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

Week 1 DVOA Ratings

by Aaron Schatz

You love them when your team is high! You hate them when your team is low! Once again, the famous Football Outsiders DVOA and DAVE ratings return for 2012. Denver starts the year on top after a big win over Pittsburgh. So does that mean Pittsburgh is stuck as the worst team in the league all season? Not according to DAVE.

Some of you may be familiar with DVOA, but you have never met our good friend DAVE. Well, DAVE is our rating that combines the preseason projection with the results of early games to give us a better prediction of how each team will rank at the end of the year. For those who don't know the story, this metric is called DAVE as a reaction to criticism that our stats are too much alphabet soup. I mean, who can argue with a guy named Dave? (Technically, it stands for DVOA Adjusted for Variation Early.) In this week's DAVE ratings, the preseason projection counts for 90 percent, and the current VOA counts for 10 percent.

Football Outsiders always preaches caution after Week 1, and this year is no exception. There's a reason that we call this National Jump to Conclusions Week. I know there's some research that Chase Stuart did this week showing that Week 1 does have some importance for forecasting the rest of the season. And our own Vince Verhei writes today over on ESPN Insider about the very strong effect that a Week 1 loss had on the New York Giants' playoff chances. Nonetheless, the main reason why a team's playoff odds will change between Week 1 and Week 2 isn't that we know more about that team's true quality; it's that the team now has an actual win or loss instead of a projected partial win or loss.

In fact, it's not just a good idea to preach caution after Week 1. It's also a good idea to preach caution after Week 2. Once upon a time, the NFL had six preseason games and only 14 regular-season games, and in some ways the first two weeks of the year still show a bit of that "preseason" feel, with teams figuring out what works and doesn't work with their current personnel. I did some research last year which grouped every two-week period during the season, and figured out the correlation of DVOA in those two weeks to the team's total win-loss record for the entire season. The lowest correlation, as you might expect, was Weeks 16-17, when some teams are sitting starters. The second-lowest correlation was Weeks 1-2. (Of course, this research would be more valuable if I could find the damn thing on my computer, but I don't remember what I named the stupid file.)

The first week of 2012 actually featured a game where both teams came out below 0% and we were very close to a game where both teams came out above 0%. You often see games like this once the opponent adjustments have kicked in; when two good teams play a close game, they're both going to come out as above average. But you don't often see it with non-adjusted VOA. Any Given Sunday discusses the game where both teams were below average, Washington's win over New Orleans. The other game was San Francisco's win over Green Bay. The Packers end up with -0.3% VOA. It was a very close game, and you can't go blaming the Packers when David Akers boinks a 63-yarder off the uprights.

(Late note: Actually, there were two other games with both teams below 0%: ARI-SEA and SD-OAK. I was so busy thinking about the two games noted above that I didn't even notice the other ones until readers pointed it out. Whoops. -- Aaron)

These two games lead to a couple of DAVE ratings that might be controversial. Washington's DAVE rating is actually lower than its preseason projection, and San Francisco's DAVE rating is still just 18th in the league. Part of the issue here is that we're not including opponent adjustments yet. We think Green Bay and New Orleans are still two of the strongest teams in the league, which makes beating them look pretty impressive. If a couple more games show that we were right about the Packers and Saints despite their first-week stumbles, then the ratings that San Francisco and Washington get for beating them will increase. For now, however, the DVOA system sees San Francisco with a good-but-not-great win, and Washington with a game that they might have lost if they had recovered two of the game's fumbles instead of all four of them. You are allowed to look at those numbers and think "subjectively, San Francisco and Washington are probably a little better than this."

As long as we're talking DAVE asterisks, the Oakland Raiders will not be using a backup long snapper all season, so their rating is a little artificially low. Some readers were asking me on Twitter if this was the worst special teams game we've ever measured. No, it was not. It was not even close. Our metrics estimate special teams costing the Raiders -12.2 points in this game. This is nothing compared to the ridiculous game that Cincinnati had against Carolina in Week 14 of 2002, which was worth -18.6 points. Steve Smith returned two punts for touchdowns, and on another punt Travis Dorsch shanked it for just 10 yards. He also had an absurdly short 40-yard free kick after a safety.

