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Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Conference Championship DVOA Ratings
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Aaron Schatz

With only two teams left, and most teams not having played for three weeks, we're not going to run the big table with all 32 teams. New England's weighted DVOA is 33.2%, which ranks second behind New Orleans. The Giants' weighted DVOA is 14.1%, which ranks ninth.

Here are the ratings for the Conference Championship games. All four teams get positive DVOA, which is what happens with two very close games and strong positive opponent adjustments. These ratings aren't likely to soothe the hearts of any 49ers fans, as San Francisco comes out slightly higher in DVOA despite losing the game. I know some people might be surprised by the Patriots' offense rating higher than the Ravens' offense, but a lot of that is opponent adjustment and the rest of it is the running game, where the Patriots were much more efficient than the Ravens.


DVOA (with opponent adjustments)
TEAM TOT OFF DEF ST
NE 31% 32% -3% -3%
BAL 10% -8% -17% 1%
NYG 12% 10% 3% 5%
SF 15% -5% -22% -1%
VOAf (no opponent adjustments)
TEAM TOT OFF DEF ST
NE 10% 16% 3% -3%
BAL -2% 3% 6% 1%
NYG 2% -2% 1% 5%
SF 9% 0% -10% -1%

When it comes to evaluating the Super Bowl, we run into the same problems we had in both 2007 and 2008 (well, actually 2008 and 2009, but let's not get confused). How much sample size do we use to judge these teams? Can we judge them on just the last few weeks? Do we judge them on the whole season, even though the Giants have played so much better in January?

Usually, we're judging teams at this point by weighted DVOA. The Giants' weighted DVOA runs into problems because their big winning streak is only five games, but weighted DVOA gives almost full weight to the last eight weeks and a lot of weight to the four weeks before that, which means that weighted DVOA also incorporates the team's Week 10-15 slide.

Based on weighted DVOA, the Patriots are clear favorites in Super Bowl XLVI. (Our playoff odds report is based on weighted DVOA and gives New England a 61 percent chance of winning.) What if, instead, we only look at New York's five-game winning streak. Here's a look at what each team's DVOA rating would look like if we only included the last five games: Weeks 16-20 for the Giants and Weeks 15-20 for the Patriots. The ranks represent where these ratings would have ranked among all 32 teams for the 2011 regular season.


  TEAM TOTAL
DVOA
W-L OFF.
DVOA
OFF.
RANK
DEF.
DVOA
DEF.
RANK
S.T.
DVOA
S.T.
RANK
1 NE 37.7% 15-3 (5-0) 41.7% 1 12.5% 24 8.4% 1
2 NYG 36.8% 12-7 (5-0) 26.2% 5 -12.7% 2 -2.0% 27

Now, that's a lot closer. I think those ratings are a better match for how the public views this Super Bowl. In fact, these ratings may have the Patriots a little bit higher than conventional wisdom. I'm guessing most fans think the Giants have outplayed the Patriots over the last five weeks.

The Giants' late-season turnaround is the big reason why this year is being compared to 2007. However, there are a lot of reasons why this year is not a replay of 2007, and it's important that people understand the differences.

1) The Patriots aren't as good. The 2007 Patriots may have been the best regular-season team in NFL history. They were undefeated, remember? That's why they went into the Super Bowl as such huge favorites. The 2011 Patriots finished the year fourth in DVOA.

2) On the other hand, the Patriots aren't fading. The 2007 Patriots were absurdly dominant in the first half of the season, but were slowing down by the time they got to the playoffs. From Week 1 to Week 12, the Patriots had a DVOA rating higher than 49% in all 11 games. From Week 13 through the Super Bowl, the Patriots had a DVOA rating higher than 49% in only two games (Week 14 over Pittsburgh and the Divisional round win over Jacksonville). The Patriots won despite negative DVOA in both Week 13 and Week 15. This year's Patriots have stayed fairly consistent over the course of the season, with both good and average games throughout the year.

3) The Giants are better than in 2007. You may have seen me tweet this a couple times in the last week or so: The Giants are the first team in NFL history to make the Super Bowl after getting outscored by opponents in the regular season. They had a worse record than the 2007 team (9-7 instead of 10-6). Nonetheless, by our ratings, this year's Giants were the better team. The 2011 Giants were 12th in DVOA at 9.0%. The 2007 Giants were 16th in DVOA at 1.1%. A big reason: The 2011 Giants ranked third in the league in schedule strength.

The difference between 2007 and 2011 is really clear if we look at weighted DVOA. In 2007, the Patriots' weighted DVOA going into the Super Bowl was 43.5%. The Giants were at 3.0%, so the gap was over 40 percentage points. This year, the difference is less than half that.

4) New York's improvement is very different. In 2007, the defense improved a bit in the late-season run, but the big change was the sudden maturation of Eli Manning and the improvement of the offense. This year, the offense has improved a little bit, but for the most part the Giants have been this good all year. Back in 2007, we thought Eli Manning was an average quarterback and a disappointment as number-one overall pick. But in 2011, we know Eli Manning has been one of the top quarterbacks in the league for the last three or four seasons. The Giants offense ranked seventh in offensive DVOA this season, and fourth in pass offense DVOA. The dramatic turnaround this year has been the defense. Through Week 15, the Giants' defense ranked 22nd in DVOA. Since then, as noted in the table above, they've played at a level that would have made them one of the top defenses in the league during the regular season.

5) The Giants are less of a surprise. In 2007, we sat here saying, "look, it's nice that the Giants keep winning games by three points, but teams that were mediocre during the regular season just don't win the Super Bowl." Well, they did, and the next year the Arizona Cardinals almost did. It's a lot easier to believe in the Giants' turnaround when we've seen similar things in recent years.

Of course, that's not going to make Patriots fans feel any better if they lose.

Comments

206 comments, Last at 02 Feb 2012, 8:04pm

1 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

"But in 2011, we know Eli Manning has been one of the top quarterbacks in the league for the last three or four seasons."

8th, 9th, 10th, and 15th is a somewhat loose definition of top. Eli's solid, but he ain't great.

4 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I think it's more accurate to say that he's been in the 2nd tier in the last 3-4 seasons - behind Brady/Brees/Manning/Rivers/Rodgers, and on par with Romo/Roethlisberger/Schaub. I'd call that group very, very good as opposed to 'solid', but that's a matter of semantics. I think what throws me off is that this 2nd tier would have been considered 1st-tier not too long ago, but looks paltry compared to what we've become accustomed to.

6 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I am not necessarily disagreeing with you, but comparing Manning's offensive line in 2010-11 and his receivers in all four years to most other offenses leaves one thinking that maybe DVOA isn't telling the whole story. The protection has not been great, and the rotating cast of young players at the receiver positions has not been impressive either (in particular, Manningham, Ballard, and others commit a lot of drops, especially pre-2011).

Some teams constantly restock the receiver position, even at the cost of letting other things go (New Orleans, New England, Atlanta, Dallas, New York Jets, to some extent Green Bay ). Other teams expect their quarterback to make do, and fix the other things (Indianapolis, New York Giants, San Diego, St. Louis) (Okay, so most of these teams don't actually fix the other things. But they don't restock receivers in order to bust draft picks on other things.)

Situation ought to be something we consider in evaluating player talent.

13 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I can only name 3 Pats WRs: Welker, Edelman, and Ochocinco, and of those three one's a DB and another one's caught like one pass all season. Who is Brady actually throwing to?

---
"When you absolutely don't know what to do any more, then it's time to panic." - Johann van der Wiel

14 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

They were in 2010; I believe they led the league in drops that season, with an unusually large number of those drops (9, by my count) being deflected directly into the arms of defenders.

In 2011, I think they're arguably the 2nd best receiving corps in the league (behind Green Bay, who seemed to have caught whatever disease the Giants had last season).

28 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I'm not sure about San Diego, but...

Here's my take:

Victor Cruz: Marvin Austin 2.0; a receiver without top end physical tools who is successful because he has a great quarterback who he has a good connection with, and works hard, especially after the catch. Like Austin, may fade significantly now that he is taken seriously.

Hakeem Nicks: A very good Lance Moore/Deion Branch type of receiver who is the most talented on the Giants.

Mario Manningham: Not a starter on most teams in the NFL. He appears to have great speed, but he makes a lot of mental mistakes and has terrible hands for a wideout. He's an Al Davis wideout.

Jake Ballard: He's like Jason Witten with terrible hands and poor understanding of zones. He's a marginal player pressed into service because they didn't draft anyone to replace Kevin Boss. In the playoffs, a lot of his targets have gone to Hynoski and Pascoe - which should be enough said.

