AFC West, it was more a prediction of San Diego's decline. We expected the Chiefs to sneak into the playoffs at 9-7. We did not expect them to start the season 3-0, including a triumphant 31-3 thrashing of San Francisco this week. According to our playoff odds report, the Chiefs now have the best chance to make the postseason of any team in the league: 93.9 percent of all simulations.

Now, it looks like Kansas City has built its good early record against bad teams, as its three opponents are a combined 1-8. But one of those opponents is San Diego, a team most observers expect to improve -- and the Chargers' two losses have been very close. Another of those opponents is Cleveland, which, as noted in the paragraph before this one, has played its opponents close so far. So has Kansas City played three bad teams? Or two average teams and one bad team? Or will the Chargers win eventually qualify as a win over a good team? It's just too early to tell.

San Diego's position in the rankings is even more questionable given how the Chargers managed to lose this week. The Chargers were almost entirely beaten by one man: Leon Washington. Seattle's performance this week qualifies as the best special teams game of the DVOA Era, and after looking at historical numbers, it's reasonable to state that Washington had the best kickoff return game in NFL history.

Back in Pro Football Prospectus 2006, we ran an essay in the New York Giants chapter discussing the best and worst special teams games in DVOA history. At the time, the best special teams game belonged to the 2002 New Orleans Saints, who were 16.3 estimated points worth of field position above average in a Week 6 win over Washington. (Click here for an explanation of how we turn field position on kicks and punts into an estimated point total.)

Right after we wrote that book, three of the best return men in history showed up in the NFL: Joshua Cribbs, Devin Hester, and Leon Washington. Cribbs has probably been the best of the three overall, but he's the one who has never had that one specific record-breaking superlative day. Hester was the main engine behind Chicago breaking the record in Week 12 of 2007, with 16.6 points worth of estimated field position. You may remember that as the "Why on earth is Todd Sauerbrun still kicking to Hester?" game, where Hester had two return touchdowns in the third quarter.

This week, the Seahawks broke that record by a very, very tiny margin. That Bears game was actually worth 16.59 points. This week, Seattle's special teams were worth 16.61 points. When we do our periodic upgrades to the statistical methods, adjusting the various baselines to make them more accurate, that Chicago game could move back in front. But for now, this Seattle game is the best special teams performance of the last two decades -- and again, it is almost entirely because of Washington. Olindo Mare hit two short field goals -- positive value, but almost meaningless. His kickoffs were very good, with two touchbacks and three other kicks returned to around the 20. On one of those, the Seahawks stripped the ball from Darren Sproles, which is definitely important. Golden Tate had a nice 31-yard punt return, but Jon Ryan's punts were pretty average.

Leon Washington, though... Washington averaged 63.3 yards on four kickoff returns. Besides the two touchdowns, he also brought a short 55-yard kickoff back 33 yards. (The average return on a 55-yard kickoff is only 18 yards.) Vince Verhei went back and looked at NFL history before the last two decades, and found that Washington had the highest single-game average of any return man with at least four kickoffs in a game. It's not even close -- Devin Hester previously held the record at 56.3 yards, and there are only two other players with games in the 50s. If we drop the minimum to three returns, then Washington ranks third with the highest average in 50 years; in 1960, Lenny Lyles of the 49ers had a game where he averaged 67.3 yards on three returns, while Ken Hall of the Oilers had one averaging 65.3 yards on three returns.

Here's a updated look at the best special teams games of the DVOA Era, going back to 1993:

Year Team Week Opponent Value
2010 SEA 3 SD 16.6 pts
2007 CHI 12 DEN 16.6 pts
2009 CHI 4 DET 16.4 pts
2002 NO 6 WAS 16.3 pts
2000 BAL 17 NYJ 16.0 pts
2002 CAR 14 CIN 15.5 pts
2000 TB 13 BUF 15.4 pts
1997 SD 10 CIN 15.3 pts
2003 OAK 17 SD 14.9 pts
1994 CLE1 1 CIN 14.8 pts
2005 NYG 1 ARI 14.8 pts

The good news for Chargers fans -- and bad news for Seahawks fans -- is that this kind of special teams performance is very unlikely to continue for the rest of the year. The Chargers may end up with the worst special teams in the league this year, but it won't be this bad.

