by Aaron Schatz
It just seems as if Football Outsiders' DVOA ratings like certain teams more than other teams, and over the last few years it seems the ratings like the Seattle Seahawks most of all. Seattle has finished No. 1 in overall DVOA for three straight seasons. It seemed like four straight was out of the question when the Seahawks struggled early this year, but they've been the hottest team in the league over the last few weeks. This week, Seattle passes Cincinnati and moves back into the top spot with two weeks left, ranking ahead of six teams with more wins including the 14-0 undefeated Carolina Panthers.
Actually, Seattle has opened up a bit of a real lead with 35.3% DVOA, five percentage points ahead of the Bengals at 30.3%. The Seahawks are even more impressive in weighted DVOA, which lowers the strength of earlier-season games. Weighted DVOA considers the last 14 weeks, which means this is the first time that a game has been completely dropped from the formula -- and that game happens to be the worst game the Seahawks had all year, with a single-game -30.3% DVOA in a Week 1 loss to the Rams. Seattle only has one other game all season with a DVOA below zero, and it's actually one of their wins (-3.3% DVOA in Week 8 against Dallas) instead of one of their losses. Otherwise, DVOA says the Seahawks have been above average in every single game this season once we adjust for opponent.
The most impressive thing is the run the Seahawks are on since they came back from their Week 9 bye. DVOA says the Seahawks outperformed the Cardinals in their Week 10 loss, but since then they've won five straight games by a combined score of 171-69. Two of those wins were over probable playoff teams (Pittsburgh and Minnesota). So Seattle has DVOA over 40% in six straight games. No other team has single-game DVOA over 40% in more than six games all year, period. Seattle actually has eight games that high. New England, Kansas City, and Arizona each have six. Carolina has only three (the win over Seattle, and the recent routs over Washington and Atlanta).
So Seattle's weighted DVOA is now 44.3%, which is far ahead of the rest of the league. Kansas City (36.9%) is the only other team with weighted DVOA above 30%. Seattle is not on the list of the best teams in DVOA history but it is now on the list of the best weighted DVOA teams, and you'll notice a lot of similarities with the Seattle squad that started the DVOA dynasty.
|BEST WEIGHTED DVOA EVER THROUGH WEEK 15, 1989-2015|
|Year||Team||W-L||DVOA||Rk||WEI DVOA||Rk||WEI OFF||Rk||WEI DEF||Rk||WEI ST||Rk|
The 2012 Seahawks also played their worst DVOA of the year in Week 1 and got really hot starting in October. The 2012 Seahawks also only lost games close, with no losses by more than seven points. (This year's Seahawks have four one-score losses, plus a 27-17 loss to Green Bay.) And you might notice that the 2012 Seahawks were also surprisingly strong on offense despite being known for defense, with a higher offensive DVOA than defensive DVOA, just like the 2015 Seahawks.
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Unfortunately, the 2012 Seahawks also show how this could all go sour for Seattle in the playoffs, because those close losses will keep them from getting home-field advantage. The 2012 Seahawks lost a very close Divisional Round game to an Atlanta team which was inferior according to DVOA but had home-field advantage and a week of rest. The best team in DVOA isn't going to be the favorite to win the Super Bowl if it doesn't get home-field advantage to go with its stellar performance on the field.
For a long time we thought the Seahawks were getting a bit of a boost thanks to Jimmy Clausen, but that's really not the case. Football Outsiders opponent adjustments are uniform across the entire season, which does lead to problems when a team has one or two games started by a clearly inferior backup quarterback. Seattle's defensive rating for Week 3 against Chicago was adjusted based on how Chicago has played all year, and the Bears offense has been much better with Jay Cutler at quarterback. On the other hand, the Baltimore offense has not suffered as much as expected with Clausen replacing Matt Schaub as the Ravens' third starting quarterback this year. And Seattle's defensive DVOA is not much different if we ignore games against Clausen in Week 3 and Week 14. Remove those two games and Seattle's defensive DVOA would go from -12.1% (fifth) to -10.1% (seventh). The Chicago game was so long ago that weighted defensive DVOA would only go from -15.9% (fourth) to -15.6% (also fourth).