After that, Jerrel Jernigan?

39 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Lance Moore and Deion Branch? Sorry man, but I think those are terrible comparisons both in terms of size and production. Nicks is 6 feet tall and 210 lbs, which means that he's bigger than most corners and can use his body to outleap and/or muscle them out of the way. There's a reason the back-shoulder fade works so well with him. Branch and Moore are 5'9 (and under 190lbs), same size or smaller than many corners, so they have to play a much different game.

As far as production goes, for his career Nicks averages 15 YPC while Moore's best season is 12 (avg 11.4) and Branch's best is 13.8 (avg 12.9). While Nicks has had some problems with drops, I think he's clearly solidified himself as being a #1 WR option. He would displace the "starting" WR on 60-75% of the teams in the league despite being a couple inches shorter than many #1 guys are.

I think if Roddy White's first few years as a starter are a decent comp for Nicks. White has been asked to take it to another level the last 2 years (100+ balls caught), so I wouldn't replace one with the other just yet but Nicks is only a 3rd year guy and we will see where things go. Having Cruz as a slot guy will open up lots of chances for Nicks in the future (13 catches and 280 yards against ATL and Green Bay).

42 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I think you're slightly underrating Cruz, but that's generally my take on the Giants' corps as well. I think there are some guys with some nice skills but they're not an elite unit in my book. Hakeem is probably legititmately a borderline pro bowler. Cruz is like Steve Smith (Giants version) with better speed but shakier hands. You're spot on re: Manningham. They haven't had a decent receiving TE since Shockey.

And yeah, there is zero depth. Ramses Barden is the #4 WR.

141 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

If we're talking strictly wideouts, I think Giants vs. Texans is interesting. I think I'd rather have a healthy Johnson/Walter/Jones than Nicks/Manningham/Cruz, but it's close, and Walter and Jones become ineffective if Johnson goes down to an extent that I don't think Cruz and Manningham would if Nicks did.

Factor in other receiving options, and it quickly becomes a laugher, though: Foster is a vastly superior receiver to any Giants back, and James Casey would be a huge upgrade on any Giants tight end, never mind Daniels or Dreessen. Hell, I'm not sure that Garrett Graham wouldn't be a starter on the Giants.

148 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I was talking only about wideouts; bringing any RB into the discussion so I have to bring in Hands-o-Jacobs is unfair. The TE situation also favors Houston, as you said.

I very much like Nicks and think he's underrated, but obviously Johnson is quite a bit more valuable. But I doubt that Walter or Jones would be any higher than the #4 receiver on the Giants. And, to your point, I believe the Giants are more injury-proof with their 3 than the Texans are with Johnson (but that's really a consequence of having a single player with that kind of talent).

41 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Something did indeed happen to San Diego and Houston - injuries. I don't think Atlanta's receiving corp is all that good.

I'll concede New Orleans. Graham is a freak, and I'd count Sproles as one of the best receivers in the game, but I'd still take Nicks/Cruz/Manningham over Colston/Meacham/Henderson.

40 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Actually, Green Bay has definitely concentrated on receivers at the expense of other positions under Ted Thompson.
Year-Round-Position-Name
2005 2 WR Terrence Murphy (good player who had a career ending neck injury)
2005 6 WR Craig Bragg
2006 2 WR Greg Jennings
2006 4 WR Cory Rodgers (no relation to AR)
2006 4 WR Will Blackmon (converted to DB)
2007 3 WR James Jones
2007 5 WR David Clowney
2007 7 TE Clark Harris
2008 2 WR Jordy Nelson
2008 3 TE Jermichael Finley
2008 7 WR Brett Swain
2009 none
2010 4 TE Andrew Quarless
2011 2 WR Randall Cobb
2011 5 TE DJ Williams
2011 7 TE Ryan Taylor

That's 4 second round picks at WR, plus 1 third round in 7 drafts along with several mid-late round flyers. (I think Clowney and Swain are still playing for other teams.) After letting it go his first few years, he also drafted Finley in the third and Quarless in the fourth, and carried 5 TE on the roster this year. (Which was at least a better idea than 3 fullbacks.) Matt Millen can only look upon this with envy.

206 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Giantfan427.....The BIG difference is that he has receivers that can actually CATCH the ball? Dropped passes plagued Eli in previous years, thus the bad rap for inconsistency. David Tyree couldn't catch a ball all season, but he caught the one that counted near the end against the Pats in the Super Bowl. Go figure!

2 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

"San Francisco comes out slightly higher in DVOA despite losing the game" In fact, one could suggest that if Ted Ginn hadn't been injured, the 49ers would have won the game and be going to the Super Bowl. And that is a sentence that has almost certainly never been uttered before!

3 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I am mildly surprised to see the Patriots Offensive VOAf ahead of the Ravens. I understand that they moved the chains more consistently. But the extra interception would have been a large penalty. Plus that goal-line almost-stand for the Ravens should have been a negative for the Pats, even with the score, if I understand VOA correctly.

Does the "A" in Offensive VOA get a separate value for running and passing plays? Or are both types of plays compared to the same baseline for each situation?

87 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Just based on history, when a New York team is in a Final, regardless of sport, there is a lot of money put down on them. Vegas won't have a choice...they need to get some money in on New England. Over 2 weeks, a line moving 3-6 points isn't unheard of. I was stunned when I heard the opening line this morning.

Along those lines, I heard today that there was a lot of NYG 100-1 to win Super Bowl tickets out there....If that's true, Vegas is going to take an absolute bath if the Giants win.

8 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I always like coming to this site and the stats do offer a different way of looking at the basic boxscores but one that that I find odd is that DVOA is always used as the basis to judge instead of the actual games. So, everyone says that the Giants are 11th in DVOA and beat a team that was 2nd and the outcome was a fluke instead of saying "Hmm. Maybe this formula really isnt correct and we keep getting teams ranked outside the Top 10 in the Super Bowl and maybe we need to change our formulas to represent that."

12 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

We're talking about a team that finished 9-7 this year, and gave up more points than it scored.

This is pretty simple. The giants weren't particularly good this year. For whatever reason (health, coaching, whatever), they're a drastically better team now than they were 6 weeks ago.

For some reason, every Giants season seems to look similar. They come out strong, flounder in the late middle of the season, and then seem to just start playing great football again right around week 15. The question at that point is whether or not they make the playoffs.

17 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Actually, the Giants weren't especially good in the early season, either; they barely beat a bunch of bad teams, and got lit up by Rex Grossman, Tavaris Jackson, and Charlie Whitehurst.

In weeks 1-8, I think they were a bad team with a soft schedule.

In weeks 9-15, they were a good but flawed team with a tough schedule and some key injuries. They got blown out by New Orleans, but the Philly, San Francisco, and Green Bay losses were all 1-possession games decided in the final minutes.

In weeks 16 through the playoffs, I think they've been a good but not great team that poses some interesting matchup problems for their opponents.

That said, I still can't explain the two losses to the Redskins.

25 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Those 2007-2011 comparisons will get you in trouble.

Patriots 2007 compared to 2011-- better on both sides of the ball.

Packers 2007 compared to 2011 (the two teams NYG beat in Lambeau)-- better defensively, nowehre near as good offensively

Eli Manning 2007 compared to 2011-- Please.

Giants getting 3.5, or 3, is one of the best Super Bowl betting opportunities, if not the best, in history.

60 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Funny, I don't even think my team is going to win, and I'm the homer here. I think the Giants have better WRs. I think they have a better Dline. I think they have a better secondary. I think they have better LBs. I think they have better RBs. And I'm the fucking homer?

Its amazing how many posts on here are nothing more than ridiculous strawmen, or mis-attributions. People seem to think I'm saying a whole shitload of things I'm not saying. It would be nice if that would stop.

I get snarky because I keep being told that I think the Patriots are going to kill the giants, when I think nothing of the fucking sort.

89 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Actually, RichC, you keep getting snarky because that's just the way you are on the FO message board--generally well-informed, often have a good point to make, but with a tendency to react and reply more aggressively than is usually necessary. Which is fine, you're not obnoxious like posters on many boards, but you do come across as having a chip on your shoulder.

110 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I'll give you 3 points for 5 quatloos.

I still remember the 49ers dropping two picks because each of the passes were thrown directly to too many defenders.

Eli can be very good, and he's better than he was four years ago, but he's still the guy who threw 25 picks in 2010. He even threw one to Kyle Arrington this year!