* * * * *

All stat pages are now updated. The FO Premium database of DVOA splits will be updated later tonight. Also, please note that the KUBIAK midseason update will be available for download on Thursday afternoon of this week.

* * * * *

These are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through three weeks of 2010, 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 VOA are adjusted to consider all fumbles, kept or lost, as equal value. SPECIAL TEAMS VOA is adjusted for type of stadium (warm, cold, dome, Denver) and week of season.

There are no opponent adjustments in VOA until the fourth week of the season, which is why it is VOA right now rather than DVOA. As always, positive numbers represent more points so DEFENSE is better when it is NEGATIVE.

DAVE is a formula which combines our preseason projection with current VOA to get a more accurate forecast of how a team will play the rest of the season. Right now, the preseason projection makes up 55 percent of DAVE.

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>

1 GB 35.4% 1 24.4% 2 2-1 27.3% 5 -13.9% 5 -5.8% 29
2 KC 33.7% 11 14.8% 9 3-0 9.4% 13 -16.6% 4 7.8% 3
3 PIT 33.5% 9 29.8% 1 3-0 -8.4% 19 -33.7% 1 8.2% 2
4 NYJ 31.7% 4 21.1% 6 2-1 19.1% 7 -7.0% 11 5.7% 5
5 PHI 30.8% 15 21.8% 4 2-1 30.2% 3 -1.6% 17 -1.0% 18
6 NE 26.5% 7 23.7% 3 2-1 47.2% 1 20.0% 27 -0.8% 17
7 ATL 24.7% 2 21.7% 5 2-1 17.5% 8 -7.5% 8 -0.3% 16
8 DAL 20.2% 16 10.6% 11 1-2 22.4% 6 3.6% 22 1.4% 11
9 SEA 19.3% 6 5.0% 14 2-1 -9.3% 20 -7.3% 9 21.3% 1
10 IND 18.8% 12 19.7% 7 2-1 32.6% 2 9.6% 24 -4.2% 26
11 MIA 9.1% 5 11.2% 10 2-1 10.2% 12 -4.0% 15 -5.0% 27
12 NO 6.8% 14 8.3% 13 2-1 13.5% 9 10.7% 25 4.0% 7
13 TEN 4.0% 17 -1.9% 20 2-1 -19.3% 28 -22.8% 2 0.5% 13
14 CHI 3.8% 13 9.5% 12 3-0 1.7% 15 0.8% 18 2.9% 8
15 SD 3.6% 8 -1.4% 19 1-2 12.3% 10 -18.0% 3 -26.6% 32
16 CIN 2.5% 20 -0.3% 17 2-1 -5.2% 18 -5.9% 13 1.9% 10
17 TB -0.2% 3 -6.4% 21 2-1 -13.4% 22 -10.6% 7 2.6% 9
18 BAL -1.3% 22 16.7% 8 2-1 -12.3% 21 -12.0% 6 -1.0% 19
19 CLE -6.6% 18 -14.3% 25 0-3 -3.0% 16 1.3% 19 -2.3% 20
20 NYG -7.1% 19 1.6% 15 1-2 -4.1% 17 -6.5% 12 -9.5% 31
21 HOU -8.4% 10 -14.0% 24 2-1 29.4% 4 37.8% 32 -0.1% 15
22 DEN -12.5% 21 -9.2% 22 1-2 10.4% 11 20.1% 28 -2.8% 22
23 STL -12.7% 23 -17.9% 26 1-2 -15.2% 23 -5.3% 14 -2.9% 23
24 MIN -14.7% 27 0.8% 16 1-2 -18.9% 27 -3.5% 16 0.7% 12
25 WAS -16.6% 25 -0.9% 18 1-2 7.7% 14 20.3% 29 -4.0% 25
26 DET -22.0% 24 -28.2% 30 0-3 -18.7% 26 3.8% 23 0.5% 14
27 ARI -23.1% 30 -13.3% 23 2-1 -17.0% 25 3.0% 20 -3.2% 24
28 BUF -41.3% 32 -24.8% 27 0-3 -16.1% 24 32.1% 31 6.9% 4
29 OAK -43.8% 29 -36.5% 32 1-2 -33.0% 31 3.0% 21 -7.7% 30
30 JAC -44.7% 26 -26.4% 29 1-2 -22.6% 29 27.2% 30 5.1% 6
31 CAR -46.6% 31 -25.3% 28 0-3 -51.5% 32 -7.2% 10 -2.3% 21
32 SF -49.6% 28 -32.9% 31 0-3 -27.2% 30 17.2% 26 -5.1% 28


212 comments, Last at 06 Oct 2010, 10:31am

1 Re: Week 3 DVOA Ratings

Wait, you mean Tampa isn't really the third-best team? Travesty!

