DVOA Analysis

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DVOA 7.0: Worst Teams Ever

by Aaron Schatz

In Football Outsiders Almanac 2012, and recently on the website, we introduced the latest iteration of our DVOA formula, which we are calling DVOA v7.0. The biggest change in the new formula is that all years are normalized so the league average equals 0%, and that moves players and teams up and down our all-time rankings depending on how strong offense was league-wide that season. We ran the list of top teams overall, top overall offenses, and top overall defenses back in the first piece that introduced the new version of DVOA on August 1, then ran a few more tables with the best teams split by pass and run ran here. Today we're flipping things around to look at the worst teams in DVOA history according to the new formula.

There really isn't a need to run separate lists of the worst overall teams in DVOA v6.0 and DVOA v7.0 for comparison purposes, because the exact same teams are in the bottom dozen with both methods, and the first nine are in the same order. Here they are, with their ratings and rankings by the new system:

Worst Total DVOA, 1991-2011
2005 SF 4-12 -55.5% 32 31 11
2009 DET 2-14 -51.6% 31 32 31
2008 DET 0-16 -48.4% 30 32 15
1991 IND 1-15 -47.7% 28 25 19
2008 STL 2-14 -47.1% 32 30 20
2009 STL 1-15 -45.1% 32 31 11
2003 ARI 4-12 -42.0% 31 32 24
2002 HOU 4-12 -41.9% 32 21 8
2004 SF 2-14 -41.8% 29 31 19
1999 NO 3-13 -40.3% 31 25 30
2000 CLE 3-13 -40.2% 30 25 20
1992 NE 2-14 -40.1% 27 25 22

Even seven years later, it is still a little surprising that the worst team in DVOA history is not the winless Lions or some 1-15 team, but rather a team that managed to win four games. However, the four wins for that 49ers team came with an average winning margin of 3.8 points, and the teams they beat were Tampa Bay (14th in DVOA), Houston (31st), and St. Louis (30th) twice. The 49ers also lost games by scores of 42-3, 28-3, 52-17, and 41-3. Suffice it to say, they also have the highest variance of any team in the DVOA era (36.7%).

Our new normalized stats scramble the list of the worst offenses a bit, with the expansion Texans moving down two spots and taking over as the worst offense in DVOA history. The 2010 Panthers now rank as the sixth-worst offense of the DVOA era, which just makes what Cam Newton did last year all the more incredible. The 1992 Seahawks still suck, but their offensive DVOA climbs considerably with normalization, from -45.9% to -41.3%.

Worst Offensive DVOA, 1991-2011
DVOA v6.0   DVOA v7.0 (NEW)
1992 SEA -45.9% x 2002 HOU -43.3%
2005 SF -42.0% x 1992 SEA -41.3%
2002 HOU -41.4% x 2005 SF -40.4%
1997 NO -38.6% x 2006 OAK -37.0%
2006 OAK -36.5% x 2004 CHI -36.5%
2004 CHI -36.1% x 2010 CAR -35.8%
1991 IND -34.8% x 2010 ARI -35.6%
1992 NE -32.2% x 1997 NO -35.6%
1997 SD -32.1% x 1991 IND -32.8%
2010 CAR -31.9% x 2007 SF -32.2%
1992 IND -31.6% x 1995 NYJ -30.7%
2010 ARI -31.4% x 2000 ATL -29.6%

Don't worry though, Seahawks fans. Your team is still number one (by which I mean "the absolute worst") when it comes to the passing game. With the old version of DVOA, the 1992 Seahawks passing game was so horrible that it was -13.1% DVOA worse than any other team ever. Now, that gap is "only" -9.7% DVOA.

Worst Pass Offense DVOA, 1991-2011
DVOA v6.0   DVOA v7.0 (NEW)
1992 SEA -71.0% x 1992 SEA -65.3%
2005 SF -57.9% x 2005 SF -56.0%
2004 CHI -51.2% x 2004 CHI -50.6%
2006 OAK -44.2% x 2010 ARI -46.1%
1997 NO -43.6% x 2006 OAK -45.4%
2000 CIN -43.4% x 2011 JAC -45.4%
2010 ARI -41.5% x 2000 CIN -43.9%
1991 TB -40.1% x 2007 SF -42.1%
2007 SF -40.8% x 1997 NO -41.4%
2011 JAC -40.5% x 2010 CAR -40.1%
1999 PHI -39.7% x 2002 HOU -37.9%
1998 SD -38.3% x 1991 TB -37.6%