139 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Yeah, Dashon Golston broke up two 49er interceptions...and hurt teammates in the process. If he simply backs off and let his teammates get the ball, we aren't talking about Eli being elite this week.

That being said, whether he's elite or not is irrelevant. He's definitely dangerous and good enough to dominate against the Pats D.

But man, seeing Brady raise the Lombardi in the Colts' new stadium would be simply awesome.

72 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Well, some things are true. They have had good starts every year out of the last 5.

2007 - Lost first 2, then won 6 in a row. 4-4 second half. Depends how much you read into the 38-35 loss to the Patriots.

2008- Started 11-1, then lost three of four and lost their first playoff game. No comeback there.

2009 - Won their first five, then lost four, then went 3-4 down the stretch. 3-4 is better than losing four, but not really a comeback.

2010 - Started 6-2, then lost 2, then won 3, then lost two of their last 3. As much of a late season slump as mid-season.

So really they start quick and may or may not have a late-season comeback.

84 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Rinse. Wash. Repeat?

In 2007, the Giants lost their opening game to a division foe (Dallas)
This year, the Giants lost their opening game to a division foe (Washington)

In 2007, the Giants lost their 9th game a week after their bye, breaking a (6 game) winning streak and dropping their record to 6-3. The loss came to a team they would have to beat in the playoffs (Dallas).
This year, the Giants lost their 9th game two weeks after their bye, breaking a (3 game) winning streak and dropping their record to 6-3. The loss came to a team they would have to beat in the playoffs (SF).

In 2007, the Giants lost a week 15 home game against the Redskins 22-10, jeopardizing their playoff chances.
This year, the Giants lost a week 15 home game against the Redskins 23-10, jeopardizing their playoff chances.

In 2007, the Giants faced the undefeated Patriots at home late in the season and gave them a monumental battle, which the Giants lost 38-35.
This year, the Giants faced the (then) undefeated Packers at home late in the season and gave them a monumental battle, which the Giants lost 38-35.

In 2007, the Giants did not get a bye in the playoffs and played in the opening round a team from the NFC South they had not played that year. They won, scoring 24 points (24-14 over TB).
This year, the Giants did not get a bye in the playoffs and played in the opening round a team from the NFC South they had not played that year. They won, scoring 24 points (24-2 over Atl).

In 2007, the Giants then had to defeat the NFC's top seed (Dallas). They had gone 0-2 versus Dallas that season.
This year, the Giants then had to defeat the NFC's top seed (Green Bay). They had gone 0-1 versus the Packers this season.

In 2007, the Giants then had to play the #2 seed, who they had earlier lost to, on the road in inclement weather (Green Bay in the 3rd coldest game in NFL history).
This year, the Giants then had to play the #2 seed, who they had earlier lost to, on the road in inclement weather (SF in the wind and rain with a soggy field).

In 2007, the Giants won the NFC championship game by forcing a turnover in overtime and then having Lawrence Tynes kick a field goal.
This year, the Giants won the NFC championship game by forcing a turnover in overtime and then having Lawrence Tynes kicking a field goal.

In 2007, the Giants had to face the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
This year, the Giants will be facing the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

[Gathered from many sources, including Peter King]

111 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

In 2007, a lot of stuff happened that didn't happen again in 2011.

In 2007, a small number of things happened that have also happened in 2011.

The ratio between these two sets of things is about 2^225 to 1. But since so many things actually do happen, it's easy to pick out a hundred or so things in the second group.

I guess it's Super Bowl time, so it's time to roll out the list of meaningless coincidences.

136 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

"In 2007, a lot of stuff happened that didn't happen again in 2011."

Really? Oh, wow. I thought we were experiencing an off-shoot of the plot of Another Earth.

Good thing you showed up to set things straight.

Snark aside- there are more coincidences than normal (which means absolutely nothing, besides being fun to notice).

182 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

The coincidences are interesting, but in reality so meaningless. It bores me every time I hear them. And, in NYC, I'm hearing them quite a bit. In fact, almost from the moment the first Green Bay game ended, I was hearing the comparisons to 2007.

The comparison I think is most apt is the degree to which Coughlin has gone from goat to genius, yet again. In 2007, people were calling for his head, and ownership was considering canning him if he didn't make good. In 2011, the same thing happened.

His players obviously respond to the fear of losing him. I'm not sure why.

I'm a believer in consistency. It seems that Coughlin's performance becomes consistent when his job is threatened. The Maras should sign one game contracts with the guy and just get over it. They'd win every game.

29 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

The question I like to throw out is:

Are the recent Giants Super Bowl teams not particularly good teams that have flukily beaten several very good teams in the playoffs to win one Super Bowl with a chance at another, or

Are the recent Giants Super Bowl teams very good teams that flukily lost 3-4 games more than they should have in the regular season? I think everyone would agree that the 2007 and 2011 Giants playoff runs would feel less strange if the team had been 13-3 in 2007 rather than 10-6, or had been 12-4 this year instead of 9-7.

So which is stranger, a very good team losing, by not playing very well, to the Redskins twice and to the Seahawks (to choose three games this year)? Or a mediocre team suddenly throttling a good Falcons team, soundly beating the defending champion and top-seeded Packers, and then winning a near-stalemate versus the 2nd seeded 49ers, all in a row and playing well in doing so?

80 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

As a Giants fan, this explanation rings the most true, even though the "play flukily" situation is much greater than 3-4 games. They got beat by the Redskins twice, the Seahawks, a Vince Young-led Eagles team and needed Eli miracles to win games against the Dolphins and Cardinals.

The feeling amongst Giants fans is that even if you add up all the injuries, they still had talent on the field. They lost a starting MLB who wasn't very good, and their 2nd corner. Everyone else was depth. Tuck's been injured but playing, and Osi was around for several of the early season debacles.

Which is why everyone here was calling for Fewell's head after the New Orleans game. Then, all of sudden, the secondary can cover, which was their biggest weakness. I still don't think I've seen a plausible explanation, even from the players themselves.

82 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I hear you-- but most teams throw in a clunker or two each year. 15-1 is not very common. So assuming that a good-but-not-historically-great team would have 2-3 down games, the difference between 12-4 and 9-7 is another 3 games (which is why I said 3-4 more bad games).

As for the explanation regarding coverage, perhaps we can take them at their word. Earlier in the season, they company line was that a lot of the problem was attributable to miscommunication. It seems to me that this would be the kind of thing that is fixable and could lead to significantly better performance. It's a lot easier to learn to communicate within a system than it is to suddenly be more physically talented.

83 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Agreed, but remember when these "communication" issues got solved: No earlier than game 15 against the Jets. You'd think that it wouldn't take 3+ months to fix something as integral to good play as making sure everyone is running the same coverage. Again, if true, its an indictment of Fewell.

I'm not saying you're wrong, especially because I have no idea what got fixed, or whether its random chance.

32 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I always like coming to this site and the stats do offer a different way of looking at the basic boxscores but one that that I find odd is that DVOA is always used as the basis to judge instead of the actual games. So, everyone says that the Giants are 11th in DVOA and beat a team that was 2nd and the outcome was a fluke

Even if you look at W-L record, the Giants winning was fluky. They were 9-7, which puts them in a three way tie for 10th place in the NFL, pretty much where DVOA has them. The fact that they beat a team that was tied for 2nd place in W-L record (a week after beating the team that was 1st) is fluky, no matter how you slice it. Unless you can explain how a Top-5 team (or Top-whatever you think the Giants are) got swept by a 5-11 team that beat them by double digits both times, and whose only other wins came against the NFC West.

43 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

It seems to me that it is just as plausible that they are a very very good team that, for some reason, played like crap a handful of times more than a good team should, as opposed to being a mediocre team that played very very well a handful of times more than a mediocre team should.

In fact, I think it is significantly more likely that a high quality team would play poorly several times than a poor quality team would go on a run like this, mainly because a truly poor quality team would not be capable of going on a run like this.

And this franchise has now done it twice in four years.

130 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

It seems to me that it is just as plausible that they are a very very good team that, for some reason, played like crap a handful of times more than a good team should, as opposed to being a mediocre team that played very very well a handful of times more than a mediocre team should.

In fact, I think it is significantly more likely that a high quality team would play poorly several times than a poor quality team would go on a run like this, mainly because a truly poor quality team would not be capable of going on a run like this.

First off, nobody said the Giants were a poor quality team. Judging by DVOA or W-L record, they were a playoff caliber team, but just barely. That's good, and certainly good enough that one or two fluky games would be enough to get them to the Superbowl.