All stats pages are now updated with 2012 data except for OFFENSIVE LINE and DEFENSIVE LINE, which will be updated after Week 2. The FO Premium splits database will also be updated for 2012 after Week 2, next Tuesday. Football Outsiders QB stats pages now also feature ESPN's Total QBR rating, so that you can compare that to DVOA and DYAR and enjoy even more arguments than before about who really is playing better than whom.

Make sure to also check out our brand new SNAP COUNTS page! The NFL is finally making snap counts publicly available, and we're counting them up for you and posting them free. Right now it's just one big table but we're looking at ways to produce fun tables that filter and sort and do all kinds of interesting things to make that data easier to read. Note that the positions listed on that page are the positions as listed by the NFL in the official gamebooks.

* * * * *

Wait, did I forget something? I said something about doing a mailbag in the first week's DVOA article, didn't I? Um... I ran out of time. Again. It takes a lot of time to set everything up for the first week of the year, and it was either put up the DVOA ratings in the afternoon or do a mailbag and not get them up until late night. I really will still try to do a mailbag soon rounding up some answers to questions posed in our e-mail and in the discussion threads of things like the introduction of the new normalized DVOA and the 1991 commentary.

* * * * *

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These are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through one week of 2012, measured by our proprietary Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) system that breaks down every single play and compares a team's performance to the league average based on situation in order to determine value over average. (Explained further here.)

OFFENSE and DEFENSE VOA are adjusted to consider all fumbles, kept or lost, as equal value. SPECIAL TEAMS VOA is adjusted for type of stadium (warm, cold, dome, Denver) and week of season.

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

DAVE is a formula which combines our preseason projection with current VOA to get a more accurate forecast of how a team will play the rest of the season. Right now, the preseason projection makes up 90 percent of DAVE.

To save people some time, please use the following format for all complaints:

<team> is clearly ranked <too high/too low> because <reason unrelated to DVOA>. <subjective ranking system> is way better than this. <unrelated team-supporting or -denigrating comment, preferably with poor spelling and/or chat-acceptable spelling>

1 DEN 73.1% 12.5% 7 1-0 45.3% 4 -32.9% 3 -5.1% 23
2 BAL 70.8% 16.5% 5 1-0 57.4% 1 -15.3% 10 -1.8% 18
3 NE 69.6% 41.0% 1 1-0 50.4% 2 -20.7% 9 -1.5% 16
4 CHI 68.3% 20.0% 4 1-0 36.4% 5 -21.2% 8 10.7% 7
5 ATL 59.5% 25.4% 2 1-0 48.8% 3 3.2% 17 13.8% 5
6 NYJ 47.4% 13.1% 6 1-0 17.4% 10 -8.2% 13 21.9% 2
7 HOU 46.8% 8.8% 10 1-0 11.1% 12 -68.0% 2 -32.2% 31
8 MIN 41.9% -11.7% 25 1-0 22.5% 8 -0.9% 15 18.5% 3
9 DAL 33.1% 6.6% 12 1-0 27.3% 7 -7.8% 14 -2.0% 20
10 TB 31.6% -1.5% 15 1-0 10.1% 13 -22.4% 7 -0.8% 15
11 PHI 31.5% 7.5% 11 1-0 -29.6% 27 -76.0% 1 -15.0% 27
12 SF 31.0% -3.1% 18 1-0 35.6% 6 5.5% 18 0.9% 13
13 DET 19.8% -2.1% 16 1-0 0.2% 17 -13.1% 11 6.6% 11
14 GB -0.3% 21.4% 3 0-1 9.2% 14 27.6% 27 18.0% 4
15 SD -0.8% -3.5% 19 1-0 -6.6% 19 7.5% 20 13.3% 6
16 SEA -4.1% -14.0% 26 0-1 -39.6% 30 -28.3% 5 7.2% 10
17 NO -11.9% 12.5% 8 0-1 4.3% 15 25.7% 26 9.5% 9
18 STL -13.1% -43.6% 32 0-1 -15.0% 23 -0.1% 16 1.8% 12
19 OAK -15.6% -7.9% 23 0-1 12.6% 11 -10.7% 12 -38.9% 32
20 WAS -20.3% -5.9% 22 1-0 21.5% 9 11.8% 22 -30.0% 30
21 ARI -22.7% -20.1% 30 1-0 -33.2% 28 -24.9% 6 -14.4% 25
22 CAR -26.6% 4.4% 13 0-1 -18.8% 25 5.6% 19 -2.3% 21
23 CLE -36.7% -24.1% 31 0-1 -79.6% 32 -32.5% 4 10.4% 8
24 JAC -40.2% -15.2% 27 0-1 -7.0% 20 18.4% 24 -14.8% 26
25 IND -46.6% -16.8% 29 0-1 -11.4% 22 23.1% 25 -12.2% 24
26 NYG -47.2% 2.6% 14 0-1 0.1% 18 45.8% 31 -1.5% 17
27 TEN -47.3% -5.8% 21 0-1 -11.2% 21 36.0% 28 -0.1% 14
28 KC -57.3% -2.7% 17 0-1 0.9% 16 41.1% 30 -17.1% 28
29 MIA -59.9% -16.4% 28 0-1 -77.1% 31 11.7% 21 28.9% 1
30 BUF -60.6% -3.7% 20 0-1 -24.5% 26 18.3% 23 -17.9% 29
31 PIT -75.6% 10.9% 9 0-1 -35.7% 29 36.6% 29 -3.3% 22
32 CIN -80.9% -10.7% 24 0-1 -17.3% 24 61.8% 32 -1.8% 19


