DVOA Analysis
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2013 DVOA Projections

by Aaron Schatz

The time has come for our annual preseason DVOA projections, updated from the projections that gave us the season forecasts in Football Outsiders Almanac 2013. Our DVOA projections suggest a Packers-Patriots Super Bowl, the same matchup forecast by last year's DVOA projections. The mean win projections suggest a Seahawks-Broncos Super Bowl, the same matchup forecast by last year's actual in-season DVOA ratings.

We must start with the requisite link to an explanation of DVOA. For anyone new to our site, DVOA stands for Defense-adjusted Value Over Average and measures a team's performance on every play of the season compared to league average in the same situation, adjusted for opponent. I know a lot of people may be coming here from various message boards and this is just going to look like a jumble of pointless numbers. Trust me, there is a method to the madness, and over the past dozen seasons past DVOA ratings -- as well as these multivariable-based DVOA projections -- have been a far more accurate predictor of future performance than wins or points.

Offense, defense, and special teams DVOA are all projected separately using a system based on looking at trends for teams over the past decade. The equations include a number of variables based on performance over the past two seasons in different splits (by down, passing vs. rushing, red zone vs. whole field) plus variables based on recent draft history, injury history, offensive and defensive pace, coaching experience, quarterback experience, and even weather. Strength of schedule was then figured based on the average projected total DVOA of all 16 opponents for 2013, rather than based on last year's performance.

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The major difference between this year's preseason forecast and the forecast produced three months ago for Football Outsiders Almanac 2013 is unfortunately caused by an error. As one step towards producing team offensive projections, I create a quarterback projection that does not take into account any team variables. (This allows us to account, to give one example, for the fact that Carson Palmer should be expected to improve the Arizona offense.) The variable I used for Russell Wilson in the Seattle projection was pasted incorrectly, leading to a Seattle projection that was a little bit lower than it should have been. Fixing this moves Seattle a bit higher, making the Seahawks one of the top projected teams in the league. Don't worry San Francisco fans, we're still projecting you into the wild card.

The quarterback variable is also an important one explaining why a couple of teams are lower than previously projected. Despite the recent success of rookie quarterbacks, our "quarterback projection without team variables" numbers projected E.J. Manuel a little bit below Kevin Kolb and Terrelle Pryor significantly below Matt Flynn. Geno Smith and Mark Sanchez are pretty much a wash.

If your response to that paragraph was "the idea that Kevin Kolb might have been better than E.J. Manuel is insane," then please remember the following: The numbers we are presenting here are exactly what the projection system spit out. As we say every year: "A few of them will look strange to you. A few of them look strange to us." As always, the offensive projections come out in a wider range than defensive projections because offense performance tends to be easier to predict (and more consistent from year to year) than defensive performance. If you are looking for subjective projections, tomorrow we will be running our usual staff predictions article where we all talk about where we think the numbers are wrong.

The first postseason odds report of the 2013 season is also online, and I've added the playoff odds and Super Bowl championship odds to the table below. The mean wins forecast produced by our season simulation seems very conservative. In fact, this forecast is even more conservative than the forecast you found in Football Outsiders Almanac 2013 because due to time constraints, I did not have the opportunity to adjust our win projections to better reflect the recent historical distribution of wins in the NFL (fewer teams between 7-9 and 9-7 than you would expect from a normal distribution, and more teams around 12-4 or 4-12). However, this kind of conservative forecast generally leads to smaller errors than a forecast that looks more like a real set of final standings with the best team around 14-2 and the worst team around 2-14. Obviously, the best team in the league will likely have more than 11 wins, and the worst team will have more than 10 losses.

Surprisingly, despite slightly more conservative projections for mean wins, the new forecast raises the playoff odds of the top teams; we now have four teams with over 80 percent chance of making the playoffs instead of just the two we listed in Football Outsiders Almanac 2013.

Projected division champions are colored in light yellow. Projected wild card teams are colored in light blue.