But if your argument is that the Giants are really a great team as opposed to a good one, then that argument doesn't just imply that DVOA is failing to accurately reflect their greatness - it implies that reality is failing to accurately reflect their greatness. Those regular season games that they lost really happened, and if the Giants were really such a juggernaut, they would've won those games instead of leaving their spot in the playoffs in doubt until the final game. Several high quality teams secure their playoff spots before the final week, and don't blow games to crappy teams along the way. I don't see what's so unreasonable about claiming that those teams are better than the Giants, overall, even if the Giants beat them once. Unless you think that it would have been more shocking if the Saints or Packers or 49ers had gone on a similar three game run in the playoffs. If you put the Giants behind the teams that played better than they did in the regular season, and who had just as much of a chance of putting together an equally impressive 3 game playoff run, then you'd get a ranking pretty close to where DVOA has them. Maybe a few spots higher, but not the best in the NFC, and certainly not the best in the NFL.

Now, none of this means they aren't allowed to win the Super Bowl - they earned a playoff spot, and beat all the teams they needed to beat to get there, so anything can happen (and for the record, I hope they do win). But people seem to be implying that it was some kind of foregone conclusion that the Giants would win those games, and that DVOA should adjust for that - and I'm not buying it. The Giants have made the playoffs 5 times under Coughlin/Manning, and 3 of those times they were one-and-done. I refuse to believe that the Giants are some kind of hidden juggernaut that just waits until the postseason to strike.

150 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

"First off, nobody said the Giants were a poor quality team."

Several recent threads have had more than one person saying just this, including going so far as saying that the Giants are "destroying" the sanctity of the playoffs.

My argument is that the Giants of the last five years or so have been a very good team-- think about 10 percentage points higher than DVOA measures as an approximate level-- with more regular season clunkers thrown in for reasons that are not readily apparent.

180 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

"First off, nobody said the Giants were a poor quality team."

Several recent threads have had more than one person saying just this, including going so far as saying that the Giants are "destroying" the sanctity of the playoffs.

Fair enough. Let me rephrase: Nobody who is actually using DVOA as the measurement of quality could claim that the Giants were a poor quality team. Even if you seeded the playoffs according to DVOA, the Giants would've made it into the playoffs, and would've had to beat three opponents with a higher DVOA in order to get to the Super Bowl - which is exactly what they did. Anyone making the ridiculous and melodramatic argument about the Giants "destroying the sanctity of the playoffs" can't bolster their point with DVOA. Well, unless they think that the 12th best team shouldn't be allowed to win the Super Bowl - but then they should've been complaining about the addition of a second wildcard in 1990, and I haven't seen any such petitions in the last decade or so.

My argument is that the Giants of the last five years or so have been a very good team-- think about 10 percentage points higher than DVOA measures as an approximate level-- with more regular season clunkers thrown in for reasons that are not readily apparent.

Personally, I think DVOA has had them pegged reasonably well - a pretty good team. Still, arguments about what should've happened if some unknown factor had been the way it should've been just tend to turn into "how many angels could dance on the head of a pin if they all knew the Viennese Waltz and wore glass slippers". In any case, the Giants have had an average DVOA of about 11% over the last five years, which is about a wildcard caliber team, give or take. Over five years, you'd expect a team with that baseline talent level to miss the playoffs once or twice, make a deep run once or twice, and be one-and-done the rest. And, roughly speaking, that's what happened. Sure, they've overperformed somewhat, but someone has to, or there'd be no upsets in the playoffs at all. I don't think it would seem so wierd if they'd won the Super Bowl after their 12-4 2008 season, and made it to the Super Bowl last year after a 10-6 season. It is wierd that their best playoff performances have been after their worst regular seasons, but the overall performance the last five years isn't that crazily off what you'd expect.

124 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I think the most plausible is that the Giants are a very, very unreliable team. They have the talent to go out and match anyone score-for-score, whether that means the defensive line mauls the opposing QB into rushing throws, or Eli and the (very good to excellent) receivers torching the secondary.

They also have the mental miscues and, in my opinion, spotty coaching to get absolutely flattened by a terrible team, like the Redskins did this year.

They don't really seem to HAVE a baseline in 2011. Instead, they have an extremely bimodal quality distribution, and it's hard to tell which you're going to get. They're a nightmare to try betting on.

134 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

No.. They're extremely reliable. In the first half of seasons they beat the teams they should, and lose to the teams they shouldn't beat. Past the midpoint, they do the opposite.

The reason they've done well in the playoffs is obvious--they run out of matches they should win.

//AJMQB

183 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

This seems more plausible.
I'm not convinced the Giants are "THAT" good. The idea that they 'jelled at the right time' is bizarre in the extreme. Whose to say other teams that barely missed the playoffs, but were in the process of 'jelling at the right time' weren't just as good?

My guess is this isn't a particularly good team which has played very well and gotten some extremely lucky breaks to take them over the top. The teams they beat to finish out the season (Jets and Dallas) were struggling. The first team the beat in the playoffs, Atlanta, has a history of playoff failure and was playing in Giants Stadium. It was, in my opinion, the best overall Giants performance in their 5 game run.
The Green Bay game featured some odd features on the part of a top-tier offense - seemingly bizarre drops and an overthrown wide open receiver. All occurred when little or no pressure was being applied to Rodgers. Yet there were 4 fumbles which magically landed in the Giants' possession and led to 10 points (while preventing at least 6 by Green Bay)
The SF game featured both teams playing to their averages in almost every facet of the game. SF got their average passing yardage, slightly more rushing. NY did the same. Cruz got his yardage (though oddly it was his first game with over 100 yards in which he didn't have a long 40+ yard catch), indicating SF was willing to let him gash them but not give up a big play. The only differentiating factor was 2 punt turnovers resulting in 10 points.

Stripping a ball is a talent, and for that, the Giants get credit on several of the fumbles. But recovering a fumble is not a talent. There are bounces, there are scrambles, you have to be in the right place, etc. Recovering a fumble is a tremendous element of luck. And in the last 2 games, the Giants have benefited from this.

My take on the Super Bowl is this, if New England seeks to stop the Giants, and I'm sure nobody will find any of this surprising:
1. Pressure Eli. When SF started hitting him, his efficiency dropped dramatically. Eli is a player. He gets up, he's gritty, he's tough. But getting hit impairs his judgement significantly.
2. Play Cruz soft, give him short yardage, but don't allow him long opportunities. Giving him 100+ yards in 9 yard chunks can't hurt you as much as allowing him to break long plays. This seems odd - but it works. 1/3 of Cruz's total yardage came on 7 catches.
3. Run the ball early and wear down the Giants D line, save your QB for later in the game. But when you pass - pass deep. The Giants deep pass coverage is poor.
4. Protect the ball. This is obvious, is probably repeated over and over to players of all ages, but it's very important against the Giants. In games where they have won the turnover battle - they are 9 and 1. They make opponents pay for turnovers.

10 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

One non-statistical but perhaps strategically relevant issue is that the Giants and Patriots had met in Week 17 in 2007, giving the two teams had an intimate familiarity of each other's weaknesses from a game just one month prior to Super Bowl XLII. I think that most coaches would say that this changes the dynamics a bit, probably by giving both teams a more nuanced look at the other team's weaknesses, and I think (admittedly, anecdotally) this can favor the weaker team by giving them better knowledge of more areas that they can attack the stronger team. Again, this is not totally statistical, but it is a variable and it is a difference from 2007.

Also, it's worth mentioning that the result of that Week 17 game in 2007 was an exciting 38-35 game where New England only won by a field goal despite winning the turnover battle 1-0. That game was overlooked indicator by most commentators at the time, and future analysis should not repeat the mistake.

11 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I notice that the VOAfs for the two games have two matchups (PatsO/RavensD, GiantsO/49ersD) where the VOAfs differ quite a bit.

Is it that the baselines are different for each side of the ball (if so, why?) or that some plays count for one side and not the other (if so, which?).

19 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Some plays only count for one side and not the other. I don't have a list, but I'm pretty sure it includes things like penalties and botched snaps. It's similar to how one team missing a field goal hurts their ST VOA, but doesn't improve their opponents'.

35 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Yup. I knew that. I was wondering what the Pats were doing on offense that the Ravens weren't. Ditto for the Giants and 49ers. Or maybe it was what they weren't doing. Or maybe it was the situations they were/weren't getting into.

I guess I'm wondering whether the Patriots looked better to VOAf because of what they did on the field or what situations they faced throughout the game.