165 comments, Last at 16 Sep 2012, 9:13pm

1 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

Raiders 19 even though 0-1. Fair. Of course would have won of LS not get injured.

No way Broincos desrvre top spot. J..Harrison oit. R. Clark out. Pitt lineman get injured during game
All that and still Broncs barely squeak out win.
Raiders going pt beat Denver twice this season

15 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

I don't expect VOA to recognize injuries, but I do agree that Denver being on top is a surprise. Since opponent adjustments aren't a factor at the moment, how can the spread be that wide between two teams that played a close game when neither team benefited from any fluke plays?

31 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

I may be wrong, but DVOA generally likes consistent success.

Pittsburgh's drives tended to be:
1-10: loss of 2.
2-12: loss of 2.
3-14: gain of 15.

So they "lost" two out of every three plays, even on their scoring drives. DVOA sees this as Denver smacking Pittsburgh around.

41 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

Sounds reasonable, though still a bit more exaggerated than I would've expected.

Sounds like the NYJ 2011 offense in reverse.

144 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

In reply to by Aaron Brooks G…

Aack, not the "VOA likes consistency!" argument again. Especially in the first game, VOA doesn't give a crap if you score in 3 plays (incomplete, incomplete, 50-yard touchdown) or in 10 5-yard runs - in fact, if those are the only plays in the game, VOA would love it if you scored in 3 plays. That third play is great. You do that all the time, and you'll be VOA's darling.

I think the reason there's such a big spread is that the Denver/Pittsburgh game was close in score, but it was short - Pittsburgh had 9 real drives, and the Broncos had 7.

Let me state that again: the Broncos had 7 drives. They scored 24 points on offense on those drives. This is ~3.4 points/drive. Last year, this would have made them the best offense in the league. The only teams that did better last week were Atlanta (scored 40), Baltimore (scored 44), and the Jets (scored 48).

In contrast, Pittsburgh had 9 drives, and scored 19. If you want to be more balanced about it, the Broncos actually scored ~22 points (fumble is worth about -2 points since recovery is random), and Pittsburgh actually scored 15 points (interception is -4). So, by points/drive, the Broncos were 188% better (22/7 divided by 15/9).

Hey look! The VOA difference between them is ~150%.

90 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

Anybody else kind of get awe-struck thinking if Peyton Manning had gone to the 49ers instead of the Broncos? Putting PEYTON MANNING on a team that went 13-3 with a mediocre QB? Would that have made...like...the best team ever?