NE 27.4% 1 10.4 24.1% 2 1.2% 20 4.6% 2 0.4% 17 86.4% 16.4%
GB 23.5% 2 10.3 25.4% 1 0.0% 15 -2.0% 28 0.2% 20 80.6% 12.4%
SEA 21.0% 3 10.6 18.3% 4 -2.4% 9 0.3% 14 -3.0% 25 82.7% 11.6%
DEN 19.8% 4 10.7 21.2% 3 1.3% 21 -0.1% 16 -4.5% 30 88.6% 13.5%
WAS 18.6% 5 10.0 16.0% 6 -3.2% 8 -0.6% 20 -0.8% 22 73.2% 9.0%
CAR 15.5% 6 9.4 8.8% 9 -6.0% 3 0.8% 11 1.5% 11 59.6% 5.1%
SF 14.9% 7 9.4 10.6% 8 -3.5% 7 0.8% 10 1.1% 14 58.9% 5.5%
BAL 12.4% 8 9.3 11.2% 7 0.0% 16 1.2% 9 1.5% 12 63.5% 5.5%
NO 7.7% 9 8.5 16.3% 5 7.4% 31 -1.2% 23 2.7% 4 40.1% 2.3%
HOU 5.9% 10 9.1 3.6% 13 -2.2% 10 0.2% 15 -4.2% 29 67.2% 4.1%
CIN 5.3% 11 8.8 2.4% 14 -0.6% 12 2.3% 4 -0.2% 21 53.5% 2.9%
TB 4.3% 12 8.2 1.7% 15 -5.5% 4 -3.0% 30 3.3% 3 34.0% 1.5%
ATL 4.1% 13 7.7 6.6% 11 2.4% 24 -0.2% 17 6.3% 1 25.3% 1.0%
PIT 3.0% 14 8.6 -4.7% 19 -9.3% 2 -1.5% 26 -1.1% 23 48.7% 2.1%
NYG 2.4% 15 8.1 6.7% 10 1.1% 19 -3.2% 31 2.3% 6 32.4% 1.5%
CHI -1.1% 16 7.9 -15.6% 30 -9.6% 1 5.0% 1 1.5% 10 29.5% 1.2%
DET -2.6% 17 7.5 5.1% 12 3.6% 27 -4.1% 32 1.9% 8 22.8% 0.5%
PHI -3.5% 18 7.8 -3.9% 18 -0.1% 14 0.4% 13 0.3% 18 27.2% 0.7%
DAL -6.8% 19 7.0 -1.3% 16 4.6% 29 -0.9% 22 0.6% 16 14.9% 0.3%
IND -7.1% 20 7.5 -3.2% 17 3.5% 26 -0.4% 19 -5.3% 32 31.1% 0.6%
NYJ -7.1% 21 7.3 -13.9% 28 -5.4% 5 1.4% 7 0.9% 15 26.2% 0.5%
SD -7.4% 22 7.4 -6.3% 20 1.8% 22 0.6% 12 -3.8% 26 26.7% 0.5%
MIA -9.0% 23 6.5 -11.6% 25 -3.8% 6 -1.2% 24 2.4% 5 14.5% 0.2%
CLE -10.2% 24 7.0 -12.0% 26 -0.7% 11 1.2% 8 0.3% 19 18.9% 0.4%
ARI -11.2% 25 6.4 -9.6% 22 0.8% 18 -0.8% 21 1.4% 13 8.6% 0.2%
MIN -14.8% 26 5.7 -9.9% 23 2.4% 25 -2.5% 29 6.1% 2 4.9% 0.1%
BUF -14.9% 27 6.5 -13.5% 27 -0.5% 13 -1.9% 27 1.6% 9 14.3% 0.1%
OAK -16.7% 28 6.5 -19.8% 32 0.6% 17 3.6% 3 -2.7% 24 13.6% 0.1%
KC -16.9% 29 6.8 -9.3% 21 9.2% 32 1.6% 5 -4.0% 27 16.6% 0.2%
STL -17.3% 30 6.0 -14.7% 29 2.2% 23 -0.3% 18 2.0% 7 5.4% 0.0%
TEN -17.4% 31 6.5 -11.4% 24 4.5% 28 -1.4% 25 -4.0% 28 16.0% 0.1%
JAC -22.0% 32 6.3 -17.2% 31 6.2% 30 1.4% 6 -4.7% 31 14.1% 0.1%


167 comments, Last at 20 Oct 2013, 12:05pm

5 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

Yeah, I don't get it. I know Atlanta has a tough schedule, but the offense alone should account for 8 wins. If the defense steps up at all I see 10-11.