18 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I've done a 180 on this, but I do think defense is going win this particular championship. Giants have a very good one, and I still think the right QB with the right circumstances will expose the Patriots' defense as lacking. Flacco came within one Lee Evans grasp of doing just that yesterday. Whether it has been Romo, Ryan, Rodgers or Smith (and alas for Niner fans, the latter was the easiest mark) this Giants defense, as opposed to the one masquerading as a quality NFL defense for most of the season, is making life increasingly uncomfortable for the opposing QB. Will they shut down Brady? No. As much as 2007? Probably Not. Do they need to? Absolutely not, for Eli will find Cruz, Nicks, Manningham, et, al. all night and all day. All the Giants D has to do is avoid a shootout and they are plenty good enough to achieve that. Expect a 30 something 20 something final with Coughlin besting Belichick yet again.

23 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Flacco is a lot better QB than Smith. I'm not sure why stopping Smith is impressive (and the Giants were one completed Smith pass away from losing that game several times), and stopping Flacco isn't.

The Giants defensive line is fantastic, but their secondary isn't a whole lot better than the Patriots secondary, and thats saying something.

27 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

ATL did nothing. They had, what, 4 coverage sacks against GB. SF completed two passes to WRs, and one of those was a 25-yard pass in a 67-yard Hail Mary situation.

They may have been terrible over the course of the regular season, but NYG's secondary has looked fairly effective over the last month.

65 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

The Giants secondary is not good, but it is much, much better than a Patriots secondary which was blown up in the last four weeks and replaced with a converted WR/KR, a safety-converted-to-corner who wasn't good enough to be a Raider, with the only cornerback who was any good last year playing FS.

I also disagree that Flacco is necessarily a better QB than Smith; but they are so different in their talents that it is difficult to compare the two. Alex Smith is like Tom Brady circa 2002; a capable game manager who is not really up to carrying a team. Flacco is like a new century Steve Grogan; not always that smart, but loves to wing it downfield.

The Super Bowl probably comes down to whether the Giants can find someone (other than Deon Grant) who can cover Hernandez and Gronkowski downfield. I only know that that person is not Chase Blackburn (and definitely is not Herzlich or Jones).

112 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Flacco isn't "necessarily" a better QB than Alex Smith. But he is a better QB than Alex Smith. At the very least, he has a lot more playoff experience. Smith had played one playoff game before yesterday and I saw some regression on his part in the second half. Aside from the two bombs to Vernon Davis, he got almost nothing done.

52 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I could honestly see it go either way. Brady could go absolutely hog-wild, working off of an unappreciatedly good running game, and the Pats defense could do just well enough to hold off the Giants, or the Giants could do what they did in 2007 and suffocate the Pats, while Eli feasts on a secondary where Julian Edelman is somehow starting quality. I think the latter is more likely than the former, but I don't think the Pats have no chance at all.

34 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Can someone explain to me why, in the past 6 or so years, more mediocre teams have made the Super Bowl than ever before?

From the 1970s to the early 2000s, almost unequivocally, the Super Bowl teams from their respective conferences were dominant regular season teams. Rarely did a team with less than 12 wins advance to the Super Bowl, and often the teams vastly outscored their opposition in the regular season. 95% of Super Bowl teams in the past 45 years have outscore their opposition by 50 points or more during the regular season, and 77% have outscored their opposition by 100 points or more. In the past 5 years, however, we've seen the 2007 Giants, 2008 Cardinals, and now the 2011 Giants barely outscore their competition or even fail to outscore their competition in the regular season and yet advance to the Super Bowl.

The only conclusion I can draw from this run of mediocrity in the Super Bowl is that the league is weaker and more watered-down than ever before. "Superior" teams are constantly being upset recently because they just aren't as dominant as teams of the past. In the past, dominant teams such as the 1991 Redskins, the 90s Cowboys dynasties, the 49er teams, the 96/97 Packers were simply NEVER going to be upset by a weaker team because they were so far ahead of the rest of the conference. These days, there just aren't those same types of dominant teams.

What has caused this widespread parity and watered down the NFL? From what I can tell, it has to be the proliferation of free agency, which has the effect of weakening the strong teams (for example: Cullen Jenkins leaving the Packers and making them a weaker defensive team), and the changing of the rules to favor the passing game, which prevents teams from playing dominant defense, and introduces more randomness into games by allowing big passing plays into the game with more frequency.

46 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I agree that free agency and the salary cap have made a huge difference, and the opening up of the passing game - not just with regard to the rules, but just a general increased openness to a pass-first approach, which as you point out leads to more big plays, have made a difference. That said, I disagree that this means that the NFL is "watered down," "weaker," or "mediocre." If anything, the strength, skill, and overall talent level of the players in the NFL is almost certainly stronger than ever before. And the result of parity is more exciting games and more competition, which is fantastic for football. I'm a little confused as to the nostalgia for the "dynasty" era - sure, I guess there is a level of aesthetic pleasure in watching a team that has mastered the game, but was it really that fun to watch teams like the Cowboys run over the Bills in the Super Bowl? I'll take watching a nailbiter like Steelers-Cardinals or Giants-Patriots over that any day.

49 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I don't mind nailbiters between two legitimately elite teams, such as the 49ers-Cowboys tilts in the 90s... but when the 2008 Cardinals are upsetting "superior" teams to get to the Super Bowl, and the 2007 Giants are upsetting one of the greatest regular season teams in the history of the NFL, and the 2011 Giants basically gave a big middle finger to the entire regular season and still made it to the Super Bowl, I just feel that randomness has taken over the sport to a great extent. It just doesn't make sense anymore. Quality teams that dominate the competition and fight close battles against equally quality teams in the playoffs just don't exist anymore, because at any moment in the playoffs they can seemingly be easily upset by inferior opponents.

53 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I'll throw in another factor that may be in play - the significant advances in technology that presumably enable teams to break down opponents as never before. Put simply, if a team has a weakness, it's almost unfathomable that it wouldn't be uncovered in this day and age with numerous camera angles and digital archives of game film. This is probably why even with dominant teams like the Pats and Packers, they tailed off as the season on - because there's only so long something can work before teams will adjust.

Also, although I concede that there's definitely an increase in parity in the NFL, I would be careful about drawing too many parallels between the 2007 Giants and these Giants. I'm a Giants fan and watched the vast majority of their games in 2007 and this year. 2007 really did come out of nowhere. This year, in my view, the Giants really were a very good team that simply didn't have enough depth to withstand significant injuries to impact players, which is why they underperformed in the regular season (and, as Aaron points out, their schedule strength also masked their skill). If you look at the inactive lists from a lot of their mediocre performances during the regular season, nearly each one has at least a few impact players - defensive linemen, linebackers, running backs, wide receivers - who were out. At full strength, as they've shown in the playoffs, the Giants are as good as any team in the league. I don't think anyone really thought that was the case in 2007.

That said, if Romo connects with Austin in that first Sunday night game, they miss the playoffs, and we're not even having this discussion...

58 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

An additional reason for the change is that you also have more teams playing. From '70 to 77 only 4 teams from each conference made the playoffs. In '78 they added a 5th team. In '90 they added a 6th team. In the 5 team era the wild card teams played each other in the first round, so all of the divisional teams had a bye and the WC round winner had a bit more of a disadvantage.

203 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

There's also the bizarre 'no fumble' on Victor Cruz against Arizona. He puts the ball down without having been touched, and it's not a fumble? Arizona recovered it.

Years ago, DeSean Jackson did this when he dropped the ball before going into the endzone against Dallas. Everyone remembers this play. Dallas' players didn't pick the ball up, they walked off the field. As a result, dead play and Eagles get the ball back to punch it in.

Cruz' was very different, as the ball was recovered, but then waved off. Bizarre in the extreme. But this is the nature of what the Giants have benefited from most of the season.

I'm not sure there is any correlation between injuries and their record. I've seen a few models and the only one which stands out is their performance with and without Osi. Now, Osi is a huge playmaker, but even this isn't what I'd consider a big difference. So unless you say "not having Osi was the factor", which is somewhat backed up by evidence, I'd say "injuries effect every team". After all, it was a Vick-less Eagles that beat this same Giants team.

55 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

For the life of me, I can't figure out why anyone is unhappy about, in a league with as much intensity, regular and post season, as the NFL, the games being less predictable. No, the Giants are not a great team, and their deficiencies, especially at linebacker and db, have led to some bad losses. What you don't get, however, is the equivalent of n NBA game in January, with teams going through the motions. The games matter, and are played with a huge amount of intensity, and the athletes are better than they ever have been. Why don't you like that?