It really is nearly impossible to overstate just how horrendous the 1992 Seahawks passing game was. You can find a long discussion of their terrible quarterbacks, nonexistant receivers, and underappreciated defense in the original 1992 DVOA commentary. That essay also had a list of the biggest offense-defense imbalances in the history of DVOA; here's an updated version of that same list. The Seahawks have been passed by the 1991 Eagles, who had the best defense we've ever measured and ranked 26th in offense that season. All three of last year's offensive juggernauts show up here as well, along with three straight years of Kansas City Chiefs teams under Dick Vermeil and a 2000 Vikings team that we'll get to in a few paragraphs.

Biggest Offense-Defense Imbalances in DVOA, 1991-2011 by DVOA v7.0
Year Team Offense Rk Defense Rk Difference*
1991 PHI -24.6% 26 -42.4% 1 66.9%
1992 SEA -41.3% 28 -15.7% 3 57.0%
2002 KC 35.4% 1 14.0% 29 49.4%
2004 KC 31.6% 2 16.0% 30 47.6%
2011 NE 31.9% 3 13.2% 30 45.2%
2006 OAK -37.0% 32 -8.0% 8 45.0%
2000 MIN 18.5% 5 26.0% 31 44.4%
2010 NE 42.2% 1 2.3% 21 44.4%
2004 CHI -36.5% 32 -7.3% 9 43.8%
2011 NO 33.0% 2 10.2% 28 43.2%
2003 KC 33.4% 1 9.4% 25 42.8%
2011 GB 33.8% 1 8.6% 25 42.4%
*Because defensive DVOA is better when negative, "Difference" here is offense plus defense.

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OK, that digression over, let's transition from a terrible offense that I described in detail in the 1992 DVOA commentary to a terrible offense that I didn't really give enough words to in the 1991 DVOA commentary. Somehow, going over all the numbers to figure out what to write about from 1991, I totally missed the fact that the 1991 Colts set a new record for the worst run offense DVOA in history. With the new ratings, they are the only run offense to fall below -30.0% DVOA. The Colts as a team averaged 3.3 yards per carry that season. That's far from the worst average in history; in fact, it wasn't the worst average that year, as the Eagles averaged just 3.1 yards per carry. And from a yards per carry perspective, the 1992 Colts running game was even worse, with just 2.9 yards per carry (the second-worst average since 1978). However, the 1991 Colts were distinguished by their inability to gain yardage against a bad schedule. The Colts played half their games against teams in the bottom 10 in run defense DVOA, and perhaps they would have played more except the worst run defense in the league belonged to the Colts themselves. The Colts also had 11 fumbles from their running backs, second in the league, even though they were 25th in the league in running back carries. The culprits here included Eric Dickerson (167-536-2) and Ken Clark (114-366-0), who is inexplicably listed as a tight end by pro-football-reference. Somehow, a backup named Tim Manoa actually managed 5.3 yards per carry on this team, with 27 carries, and then never played again.

Also on the list of the worst run offenses: the 2002 Texans, proving that it wasn't all David Carr's fault.

Worst Run Offense DVOA, 1991-2011
DVOA v6.0   DVOA v7.0 (NEW)
1991 IND -32.2% x 1991 IND -30.2%
2005 ARI -30.3% x 2005 ARI -29.1%
1998 NO -27.3% x 2002 HOU -27.4%
1993 IND -26.8% x 1995 ARI -25.1%
1995 ARI -25.9% x 1991 PHI -23.0%
2002 HOU -25.4% x 1998 NO -22.9%
2000 CAR -25.3% x 2006 DET -22.9%
1992 NE -25.3% x 2000 ATL -22.8%
2000 ATL -25.1% x 2000 SD -22.5%
1996 NYG -25.0% x 2000 CAR -22.2%
2000 SD -24.9% x 2004 SF -22.1%
2006 DET -23.5% x 1992 NE -21.9%
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Let's move on to defenses. Just like we have a new team as the worst offense ever, we also have a new team as the worst defense ever, as the normalization makes the ratings a little less critical of the worst defenses of the last few years. The 2008 Broncos and Lions were horrible, but they also had to operate in an environment where the average team scored 22.0 points per game. When the 2000 Vikings allowed opponents to run up and down the field, the average team was only scoring 20.7 points per game. Even kookier is the fact that our new worst defense ever was an 11-5 playoff team, proving that the 2011 Packers and Patriots actually follow in a grand tradition of offensive juggernauts that win despite lousy defense. OK, well, the Vikings weren't that good -- they were fifth in offensive DVOA and won seven games by a touchdown or less, going 11-5 despite just 8.7 Pythagorean wins. That's the team that started 7-0 and then went 4-5 down the stretch, later getting keelhauled by the Giants 41-0 in the NFC Championship game. Still, for Daunte Culpepper to overcome that kind of horrible defense to go 11-5... we forget how good Daunte Culpepper was when he had Randy Moss to throw to.