Still, this is a little scary since FO is more right than I prefer to admit.

Play the games!!

26 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

Barnwell has been doing a team-by-team analysis over on Grantland, and his argument for Carolina's resurgence hinges on the Panthers' "bad luck" in close games.

As defined by FO, close games are games decided by 7 points or fewer, and this is a metric that typically has high season-to-season variance. Simply put, if a team plays 100 games against evenly matched teams, it's likely to go 50-50. If the game score is close at the end, it' was probably an even match-up, so when a team goes on a streak (good or bad) in close games one season, they are likely to regress to the mean the following season.

Last year, the Panthers were 1-7 in close games, so simple regression to the mean will probably boost their record by a couple of wins.

Carolina also had a top-10 weighted DVOA last year, including a top 10 offense, and they've upgraded their defense through the draft.

I'm still not sold, though. I like Cam Newton and I think Steve Smith is always overdue for a big season and a deep playoff run, but I'm not sure this is the year.

32 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

Panthers opponents were 35/37 on FG attempts. That's just nuts.

Typical sports message board idiots see stuff like this, don't realize what's happening, and concoct elaborate narratives about how Cam Newton isn't a "leader."

DVOA just shrugs and says "well, that won't happen again."

57 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

Not as nuts as you might think. Opponents only attempted 5 FGs longer than 50 yards against the Panthers, which is about where kicks become 50/50. Inside of 50, kickers, league-wide, are 87%. Carolina's opponents were 93% on these -- but man there were a lot of <30 yard attempts in there.

I think the problem is less kick luck, and more that Carolina's D didn't do anything until opponents were into the red zone.

3 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

Wow, I knew the projections would look unkindly on the Rams, but I didn't expect this.

I think they will be the best 3rd place team in the league and finish 8-8 or so.

46 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

I assume you meant division. Although I expect the Rams defense to be improved (I'm surprised DVOA puts it at 23), the Rams are likely going to be behind SF and Seattle, barring big injuries. And I doubt their record will be better than Green Bay or New Orleans.

4 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

Pittsburgh? They finished last year at -2.9% defensively and considering they're starting a nearly identical team on that side, one year older and one year more injured, I don't see a jump forward this year. I get that the calc's take into account all sorts of trends and such but I think that's definitely a case of predictions not meeting the eye test.

6 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

I should also note that, as a Bears fan, I also see their DVOA prediction as... generous. The difference is that their ~-28% at the end of last year adds justification. The Steelers' numbers don't...

25 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

If you give Pittsburgh a defensive DVOA of 0, they still project to be the sixth best team in the AFC, and thus a wild card. Unless some team gels, the AFC probably will have at most 5 good teams, and that's generously claiming Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Houston to be good instead of adequate.

7 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

Just to give a general answer to most people's questions about why team X is higher or lower than you would expect... Hey! We wrote a book! Have you considered buying a copy of Football Outsiders Almanac 2013? It only costs $12.50 in PDF form! Still awesome even after the season starts! The Jets chapter explains their projected rebound! The Rams chapter explains their projected regression! Panthers chapter explains their projection and points out that Ron Rivera will probably screw it up! BUY NOW! All your questions answered! Click "Online Store" on the top of the page.

161 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

How is that in any way a similar situation? The 49ers overperformed because they maintained exceptional health, developed an incredible running attack and replaced their barely-adequate quarterback with a vastly superior playmaker. You could also argue that the Plexiglas principle failed to take into account how big of an improvement it was to hire Harbaugh. These projections are based on the statistical performance of a team with the same coach and same quarterback for the past five years, who will almost certainly not be replaced by someone better at any point this season.
TL;DR, not even remotely comparable.