135 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

There are a number of problems with this desire.

First, you can't get quality teams without putrid ones. That is, what you want is a highly bimodal distribution, where there are (say) eight top teams who feast on the rest. The NFL doesn't want that and is highly invested in making sure that on Any Given Sunday anyone can win. They can sell their product better that way, so the NFL is going to move away from this sort of distribution if they can (and they can - the salary cap and draft go a long way to equalize everyone).

Second, the "inferior teams upsetting quality teams" has been true for at least 30 years (i.e. at least as long as I've been watching). Even Indianapolis won games this year, remember. A typical elite team versus a typical non-playoff team is likely about 80+% to win the game ... which still means that one time in 5 they'll lose. More succinctly put, even dominant teams lose regularly to crappy teams, and have done so consistently over my lifetime.

Third, if you want to define "quality" and "inferior" by something other than what happens when they play each other ... well, that would kind of obviate the need for the games, and be quite boring to boot :<)

204 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I agree.
The random nature of some of the teams which have made it far (my 9-6-1 Eagles for example) has made it hard to understand the league or enjoy the playoffs.

When a 7-9, completely unqualified team, makes the playoffs and then actually beats an excellent Saints squad...you have to wonder who's making the rules?

The Giants, both in 2007, and this year, would have made the playoffs even if you revised formats to be two divisions and top teams got a bye but wild cards were based on records. The only difference being this year they would've been #6 and playing against the Saints in the first game. After that, the other games would've been the same.

But you do have to question why we're allowing lower quality teams to make it (money and TV rights), and what is allowing them to do well (honestly, when it comes to the playoffs, it's hard to discount luck in most cases - helmet catches, recovered fumbles, etc.).

I prefer seeing better teams play in the final games. I don't consider a 9-7 team, regardless of the explanations or excuses, to be a top tier team, even if they beat several top tier teams in a one and done playoff format.

The nature of football precludes any other format, so if you're playing you have to bring your best game every game. But a 9-7 team didn't bring their best game every game until they somehow snuck into a period of time when each game is MORE MEANINGFUL. What does that say about consistency and commitment?

I've heard the "the played well enough to keep their opportunities alive" argument. Ahem. Yes. And I've worked very hard all my life to get rich, but it hasn't happened yet. I know, the opportunity is still there for me, and I've kept that alive.....but seriously, what kind of argument is that?

Great teams shouldn't be given a benefit. It's not like I think the Packers deserved a special ruling to give them the ball on the Giants' 20 with each possession because 'they earned it'. But there has to be something done to figure out why crappy teams keep overachieving.

When my Eagles, at 9-6-1 made the NFC Championship game, I wrote a good portion of it off to luck. How lucky were they that the right teams lost when they did? Very. But the only 'good' I could find in that squad was their defense was actually extremely good and really took it up a notch in the playoffs. Still doesn't mean I thought they belonged there. Of course, neither did the Cardinals...

96 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Who did the 2008 Cards beat to get to the superbowl? They had an epic wild-card shootout with the Pack that could have gone either way, winning the game on a horrendous non-call on the Rogers facemask. In the second round, Jake Delhomme happened. In the NFC Championship game, they played an overachieving Eagles team. Not a murderers row, and certainly not the gauntlet the Giants have run to get to this SB.

143 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I don't think the 2008 Cardinals are analogous to either Giants team. They were a borderline elite team that stopped trying half way through the regular season because they were already locked in, and turned it back on for the playoffs. The only mystery is how the rest of their division managed to be quite so mind-numbingly awful all at the same time.

The ultra-tough schedule of the 2011 Giants should also be taken into consideration. The 2007 Giants are more like the 2001 Pats - a team with important young players who took a large, permanent step forwards towards the end of the season, and narrowly knocked off a superior (but not as superior as they had been 8 weeks earlier) opponent with a great performance in the Superbowl.

147 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I've seen this mentioned by many posters in many threads and I'm not buying. I watched the Cardinals play the Patriots, Jets, Eagles, and Vikings. In all four games it was over at the half. They didn't rest anybody except Warner if the score got out of hand, they ran their entire playbook, and they got BEAT like a rug.

If the Cardinals weren't trying, it was because they QUIT after getting dominated for two-three quarters, not because they had no seeding left to play for. Certainly the Jets and Eagles games were early enough in the season to have mattered.

There was no semblance at all of "elite" in that team from week 1 to the Super Bowl. 2008 always struck me as the year with no elite teams...or even great teams. Just a group of 6 or so that were a little bit better than the field.

151 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I don't think it's so simple. The Cardinals' overall strategy was pretty aggressive, on the whole, which was a big part of why they won games. It seemed to me that once they clinched, but had no real shot at a bye, Whisenhunt and his staff dialed things back a bit. They were content to make the playoffs and have a home game, in a conference with no truly dominant teams.

Come playoff time, it looked like they went back to their aggressive strategies, and it paid off.

153 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

if my memory serves, the Jets game was late September / early October. The Eagles were in mid-November. There was nothing clinched.

The Cardinals were an average to slightly below-average team that got the luxury of playing in a bad division. Kurt Warner had a late-season Alienesque invasion that carried them to a few improbable wins, and almost a Super Bowl at that, but the run game was non-existant and the defense was poor. During the regular season, they seem to have beaten teams they should have, had close wins and losses at teams at their level, and got humiliated by good teams.

169 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

The turning point was the Giants loss on November 23rd - 4 days before the Eagles game. After that, while nothing may have been mathematically clinched, there was no realistic way they were going to be seeded higher than third or lower than fourth. I don't think the change was primarily a conscious decision on the part of the coaching staff; I think the players just stopped giving 100%, in time-honoured Atlanta Braves style. Through 10 or 11 games, Warner was (with good reason) in the MVP discussion that year. After that, not so much. The Jets loss was a freakish turnover-fest in which they lost 4 of 5 fumbles for a -6 turnover differential, not an orthodox beat-down. They actually had almost 100 more total yards than the Jets.

I watched that team quite a lot: the team that played in the first 11 games was the team that played in the playoffs.

172 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

The Jets loss was a freakish turnover-fest in which they lost 4 of 5 fumbles for a -6 turnover differential, not an orthodox beat-down. They actually had almost 100 more total yards than the Jets.

It was 34-0 at halftime, and the Jets had outgained the Cardinals 203-92 at that point. Warner went 31-42-373-2-1 in the 2nd half against a quasi-prevent.

177 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

So at 7 and 4, they stopped trying to win? I don't remember what the other divisional leaders' records were, but it seems that 7-4 with 5 games to play leaves a lot of room for improving one's lot. Were they actually locked into the #4 seed that early, with 12-4 a possibility?

The Cardinals were not a particularly good team that year, by any measure other than NFL Champions. They got 6 wins out of their division, which you've pointed out just how inept they were. Until the playoffs, they had one impressive win that year, a blowout of Miami in week 2...and even that's debatable. The Dolphins won the AFC East at 11-5, but started out 2-4 that year.

48 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Teams will never again have the depth of talent that teams did prior to the salary cap having its full effect, which I think took some place in the mid 90s. It is possible that the emphasis on passing has combined with the cap to produce an even more qb-centered game, which results in teams which win 13 or more games which are more easily beaten than teams that won that many games in the past.

66 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I actually think you understate your case. Weak Super Bowl teams? How about the 2003 Carolina Panthers? The 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers? The 2001 New England Patriots? The 2006 Indianapolis Colts? Those on top of the 2007 Giants, 2008 Cardinals, 2010 Packers, and 2011 Giants. People can string together a million arguments to defend each of these teams--but the Packers were a low seed in 2010, the Colts had a horrible run defense in 2006, etc. etc. As a dedicated viewer, I fully expected the 2006 Chiefs to cream the Colts in the playoffs--run first team vs. sieve defense. Jacksonville had absolutely smooshed the Colts just a few weeks before. I think that the games are much less predictable—that good teams are less good, that great teams are far less consistent from week to week--that the sport rewards passing and big plays to a much greater degree than it used to, etc. It maybe actually be that there are more "good" teams and simply no "great" ones now. If the NE Patriots win this year, I would also argue that this is far from an impressive incarnation of the team. The 2006 Pats were more well-rounded, the 2009 Pats were far more intimidating. Time and circumstance are everything now.