Above (below?) the 2000 Vikings and 2008 Lions we find a lot of 20th century defenses which rank worse under DVOA 7.0, since the offensive level of the league was lower then. Before, no defense from before 2000 ranked among the worst dozen. Now, there are five different pre-2000 defenses in the worst dozen.

Worst Defensive DVOA, 1991-2011
DVOA v6.0   DVOA v7.0 (NEW)
2008 DET 29.2% x 2000 MIN 26.0%
2008 DEN 24.7% x 2008 DET 24.3%
2000 MIN 24.4% x 1999 CLE 22.2%
2008 STL 23.4% x 1996 ATL 21.6%
2004 MIN 23.0% x 2004 MIN 21.6%
2004 SF 21.4% x 1992 ATL 21.3%
2010 JAC 21.2% x 2008 DEN 20.7%
2009 DET 21.2% x 1999 SF 20.4%
2010 HOU 21.0% x 2005 HOU 20.1%
2009 STL 20.3% x 2001 ARI 19.4%
2011 CAR 20.1% x 2004 SF 19.4%
2002 ARI 20.1% x 1998 CIN 19.4%

Ths list of the worst pass defenses really undergoes a huge dramatic change with the new version of DVOA, with recent teams moving way down the list. Three different 2010 pass defenses used to rank in the bottom ten. Now those teams are 13th (Houston), 16th (Denver), and 21st (Jacksonville). Meanwhile, the 1996 Ravens are now the worst pass defense in DVOA history. Seriously, the Ravens. The 1996 Ravens had the league's best offense and the worst pass defense. Within three years, by 1999, they had the league's best defense and had fallen to 27th in offense.

Worst Pass Defense DVOA, 1991-2011
DVOA v6.0   DVOA v7.0 (NEW)
2009 DET 40.1% x 1996 BAL 42.0%
2009 JAC 39.8% x 1999 SF 41.7%
1996 BAL 38.8% x 1996 ATL 38.0%
2008 DET 37.4% x 2009 DET 36.5%
1999 SF 37.0% x 2009 JAC 35.8%
2010 HOU 37.0% x 1991 LARM 35.4%
2008 DEN 36.7% x 2000 MIN 35.2%
2010 DEN 36.3% x 1996 ARI 35.1%
2010 JAC 36.2% x 1999 CIN 34.7%
1996 ATL 35.1% x 2003 ARI 34.6%
2006 WAS 35.1% x 2006 WAS 34.0%
2000 MIN 34.8% x 1994 TB 33.6%

There's also some change going on with run defense, where three teams from the '90s now have the top (bottom) three spots as the worst run defenses. Last year, NFL teams averaged 4.29 yards per carry, the largest figure in league history, and that's one reason why the 2011 Panthers have gone from the 10th worst run defense (pre-normalization) to 31st with the current ratings.

Worst Run Defense DVOA, 1991-2011
DVOA v6.0   DVOA v7.0 (NEW)
2008 STL 23.0% x 1996 WAS 20.1%
2008 DET 22.1% x 1992 LARM 18.8%
2005 ATL 17.5% x 1998 WAS 18.3%
1992 LARM 16.4% x 2008 STL 18.0%
1996 WAS 16.4% x 2005 ATL 17.8%
2005 BUF 16.3% x 1999 CLE 17.8%
2008 HOU 15.5% x 2008 DET 17.1%
1998 WAS 15.4% x 2000 ARI 16.4%
2006 NYJ 14.7% x 2005 BUF 16.0%
2011 CAR 14.6% x 2000 SEA 15.7%
2006 IND 14.6% x 1993 CIN 15.6%
2000 ARI 14.3% x 1993 IND 15.1%