140 Re: Week 3 DVOA Ratings

Just wait until those opponent adjustments come in! Why the Panthers game alone will..... oh, never mind.

2 Re: Week 3 DVOA Ratings

Every time I see someone ripping off good kick/punt returns regularly I die a little. Usually the last words on my lips are "they Colts coulda had him...." Washington was a risky move because of the injury, but a pretty inexpensive acquisition.

6 Re: Week 3 DVOA Ratings

tall, dark stranger, mysterious glint in his eye, six-gun on his hip? No idea who he was. But he had a point.

Hey, at this pont I'll take Bethel Johnson--I see him in my nightmares anyway, why not on the field, too?

31 Re: Week 3 DVOA Ratings

Once again, hearing woulda coulda from Mr. Fan of Seven Consecutive 12 Win Seasons, Recent Super Bowl Winner, is little hard on the ears of Mr. Fan of Four Consecutive Super Bowl Loser, followed by Five Consecutive Conference Championship Loser, expecting to be followed by Six Consecutive Divisional Round Loser, Seven Consecutive Wild Card Round Loser, and then Eight Straight Years of Missing the Playoffs!

Glass half-empty guy? Who, me?

62 Re: Week 3 DVOA Ratings

As Manning says, there's always room for improvement. And verily, their field position annually ranks as slightly better than a case of botulism. In the last 13 years (Manning era) they have had consistent, great O, up and down D (but sometimes very good), but consistently putrid returns. I'd trade a competent DB for a semi-competent one who can average 5.0 more yards per KO return and 3.0 more per punt return.

A fair trade. It's not THAT much to ask for, really....

127 Re: Week 3 DVOA Ratings

I'd wager that with a great offense, very good special teams returns and the better starting field position is not worth as much as a defense that produces more turnovers and therefore more possessions.

I know DVOA doesn't account for it, but it would be interesting research to see if the value of return teams is amplified or dampened by the biases of the offense and defense. Certainly, an offense that turns the ball over a lot ends up punting and kicking off less.

161 Re: Week 3 DVOA Ratings

Sure, but would you trade a third pass rusher (Jerry Hughes) for the "semi-competent" DB who excels at special teams?

3 More Than Meets The Eye

Worst 3-0 team: Chicago Bears
Best 0-3 team: Cleveland Browns
Worst 2-1 team: Arizona Cardinals
Best 1-2 team: Dallas Cowboys

152 Re: More Than Meets The Eye

Chiefs will be tested in week 5 against Indy. Win or Lose, everyone will have an answer if they deserve the coveted "undefeated" title. Odds are, of coarse, on the proven Colts but the Chiefs are proving to be effective scrappers. Will hopefully be a good game.

79 Re: More Than Meets The Eye

As a longsuffering Lions fan... I seriously think the Lions are a better 0-3 team than the Browns. But I could be wrong, and I don't have even my own numbers to back it up (yet).

119 Re: More Than Meets The Eye

Now that I've run the numbers for my own (experimental) personal rating system, I've got the Lions a spot above the Browns right now (#24 and #25 respectively). For what that's worth.

Caveat: I'm unwilling to say more than that I do have this system, as it's approximately 3 weeks old. (On two weeks of data, however, it went 8-7-1 on predictions last week: hardly stellar, but astronomically better than it did on Week 2, so with more data maybe it will be useful.)
Caveat II: I've only finished processing data for 9 of the 16 games, so ranking could change.

167 Re: More Than Meets The Eye

My ranking system has Detroit above Cleveland too, although it's such a small sample size for ranking comparisons. Detroit is 22 and Cleveland is 23. Best undefeated team is the Chiefs in my system, best 0-3 team is the Lions. Worst 2-1 team is the Arizona Cardinals, and best 1-2 team is the Chargers. My system is based mostly off of PA and PF as well as "Strength of schedule" and Offensive yards/Defensive yards allowed per game.