90 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

How exactly were the 2005 Steelers or last year's Packers "weak Super Bowl teams"? I don't think the seed of a team is sufficient to determine their overall "strength", especially since both of the teams I mention suffered a lot of injuries in those years, only returning to full strength (or near enough) closer to the playoffs.

67 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

From the 1970s to the early 2000s, almost unequivocally, the Super Bowl teams from their respective conferences were dominant regular season teams.

First off, from the 1970s through the 1980s, there was only one wildcard per conference, and until divisional realignment in 2002, many divisions had 5 teams instead of 4. These two factors made it much more difficult for a team that wasn't dominant in the regular season to even make it to the playoffs. Remember, you can't go on a magical miracle cinderella run in the postseason if you don't make it to the playoffs in the first place. If I had to guess, I'd say the main factor is that non-dominant teams are getting many more opportunities than they did in the past.

For instance, if the Cardinals had still been in the NFC East in 2008, they probably wouldn't have made the playoffs at all, much less the Super Bowl.

86 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

The 1988 49ers beat 3 teams with better record, and won a lottery of 5 10-6 teams that season, including 2 others in their division, to even make the playoffs.

The 1967 Packers beat one team with a better record in the NFL playoffs, and the Raiders, who had a better AFC record. They managed to avoid an 11-1-2 Colts team, who missed the playoffs, despite tying for the best record in football, on a tie-breaker.

196 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Sheesh, it doesn't even stop there. Don't forget to mention the 68 Jets who had to defeat the defending league champ Raiders and then pulled off perhaps the biggest-ever perceived upset.

or the 75 Cowboys (origin of the "Hail Mary" over the vikes) first wild card team to advance to SB. (beating Rams quarterbacked by the Polish Rifle.

or the 80 Raiders (first WC SB champ)

or the 85 Pats (3 road wins to get to SB)

or the 92? Bills who rallied from 35-3 in the WC game and made the SB

All of these were perceived as "Cinderella" runs by winning multiple upsets at the time.

67 Pack and 92 Bills are probably special cases. They were also perceived as "pulling one last great run by a formerly dominant team."

132 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

That doesn't explain the dominant teams from the 80s through to the early 2000s.

What do you mean? Divisional realignment didn't happen until 2002. Without it, the Cardinals cinderella run in 2008 never would've happened, because they would've been in the five team NFC East, and wouldn't have had the chance to win an abysmal NFC West.

144 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

If the Cardinals had been in the NFC East, they'd have had to keep playing properly all year, and would probably either have won the division or been an obviously very strong wild card, with a much higher DVOA than they historically posted, and their run wouldn't have been Cinderella-ish. The real 2008 Cardinals were the ones who showed up for the playoffs.

178 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

The real 2008 Cardinals were the ones who showed up for the playoffs.

If you say so. My point is that either way, without divisional realignment, the Cardinals wouldn't have had a Cinderella run that year. They either would've missed the playoffs entirely, or they would've played better in the regular season and it wouldn't have seemed so unusual to see them in the Super Bowl.

77 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Free agency is a big factor as far as actual parity goes. The complexity of the game, with teams having players work nearly year round and employing many different strategies, weapons, and coaches than in the past, has given teams a chance to find more ways to attack opponents and more efficient ways to run their gameplans that may have randomized the game.

However, the biggest factors are the structure of the league's playoff system, the fact that the NFL plays a random game, and the sheer volume of playoff games now. If you're comparing now to pre-Super Bowl days, the reason why there weren't as many teams ranked in the 20th to 40th percentile winning upsets in the playoffs is because they didn't qualify for the playoffs in the first place. This is the number of teams that made it to the playoffs each year as a percentage of the overall number of teams in the NFL (and AFL combined, where necessary):

1933 only - 10 teams, 2 in playoffs (20.0%)
1934 only - 11 teams, 2 in playoffs (18.2%)
1935-1936 - 9 teams, 2 in playoffs (22.2%)
1937-1942 - 10 teams, 2 in playoffs (20.0%)*
1943 only - 8 teams, 2 in playoffs (25.0%)*
1944-1949 - 10 teams, 2 in playoffs (20.0%)*
1950 only - 13 teams, 2 in playoffs (15.4%)*
1951-1959 - 12 teams, 2 in playoffs (16.7%)*
1960 only - 21 teams, 4 in playoffs (19.0%)
1961-1965 - 22 teams, 4 in playoffs (18.2%)*
1966 only - 24 teams, 4 in playoffs (16.7%)

*-In the years prior to the merger, the NFL and AFL had a convention of having a one-game playoff if two teams were tied in record at the end of the regular season to see who would qualify for the league championship game. This occurred in 1941, 1943, 1947, 1950 (twice), 1952, 1957, 1958, 1963 (AFL), 1965 (NFL), 1968 (AFL), 1969 (AFL) and thereby (sort of) added 12 teams to the playoffs in these years. I did not count these teams here, but I count them later on.

In 1967, there was a big change: after Super Bowl I, the NFL & AFL doubled the field.

1967 only - 25 teams, 8 in playoffs (32.0%)
1968-1969 - 26 teams, 8 in playoffs (30.8%)* (pre-merger)
1970-1975 - 26 teams, 8 in playoffs (30.8%) (post-merger)
1976-1977 - 28 teams, 8 in playoffs (28.6%)
1978-1981 - 28 teams, 10 in playoffs (35.7%)
1982 only - 28 teams, 16 playoff teams (57.1%)
1983-1989 - 28 teams, 10 in playoffs (35.7%)
1990-1994 - 28 teams, 12 in playoffs (42.9%)
1995-1998 - 30 teams, 12 in playoffs (40.0%)
1999-2001 - 31 teams, 12 in playoffs (38.7%)
2002-2011 - 32 teams, 12 in playoffs (37.5%)

Why are there more upsets in the playoffs than in the pre-merger days? Roughly twice as many teams make it to the playoffs... and once mediocre teams get there, they sometimes remind us how random of a game the NFL is.

The other big change occurred in 2002, when the NFL went to eight divisions of four teams each and cut the Wild Cards down to two teams each. This has allowed teams to make it to the playoffs by winning their division - meaning there are eight team that make the playoffs solely by virtue of having a better record than three other NFL teams (now less than 10% of the league). Moreover, they all automatically get to host a playoff game.

In the case of the 2008 Cardinals (9-7), 2010 Seahawks (7-9), and 2011 Broncos (8-8), this has allowed 9-7 or worse teams into the playoffs with home field advantage. All three of them have two things in common: 1) they won a playoff game and 2) none of the three would have qualified for the playoffs as a third wild card team from their conference. Even with about 35%-42% of teams making it to the playoffs, the years from 1978-2001 were still a six-division champion, six-wild card era, and these three teams would not have made the cut.

Why are there more upsets in the playoffs than in the pre-eight division days? Because the third wild card was a more efficient way of selecting a playoff team than the fourth division winner is... and once mediocre teams get there, they sometimes remind us how random of a game the NFL is.

The final point is just the sheer volume of games. In the 2011 season (ending in January and February of 2012), there are 11 playoff games. How does this frequency of stack up against history?:

1930s: 7 playoff games
1940s: 13 playoff games
1950s: 15 playoff games
1960s: 40 playoff games
1970s: 72 playoff games
1980s: 96 playoff games
1990s: 110 playoff games
2000s: 110 playoff games

In 2010 and 2011 seasons, we have 22 playoff games, two more than in the entire 1930s and 1940s combined. The 2000s had 110 playoff games; the 1970s and 1980s combined had 112. If playoff upsets seem more frequent, it's in large part because playoff games are more frequent.

115 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

By all means, let's go back to the years from '85 to '95, when every single* Super Bowl was a blowout. That was much better than what we have now!

*Except for Giants-Bills

Seriously, for nearly a decade, the real NFL championship was the NFC championship game. The Giants, Bears, 49ers, Cowboys, and Redskins regularly beat the snot out of the Broncos, Bills, and whatever other AFC team slouched into the Super Bowl.

199 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I agree wholeheartedly that the Super Bowl is now much more exciting than it used to be (except for the fans of the winning teams) but the drought was actually much longer than you suggest. The first 9 super bowls featured one close game, but a very sloppy one. (There was also one 7 point game caused by Yepremian's attempt to pass. That game was really more 17-0 than 14-7.)

10 thru 15 had two games decided by less than 12 points- the two Steelers-Cowboys games (though both featured last minute Cowboy TDs to make it look closer). 14 was pretty exciting. The Steelers turned it on in the 4th quarter to whack the Cinderella Rams.