Finally, we'll finish things up with the worst special teams we've ever measured. We've written about this 2000 Bills team numerous times. The original 2000 commentary goes into more detail, albeit with older, dated DVOA ratings. The biggest issue was Steve Christie. Christie's average kickoff went only 55.6 yards, 7.5 yards less than the league average. And the bad kickoffs didn't just come late in the season in Buffalo's usual snow and wind. Week 8 against Minnesota -- in a dome! -- Christie had five kickoffs of 56 yards or less. On the season, 18 of his kickoffs went for 50 yards or less. No other kicker had more than 10 kicks that short. Apparently, the Bills coaches wanted Christie to kick it short because their coverage teams were so bad. Well, they were at least right about that part. Once Christie's kicks had come down, Buffalo allowed opponents kick returns worth 22 points more than the league average. No other team in the NFL gave up kick returns worth half that. So the average opposing drive after a Buffalo kickoff started at the 37-yard line. Wow. The Chargers team from two years ago which had its entire season basically implode due to special teams ranks third.

Worst Special Teams DVOA, 1991-2011
2000 BUF -15.4%
1997 SEA -11.1%
2010 SD -10.2%
2002 CIN -9.4%
1998 OAK -9.3%
1997 CHI -9.2%
1992 TB -9.2%
2004 STL -9.0%
1993 MIN -8.4%
1995 PHI -7.9%
2008 MIN -7.9%
2002 WAS -7.8%

Next week, we'll get to some best and worst players lists.


78 comments, Last at 17 Sep 2012, 3:27am

31 Re: DVOA 7.0: Worst Teams Ever

I think you have this backwards, last year's Packers were historically great and their defense was much better than FO's rankings. I might have heard mention that they had never trailed in the 4th quarter or something like that.

26 Re: DVOA 7.0: Worst Teams Ever

I would say 2005 was painful for an SF fan, but so was 2006, and 2007, and 2004, so it stands out in no particular way. They all blur together in one huge painful bruise of memory.

30 Re: DVOA 7.0: Worst Teams Ever

I dunno, that year was nothing but pain, with torment for a side dish. Gore wasn't even playing, which would have spiced things up. Entering the year the dynamic part of the passing game was supposed to be Eric Johnson but then he missed the whole year. Misery.

28 Re: DVOA 7.0: Worst Teams Ever

Does anybody have the old irrational DVOA rant format handy? DVOA 7.0 can't list the worst offenses in the last 20 years and not have the Bobby Hoying-led Eagles in there.

49 Re: DVOA 7.0: Worst Teams Ever

But the 1991 squad is on there. Just brutal. Literally: never has an offense more undermined a great offense. With even a mere bad offense, that team most a good shot at going the way of the 2000 Ravens, 1985 Bears and 2002 Bucs... If cunnigham stays healthy? Forget it - their match-up vs. the Redskins would have been epic...

37 Re: DVOA 7.0: Worst Teams Ever

Congratulations to MIA, PIT, TEN, and DAL, the only teams not listed in any of the tables above, by my count.

41 Re: DVOA 7.0: Worst Teams Ever

Wow, some painful suppressed memories as a Lions fan coming back from this list. I masochistically watched every single game of that legendary 2008 team (actually I guess late 2007-late 2010 is one painful, throbbing blur). I remember feeling really bad for Calvin Johnson, who fought valiantly while surrounded by incompetence, and somehow put up Pro Bowl numbers while receiving passes from the quarterback hydra of John Kitna-Dan Orlovsky-Daunte Culpepper(washed up version)-Drew Stanton.

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

44 Re: DVOA 7.0: Worst Teams Ever

I don't remember the John Kitna era being that bad, really. He turned the ball over too much, but considering the non-existent pass blocking, rushing performance, and his generally ham-handed non-Johnsonian receiving corpse, he did a fine job of turning lemons into really sour, but drinkable, lemonade. That team totally crashed once he got hurt.

52 Re: DVOA 7.0: Worst Teams Ever

Get this. I'm in an elimination league, where you have to pick one team each week to win, can't use the same team twice in a season.

Week 1, 2008, Detroit played at Atlanta. Altanta had just lost Michael Vick for the season, so I thought, knowing I'd probably never get another chance to take Detroit, go for it.