184 Re: More Than Meets The Eye

Why not run it through some historical data if you're trying to test its predictive accuracy? You don't have to wait for the results that way.

4 Re: Week 3 DVOA Ratings

Hmm... Philly with the #3 offense. That Mike Bell and LeSean McCoy are really something. Also, their offensive line is clearly dominant. There's no other explanation for what's going on there.

Just kidding. Everyone knows Owen Schmitt is the man.

20 Re: Week 3 DVOA Ratings

Last year there was reluctance to acknowledge Favre's impact because the story was overplayed, too. I think it's at least partly sportstalk fatigue related. And, as is sure to be pointed out, opponent adjustments will probably knock a little of the bloom off the rose

23 Re: Week 3 DVOA Ratings

Maybe - but so much of their offensive value is from the running game, where they are a 20% above the second ranked team and 40% above the 4th ranked team. Vick's passing value can drop significantly and their rushing DVOA is still giant.

Plus, they put up great numbers against GB, who is ranked highly on d. According to VOA, they've played a good defense, a mediocre defense and a bad defense - they truly haven't played 3 cream-puffs. I think they will drop to 8 or 9, but that ain't bad, considering they lost their Pro Bowl fulback and best offensive lineman in the first game of the season. And they haven't had their projected o-line starters make it through an entire game together (meaning, they've had o-line injuries in every single game.)

It's hard to think that Vick hasn't been the difference so far on offense...

49 Re: Week 3 DVOA Ratings

Will be interesting to see what happens with opponent adjustments. They'd surely leapfrog Indy's offense in 2nd place who've faced the #28 and #32 defenses so far....

52 Re: Week 3 DVOA Ratings

That's true - Peyton Manning is clearly nothing but the beneficiary of unwarranted hype. He's only beat up on chumps! I saw him fail to convert a third down, to boot!

72 Re: Week 3 DVOA Ratings

I think we need to wait until he faces a real defense. This might be the year he starts to decline. He hasn't even rushed for 100 yards once. And people are talking about him as a MVP contender? Please.

107 Re: Week 3 DVOA Ratings

I'm confused - are you talking about Vick or Manning?

I'd like to see Manning run for 100 yards.


7 Re: Week 3 DVOA Ratings

< Da Bears > is clearly ranked < too low > because < they are teh clutch and winnging close game >. < Peter King > is way better than this. < Cutty ruulz, Rogers sux. >

8 Re: Week 3 DVOA Ratings

Is it just me, or does it seem early in the season for the field of undefeateds to be winnowed down to just three?

10 Re: Week 3 DVOA Ratings

It feels like this year in general there aren't any great teams, just some pretty good ones. Maybe Pittsburgh will fill that role when the only dude in the league I'd like to QB my team less than Mike Vick is back. A lot of dominant teams from the past decade look shakier than normal and none of the young teams that were supposed to have emerged really look impressive. Heck, some like SF and Dallas have flopped pretty hard. Dallas will be fine... but, yeesh, SF looks awful. Like 2006 SF awful.

38 Re: Week 3 DVOA Ratings

Worse than 2006 awful, because we actually have a lot of talent on the roster this time around.

Have I said this before? WTF WTF WTF WTF WTF?

186 Re: Week 3 DVOA Ratings

I'm pretty sure this is a secret plot to get Luck in next years draft. It has to be that, right guys? right? *sobs uncontrollably*

9 Steelers

#1 in Defense
#2 in Special Teams
#19 in Offense

#3 overall

Just wait until their quarterback comes back...

11 Re: Steelers

In reply to by Mostly Anonymous (not verified)

Then it truly will be the year of "Horrible Men Grab all the Pro Football headlines."

18 Re: Steelers

In reply to by chemical burn

Eeeeh, I suspect his D will be grabbing all the headlines unless Ben averages 300 YPG and 3 TDs. Assuming a more normal QB season, most pundits and fans will be talking about their dominant D. But I hear your point. I expect the other PA QB story to fade a bit with time as well.

Rightfully so, so the entire country can prepare for the annual Peytom Branning debate, which we'd all prefer.