Only the Cowboys were NFC SB champs (71,77) from 1968 through 1980.

SB 16 was 20-0 at the half but the Bengals made it close at 26-21. SB 17 was close at half but the Skins rolled in the 2nd.

18 through 31 featured only 2 games competetive in the 2nd half- 23 with SF-CIN and 25 Giants-Bills

The Broncos beating the Pack in 32 was quite the novelty not only because the AFC won for the first time since 18 but it was an exciting game!

You all know what happened after that with many more good games than bad.

The bottom line is that the conferences took turns being dominant and the games were almost always bad right up until our current era.

62 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I'll have to think about it more, but it feels like a close game to me, with a slight edge to the Giants. I think the Niners defense would have posed a tougher problem for the Pats offense, due to their speed among linebackers and dbs, but the Pats defense would have had a much easier time with the Niners offense. A Ravens/Niners game may have been the lowest scoring Super Bowl since Vikings/Steelers, which would have been something to behold, in this era. Ravens/Giants would have been a fascinating matchup as well.

(Edit) Eh, I'm already second guessing myself. The qb matchup is pretty even, as is the line of scrimmage, and both teams have problems in the defensive backfield. The Giants have an edge among wideouts, the Pats obviously with tight ends. Hell if I know what is going to happen.

95 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Agreed.

When the Pats have the ball, I think the Giants lack of good LB's and safeties will keep them from being able to shut down Welker, Gronk, AND Hernandez, and if they do, Branch can often get open against 1-on-1 coverage. Plus, the Pats should be able to trap effectively against the aggressive rush and get a few good runs in. On the other hand, a lot of runs attempts will get blown up in the backfield, and Brady will be feeling heat all day. The receivers will be open, but Brady may not have time to find them. Smith's were, and he couldn't. Brady is better than Smith, and can beat the Giants rush to find his open guys, but "can" and "will" are two different things.

When the Giants have the ball, I think Wilfork and Love will clog the running lanes adequately (both Jacobs and Bradshaw are better inside runners than outside runners), and the Pats are going to go into a zone and give up short and medium passes and force Eli to throw time and time again. He is good enough to do so, but also has enough "WTF" moments that forcing him to throw over and over again may result in a few breaks for the Pats defense. So the Giants will march up and down the field, but may have trouble punching it into the end zone, and may give up an INT or two.

What the game will come down to is (A) can Brady find the open guy quickly before the Giants line gets to him, and (B) will good Eli be around way more than bad Eli? If the answer to A is yes more than B is yes, the Pats will win. Otherwise, the Giants will win.

116 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Agree with all of this except "the qb matchup is pretty even."

Seriously, people. Brady vs. Manning is not even. Let's put it this way: if you traded QBs and kept the rest of the rosters intact, would there be any doubt that the Giants should be 7+ point favorites?

157 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

If I had a bad offensive line, there are 5 QBs I would want:

1-2. Bros Manning
3. Cutler
4. Roethlisberger
5. Warner

Brady would be towards the bottom of that list, somewhat above Kevin Kolb and David Carr. He's just not particularly mobile, and has never played well when his line is getting beat.

159 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Well, that's quite extreme.

I'd still take a relatively immobile quarterback that has Brady's decision-making, arm, and accuracy over really-mobile guys like Tebow, Tarvaris Jackson, Alex Smith, and so forth.

I do think your 1-4 are correct, though. I'd include Brees over Brady (a bit more athletic), but not Rivers. Romo's a close call. I'd still take Brady over Schaub.

Also, why would you include Warner? Can I pick John Elway, too?

181 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

No, there'd be no doubt.

I think when they say Manning it's shorthand for "The Giants Passing Game against the Pats D" and when they say Brady it's shorthand for "The Patriots passing game against the Giants D". Of the two, I think the Giants (and thus, Manning) has the distinct advantage.

It's just like Flacco and Brady on Sunday was; Brady is a better QB but he had a much worse day because he wasn't playing against the Pats D.

50 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

The Patriots aren't as good.

I'd be willing to bet a penny that this NEP team has a higher weighted DVOA then 2007's team IF each team's last 5 games is used, such as this report did for NYG/NEP. I think this offense is better because it has more tools and defenses haven't been able to figure out The Boston TE Party like they had the Brady/Moss connection by 2007's week 18. This defense is worse though.

73 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

I have been stalking this message board. I am not a statistician but I do love in depth statistical analysis of sports. I have to say I am astonished by some of the comments here as it pertains to how good The Giants may or may not be, how deserving they are, and if their success ruins the game in some way.

Let's be clear. They play the ACTUAL games on the field to win the Super Bowl. They do not play the games to achieve the best DVOA.

Anybody who feels the game is ruined for them because the Giants aren't really good because of a poor DVOA is sort of pathetic in my view. Why? Because you are looking at DVOA as an end rather than as an analytical tool. An analytical tool, I may add, with random assumptions regarding weights and modeling. If there is a disconnect between the tool and reality, then clearly the model needs to be adjusted to conform to the reality. It is really as simple as that. Anybody who would argue otherwise is a rube. It is plainly obvious.

Finally, if The Giants complete this run and win the Super Bowl, then they would have completed possibly the greatest playoff sweep in the history of the league defeating a potent Atlanta team, a tremendous defending champion in the Packers, a strong 2nd seed in the Niners, and arguably the best organization in league history at it's apex in The Patriots. Mediocre regular season be damned - if that happens you need to model that because that would be amazing.

92 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

Correct me if I'm wrong but I'm sure that some are referring to the Giants as an undeserving club because they gave up more points than they scored this season, which is decent evidence that their year was underwhelming. DVOA has nothing to do with that stance.

93 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

OK, it will be quite impressive. 2010 Packers are up there, too-- they defeated the #3, #1 and #2 seeds-- all on the road, then defeated an equally strong organization, historically, as the Pats in the Steelers in the Super Bowl. Six of one, half dozen of the other. The real game I'd like to see is last year's Packers-- playoff version-- vs. this year's Giants. Somehow I think Woodson or Williams make a play late and deny Eli, but who knows??

104 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

IF they truly are a great team, which is what they appear to be if you look at just their last five games, then why did they play like such garbage in the regular season? Do they realize that had a play or two here or there gone differently, they would be sitting out of the playoffs at this point?

And I'm not buying "players getting healthy" because as far as I can tell, Osi Umenyiora and Michael Boley are the only two impact starters "getting healthY" and they've actually been in the lineup for most of the season regardless.

So that leaves me to, again, ask the question: are they really a good team, which is what they seem to be right now, or are they a bad team winning flukey games against weaker competition than we first thought? If they truly are a good team, why didn't they show this prior to Week 16 of the regular season? How is it possible for a team to suddenly morph into an elite squad after playing at an average level the entire season? Why is there no historical precedent for this? Never before in the history of the Super Bowl has a team been outscored in the regular season and played in the game. History suggests that teams simply do not have the capability to "come together" into an elite unit at the very end of the season, or otherwise we would have seen something like this at some point in the 45-year history of the Super Bowl.

127 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

IF they truly are a great team, which is what they appear to be if you look at just their last five games,

I don't believe anybody here has called them a truly great team. I think most believe they are a good to very good team that is better than their record indicates. And it's not just the last five games; they were blown out once by New Orleans, but played New England, San Francisco, and Green Bay evenly in the regular season, winning once and losing twice.

then why did they play like such garbage in the regular season?

1. Random variation. I don't understand why it's so hard to accept the idea that in a small population, where variables are not independent, sometimes weird shit just happens.
2. They didn't play like garbage in the regular season - on average, they played mediocre for most of the season, and gradually got better towards the end.

Do they realize that had a play or two here or there gone differently, they would be sitting out of the playoffs at this point?

And if a play or two here or there had gone differently, they could have finished 11-5 or better. Again - random variation. It's perfectly plausible that they underperformed in the regular season even as they overperform now.

And I'm not buying "players getting healthy" because as far as I can tell, Osi Umenyiora and Michael Boley are the only two impact starters "getting healthY" and they've actually been in the lineup for most of the season regardless.

Being in the lineup doesn't mean that you're healthy. Tuck has been active for most of the season, but has been playing hurt for almost the entire duration. Same with Boley - he's suited up, but hadn't been healthy until recently. Osi missed 7 games, and played hurt for another 4.

137 Re: Conference Championship DVOA Ratings

How can you say "random variation" accounts for a 9-7 record and a negative point differential in the regular season? Why have less than 95% of past Super Bowl participants over the course of 45 years not been affected by the same "random variation"?