They lost 16 games. The first team I picked that year ... never won a single game!

54 Re: DVOA 7.0: Worst Teams Ever

Kind of reminds me of the first year I ever played fantasty football in 1991, had the number one overall pick, and thought I was being really clever by picking Randall Cunningham.

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

46 Re: DVOA 7.0: Worst Teams Ever

He was easily the mosy competent Lions quarterback of the 2000's, but that's like saying he was the smartest moron in the room. He racked up a lot of passing yards (His receiving corps wasn't great, but it wasn't the worst...he had a semi-competent Roy Williams and the first 20 or so games of Megatron' career), but the amount he turned the ball over more than cancelled that out.

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

50 Re: DVOA 7.0: Worst Teams Ever

Wow, truly were the 2008-2009 seasons a masterpiece of awful football. It's a shame the 49er's couldn't have slipped in one of their most awful performances of the decade in there. Believe me: you'll be telling your grand-kids about how the 2008 Rams team was secretly just as bad as the notorious 0-16 Lions squad and how both came out in 2009 intent on worsting the previous year's ignominy...

53 Re: DVOA 7.0: Worst Teams Ever

I can imagine Steve Spagnulo and Jim Schwartz going into 2009 training camp with their respective teams, seeing what kind of personnel the previous regimes had left them, and thinking, "Oh boy, what'd I get myself into?"

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass

55 Re: DVOA 7.0: Worst Teams Ever

Well, 2008 was the year Millen finally got the ax, so I imagine Schwartz thought "Now, the rebuild begins." With Spags, I have a feeling he was thinking "wait, this team is awful. I have two years as a full-time coordinator and not just a positions coach. I made my rep on a single transcendent upset win and don't have a whole hell of a lot else on my resume other than a pretty embarrassing wildcard playoff upset loss. I didn't develop any of the best players I worked with in NY. I oversaw a terrible unit in Philadelphia. I. might. be. in. over. my. head."

58 Re: DVOA 7.0: Worst Teams Ever

Schwartz was bulletproof in 2009. Even if he had gone 0-16, while there would have been some grumbling, it still would have largely been staked on Marinelli and Millen.

Fans hated Millen so much, there were complaints filed to CBS when he announced a U-M game in 2009.

59 Re: DVOA 7.0: Worst Teams Ever

Schwartz was bulletproof in 2009. Even if he had gone 0-16, while there would have been some grumbling, it still would have largely been staked on Marinelli and Millen.

Fans hated Millen so much, there were complaints filed to CBS when he announced a U-M game in 2009.

61 Re: DVOA 7.0: Worst Teams Ever

I was mad about that, too. The Matt Millen era was an 8 year long torture session for Southeast Michigan football fans (and we've been through a lot before that, too). You would understand if torture victims get upset if they are forced to watch their tormentor on TV.

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

62 Re: DVOA 7.0: Worst Teams Ever

I'm a Bears fan and I'm upset he's on TV at all.

He is as basically a proven failure as can be at talent evaluation, and now he's getting paid 100s of thousands of dollars, if not millions to talk about NFL player talents.

63 Re: DVOA 7.0: Worst Teams Ever

Agreed. Millen should serve as a warning to NFL owners that just because someone was a good NFL player, it doesn't automatically mean that they're going to know anything about talent evaluation. Millen was a good linebacker in his day, but his linebacker drafting was somehow even worse then his wideout drafting (at least he drafted Calvin Johnson!)

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

64 Re: DVOA 7.0: Worst Teams Ever

Who is Billy Bad-Ass and why would we care if you are not him?

Jsit curious.

65 Re: DVOA 7.0: Worst Teams Ever

In Joey Harrington's rookie year, Tony Sirigusa implied that he was soft and not a "guy's guy" after seeing a video that showed him playing the piano. Harrington fired back and said, "So what if I'm not Billy Bad-Ass!?"

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

66 Re: DVOA 7.0: Worst Teams Ever

OK, thank you piano man. Enevr knew abiurbthay Siragusa quote till tonight. Did know about Harrington playing piano though.

76 Re: DVOA 7.0: Worst Teams Ever

On the plus side, terrible football teams provide ample opportunities for self-reflection. Nothing forces you to ask "What the hell am I doing with my life?" like the realization you're debating whether Daunte Culpepper or Dan Orlovsky should be your starting quarterback.