91 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

I really think that the decision was a lot about familiarity with the conference and the opponents in it, plus the offense is good for him (with a good o-line for once, probably better than the niners in pass protection). The AFC had a really good first week, but I think most people would say the NFC is far deeper right now, so he went to most likely the easier conference.

But yes, the 49ers would have been even more scary with Peyton Manning.

164 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

Mister (*cue whiny voice*) Meanning (*stop whiny voice*) probably will win all his intraconference games this year minus the New England matchup with an ex-Denver coach as offensive coordinator who still has a fair amount of players he handpicked on his former team. You have to remember he had great success against the rest of the so called elite AFC teams in the last 5-6 years, even though he is facing a Chargers team twice that no longer has Darren Sproles on offense and was the major factor in losing those playoff games.

37 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

How was the GB vs. SF game close? They were up 23-7 before the punt return at home. Well with opponent quality added in a couple of weeks that DVOA is going to leap. But lets not pretend that the lucky 63 yarder had much to do with the outcome I don't think the 49ers lost control at any moment.

47 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

You could say it was close because the Packers had possession late with a chance to drive down the field and tie things up. I don't think the performances of the two teams were close (Niners were way better), but I think it's true that any game where the losing team has possession with a chance to win or tie in the final minutes is objectively a "close game."

Of course, by the standard I just articulated the Steelers-Broncos game was close, but jeepers creepers DVOA doesn't see it that way at all.

64 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

Well DAVE includes the preseason projections, which have a chance of being completely wrong. So for this particular game, the straight DVOA is more respresentative of how they played, and Denver is WAY ahead of the Steelers.

Actually, DVOA (or DAVE) doesn't say anything about whether or not it was a close game, since the score isn't directly part of the calculation.

66 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

Actually, VOA(*) will be the best of FO's metrics in showing whether or not any single game was close.

DVOA and DAVE incorporate opponent adjustments (and preseason projections, in DAVE's case). Those have nothing to do with how competitive a given game was.

Think of a hypothetical game in which the two teams make all the exact same plays, in the same order, with the end result being a tie. That is literally the closest a game can be, and the VOAs for the two teams in question will be identical. The overall quality of the two teams is immaterial; it doesn't matter if they are both 8-8 teams or if one is the 2007 Patriots and the other is the 2008 Lions - the game itself was close. But DVOA will be affected by the way the two teams played in their other games.

(*) And, since DVOA is actually just VOA at this point in the season, DVOA works perfectly in this specific case.

117 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

Not really... VOA still doesn't have anything directly to do with whether or not a game is close when you're purely using that term to refer to the score. Luck plays too big a role in that case. A team could be drastically outplayed, and still keep the score close, leading to what people would call a close game.

Your hypothetical works because the scenario you mentioned creates matched VOA AND a matched score. It doesn't have to be that way.

121 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

Oh, you're absolutely right, which is why I said VOA would be the best of FO's metrics at matching the final score of a game.

Also, there's the alternative definition of a "close game", which doesn't have to do with the score, but moreso how well the two teams played against each other. You'll often hear, "this game was closer [or not as close] as the final score". In those cases, anecdotally, VOA has been a good measure of closeness.

94 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

How the hell the managers of this site haven't banned you yet is a mystery to me.

Oakland is trash. See you at the bottom of the division just like every other year. Sick pickup with Carson Palmer right? Really working out for you well.

99 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

There is a better chance of you being banned for asking for RJ to get banned than RJ getting banned himself.

Oh, and the last time the Raiders finished in last place was 2007, and that was tied for last. THe last time they were the sole last place team was 2006.

102 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

RJ is an institution here. He is also possibly the most insightful and knowledgeable commenter, albeit in a form emphasizing brevity and wit at the expense of spelling and detail.

Also, Carson completed 32 of 46 passes, which is not bad, against what appears to be a very decent Chargers defense, with two of three of his top receivers sitting down with injuries. The jury is still very much out on that move.

106 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

Carson wasn't worth what they gave up, but he's nowhere near a bad player.

He ranked pretty decently in DYAR in Week 1. Discounting the first two games last season where he looked lost, he actually had a good year in 2011. Again he worked with injured weapons (no McFadden also), and had a YPA over 8.