64 Re: Steelers

In reply to by chemical burn

You really need a new shtick

93 Re: Steelers

In reply to by chemical burn

A bunch of your comments here and in a few other threads complaining about Roethlisburger and Vick as people were wearing a little old. It's probably just me. I notice you also have a lot of posts about other topics, so just ignore me.

I admit that I'm a huge hatter of the Jim Rome side of sports commentary, and I don't usually give a crap what other people think of third parties I (and usually they) don't know personally.

Basilicus - That's how wikipedia spelled it. I actually looked it up before I posted.

154 Re: Steelers

In reply to by drobviousso

I think it's fitting that for every article that hits on those players, a few of us hang around to hate them (the players, not the articles). After all, other people get to hate teams and players because they beat their team when they were young or were an annual thorn in the side for their beloved player, so why can't we be the ones who stick around to remind people that, despite whatever success Roethlisberger and Vick might otherwise see, they are people who don't deserve our respect for even bigger reasons. When I see Vick apologizing more than once a year for his prior actions, or NFL Network even once mention what he did as being awful rather than celebrating every mention of his name, then people like us will shut up.

As is, few seem to care, and the few who do care find that deeply aggravating.

171 Re: Steelers

In reply to by Basilicus

Yeah...but you don't generally see a Redskins fan hang around just to say that "Dallas is garbage" every time they're mentioned in an article. (Or maybe I've gotten good at glossing over it?)

It's also slightly disconcerting to me that some people seem to have no forgiveness toward, benefit of the doubt for, or possibility of change in people they don't even know; And that makes it slightly more annoying.

180 Re: Steelers

In reply to by dbostedo

I don't recall Dallas torturing animals or being accused of raping women. That comparison is meaningless.

191 Re: Steelers

In reply to by Mountain Time …

But I didn't bring up that comparison....it was being compared in the comment above :

"After all, other people get to hate teams and players because they beat their team when they were young or were an annual thorn in the side for their beloved player, so why can't we be the ones who stick around to remind people that, despite whatever success Roethlisberger and Vick might otherwise see, they are people who don't deserve our respect for even bigger reasons."

I figured as long as it was mentioned that way, I'd point out that commenters also don't seem to treat it the same way.

168 Re: Steelers

In reply to by drobviousso

Yiddish is tricky, because the German gets transliterated into the Hebrew alphabet then back into Roman, but the standard is for the "sh" sound to be spelled with an "sh" (e.g., shlmiel, shpiel, shmate).

94 Re: Steelers

In reply to by chemical burn

Simpsons reference? Because I think it was "woozle-wuzzle" or however one would spell it.

162 Re: Steelers

In reply to by DW94

It was a Simpsons reference. It was me trying out a new shtick after my whole "I didn't do" one wore out it's welcome.


81 Re: Steelers

In reply to by drobviousso

You misspelled "schtick."

13 Re: Steelers

In reply to by Mostly Anonymous (not verified)

Yeah, that's pretty intimidating. As a Colts fan, I'm not easily worried. Even the 2007 Pats were a challenge I was pretty sure my team was up for (and for 50 minutes, they earned my faith). But this Steeler team is a wee bit scary....

I've called Parcells to see if he has any annointing oil handy, but he said he was all out. Guess we'll have to wait.

136 Re: Steelers

In reply to by Bobman

FO's preseason analysis of Pittsburgh is looking remarkably prescient at this moment. Whilst the mainstream media caught up forecasting impending doom, they noted that last season's drop-off was down to key injuries on defence and historically inept kick/punt coverage performance. Get the starters back on defence, sort the special teams out with a new coach and some outstanding athletes in the draft and they should be able to withstand 4 games without their starting QB. Bingo.

164 Re: Steelers

In reply to by Bobman

I'm ready to crown Polamalu's ass.

53 Re: Steelers

In reply to by Mostly Anonymous (not verified)

The most shocking number in that list is the #2 for special teams. Watching the coverage teams give up long returns for the last several years, how on earth are they #2? Is that soley due to 8 FG's and the return TD from last week or have the coverage units actually improved?

If that is the case, then this team could truely be scary. I can't wait for this weekend. This is the first time in along time that I have not been nervous for a Baltimore game. I expect to be no better than 2-2 in the first four so I feel like they are playing with house money. Based on last season, I'm more concerned about coming out of this game with all the star players as healthy as possible.