110 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

I bought your book and tried to read it but I found it offensive and inappropriate. That whole passage on Bradford looking like a black QB was absolutely tasteless. I want my money back. I sent you an email requesting a refund, still awaiting your response.


141 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

I was intrigued so I read the Bradford capsule. It isn't racist, they aren't attempting to 'determine' if he's black or white. The looked for his closest statistical comparisons and the top three were black, backup journeymen. It's a stats joke.

You are being a bit of a pudding.

142 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

Maybe you are just off your meds.

(edit) To add on, the paragraph on Bradford is also a joke abut the inanity of chattering about the melanin levels of qbs, which was s stupid feature of NFL punditry for decades, culminating in the Redskins/Broncos Super Bowl, where Doug Williams was asked, if I remember correctly, "How's it feel to be a black quarterback?" Of course the inanity in the punditry was a result of the inanity of NFL management and major college football powers, in being slow to put players with more melanin than average at the position. FO is also making a joke about the stupidity of paying attention to melanin levels.

Thus ends my instruction in the oh-so-subtle employment of irony. Please fill out your instructor evaluation prior to leaving.

143 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

You apparently have more knowledge of meds than I do. Enjoy.

I have shown the passage in question to several people in education and they immediately said it was a racist statement. I am not alone.

148 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

Yes, if you are ignorant of the history of the NFL, the irony may be beyond you. FO is apparently guilty of, in your case, and whomever you showed it to, of giving too much credit for knowledge of the subject matter that their Almanac addresses, NFL football. This is a somewhat specialized publication.

Ignorance leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. This is the Path to the Dark Side! Turn away young Padawan!

162 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

You mean you took a satirical passage about racism in the NFL completely out of context, showed it to your friends (doubtless with a good amount of pressure to confirm your opinions) and they thought it was racist?
Shocking, absolutely shocking. That's damning evidence if I ever saw it.

150 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

That Doug Williams story has been repeated often, albeit inaccurately. As the story goes, the question supposedly was, "How long have been a black quarterback?" But that question never was asked. The actual story, which is rather long, is detailed here: http://www.snopes.com/sports/football/williams.asp.

158 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

I appreciate your perspective. Unfortunately, there was no reference to the Doug Williams story in the FOA article. Instead what we have are a few insulting posters attempting to sound more intelligent than they actually are.

The fact remains that the FOA article is distasteful and racist to many people. And insulting them probably isn't the best course to debate the case.


11 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

I think the mean wins on the Vikings is a little low, simply because I think they'll be good enough on the line of scrimmage to be better than that. However, they have a pretty good chance of starting the season 0-2, against two division opponents on the road, and given week 4 is in London (and who knows what effect that locale has), they don't play their 2nd true home game until week 6. Then, from week 7 on, they don't play a team that ranks lower than 19 by DVOA.

I take it back. Absent some more running on water by 28, or Ponder achieving a middling rank as an NFL starting qb (which may be the greater miracle), 5.5 mean wins sounds about right.

(in case you don't know it yet, Aaron, the login is a little buggy today)

12 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

Can't log in for some reason. When I can I have a theory of how you can adjust offensive DVOA for the impact of the read option.

14 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

Aaron, I love your work and buy your books. I have a question that I have never seen addressed: to what extent is coaching already factored into the DVOA ratings? Is this an "assume all coaches are equal" rating? Or, can we assume that if the Panthers traded Ron Rivera for Bill Belichick DVOA would immediately notice and bump up the Panther win projection and drop the Patriot win projection with no other input?

15 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

So you're telling me the Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams have the lowest odds to make the playoffs this year? Not buying it...

19 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

It isn't as crazy as it sounds. The Rams have virtually zero chance of winning, or finishing higher than third in the division, given the rank of Seattle and San Francisco. The Vikings have a lot of things working against them.

Now, if the Vikings get a split of their first two games, their odds will improve significantly, I would think. If they mange to go 2-0, which would surprise me quite a bit, their chances will make a huge jump, I suspect.

17 Re: 2013 DVOA Projections

The Saints don't have the worst projection for defense in the league!

Being 31st rocks!