Even on MNF, he wasn't really the problem. There were drops, the big fumble, and of course the punting disaster. The Raiders offense and defense weren't all that bad.

115 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

Well, my inner economist points out that no matter what Palmer goes on to accomplish, the Raiders still paid a price far, far, beyond market value.

If you go all in with 7-2, but win - it doesn't mean it was a good decision to do so.

4 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

Love the rankings, but I tested your form complaint with limited success.

Your HTML skill is clearly ranked too high because you used tag characters in your form. RantSports is way better than this. Ur mothr wheres army boots.

122 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings


I never really got why "your mother wears army boots" was a go-to insult. I mean, sure, all things being equal, I'd rather my mom wear normal shoes, but there are so many more things you could say about her that would upset me.

123 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

According to Google-able authorities, the popular theory is that it originated in WWI, when poor women would trade sexual favors to soldiers for articles of clothing. But it may well be just some random stuff some kids on a schoolyard came up with that ended up sticking, partly because it's so nonsensical. The early 20th century timeframe seems about right, though. I feel like it's the kind of thing my grandparents would have been saying when they were kids.

126 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

That theory or origin makes sense. Smart move by the soldiers, too - have sex, AND reduce the chance of trench foot (although probably increasing the chance of frostbite, of course).

3 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

Looks like the entries for SEA and ARI are mixed up somehow.

10 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

In reply to by Anonymous120 (not verified)

Special Teams. Two stout defensive performances, two abysmal offensive outputs, and two big Leon Washington returns separates the bottom line.

5 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

Holy crap, Denver's defensive DVOA is really good given how long they were on the field and how many 3rd downs they were giving up. I guess there was the pick-six which helped but still, it didn't seem like they were playing that well.

On the plus side, we've got a full five plays out of Ty Warren before he got placed on IR. \o/

12 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

My theory is that the Broncos were stellar on 1st and 2nd down, then tended to get burnt on 3rd and long. Over and over and over. But they kept the Steelers out of the endzone a lot.

So they got lots of good points for their 1st, 2nd and goal line successes which completely outweighted the 3rd down failures, especially compared to other teams. The pick six certainly helps a lot, as well as generally better pressure on Roethlisberger than they were able to achieve last year.

All that said, I'm stunned to see them first.

22 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

In quick reads they said Roethlisberger's DYAR went from like 95 to almost zero on his last five plays, so I'd think Denver's defensive rating got a corresponding boost in that span. The last four of those plays, which included three of Denver's five sacks, were in garbage time, so you could argue DVOA is overrating Denver's overall defensive performance and underrating Roethlisberger's play. Although I do understand that efforts to give less weight to garbage time plays have failed to make DVOA more predictive.

39 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

That matches my subjective judgement of what I saw. I was expecting the defensive DVOA to look decent, but not stellar. I thought those third down failure would hurt them more.

40 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

That matches my subjective judgement of what I saw. I was expecting the defensive DVOA to look decent, but not stellar. I thought those third down failure would hurt them more.

44 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

I think VOA projects 3rd down performance will tend to match 1st and 2nd down performance whenever the 3rd down performance is much better/worse than 1st and 2nd down. That would increase Denver's defensive VOA and reduce Pitt's offensive VOA.

69 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

I don't think that is quite it, VOA doesn't project, it describes.

Imagine you have a game where you are awesome on your 20 first downs, awesome on your 15 second downs, and bad on your 10 third downs. VOA sees 35 awesome plays and 10 bad ones which means that you have a very good offense, even if those third down plays are swingier in the results of the game.

I hope that makes a little sense. It made sense in my head.

87 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

Yes, I think you're correct. Where VOA/DVOA does regress third-down performance to first- and second-down performance is in the preseason projections.

153 Re: Week 1 DVOA Ratings

If I had to guess I'd say that you watched a game that was pretty close where the losing team had a shot at winning until just about the very end. But DVOA saw a game with a bunch of sacks and a pick 6. DVOA probably doesn't know that the pick six and a bunch of sacks were basically the result of recklessness demanded by the situation and then desperation. Other than that, what the other posters have said about 1st and 2nd down.