Of course, there's no question that backup quarterbacks have played a huge role in this year's ratings. Pittsburgh finally moves into the No. 1 spot in offensive DVOA this week, overcoming its performance in the weeks when Ben Roethlisberger was hurt, while Cincinnati drops from No. 1 to No. 5 because of struggles by A.J. McCarron against the San Francisco 49ers. The 24-14 win obscured the fact that the Bengals offense had major problems moving the ball and the defense carried the load all game. The Bengals' offensive DVOA dropped from 21.1% to 17.3% this week, while the defensive DVOA improved from -7.9% to -10.2%.
Here's a look at how certain teams have performed with starting quarterbacks compared to backup quarterbacks this season. These numbers are for team offensive DVOA, because a backup quarterback not only usually has a lower passing DVOA but also affects how opponents play against the run. Perhaps the best example of that is in Indianapolis, where Matt Hasselbeck managed to put up numbers similar to Andrew Luck's in his first few starts before fading, but the running game suffered immediately. For the season, the Colts' passing DVOA went from 2.1% to -14.8% without Luck, but their rushing DVOA dropped even further, from -6.6% with Luck to -45.2% without Luck.
I'm not going to break games into parts here, so this is based on which quarterback played the majority of each game. I'm not including Houston, a confusing situation where neither Brian Hoyer nor Ryan Mallett was really the backup and a lot of games had two different quarterbacks playing significant snaps.
|Team Offensive DVOA with Starting QB vs. Backup QB in 2015|
|CLE||J.McCown||1, 3-8, 11-12||-13.3%||Manziel/Davis||2, 9-10, 13-15||-10.8%|
|DAL||Romo||1-2, 11-12||-24.1%||Cassel/Weeden||3-10, 13-15||-13.0%|
|IND||Luck||1-3, 6-9||-4.4%||Hasselbeck||4-5, 11-15||-30.8%|
|STL||Foles||1-10, 12-13||-21.5%||Keenum||11, 14-15||0.5%|
|TEN||Mariota||1-6, 9-14||-9.3%||Mettenberger||7-8, 15||-31.2%|
Obviously, not every backup is worse than the starter. Sometimes you just have a small sample size fluke, like Luke McCown having a really strong game when the Saints nearly beat Carolina in Week 3. You also have times when the backup is a promising young player who probably wasn't "replacement leve" to begin with, such as Johnny Manziel in Cleveland. And then you have whatever circumstances actually led to Dallas putting up a lower offensive DVOA with Tony Romo at quarterback than with Matt Cassel or Brandon Weeden. I'm pretty confident that split wouldn't look the same if a healthy Romo played 16 games and we compared that to 16 starts by either Cassel or Weeden.
As for a team whose starting quarterback seems indestructible no matter how many hard hits he takes, I probably owe everyone a better analysis of how Carolina is just sixth in DVOA despite being 14-0 -- yes, they actually dropped one spot this week after blowing that 28-point lead to the Giants -- but that will probably have to wait until next week... when, I assume, they'll be 15-0 after beating Atlanta by a frustrating three points. (I'm sure people on Twitter think that I'm rooting against the Panthers, but that's not true. I just want them to stop winning close games. I hate feeling like I have to counter conventional wisdom on the Panthers instead of celebrating their accomplishments. Watching the Giants come back from what looked like a dominating Carolina victory was agonizing. Please, Carolina, either lose or win the next two games by a combined 80 points, okay?)
Our odds for Carolina going 16-0 are still just 55.8 percent but, as I've noted many times in the past, fans tend to always underestimate how often mediocre teams upset good teams in the NFL (certainly more often than the phrase "there's no way Atlanta beats the Panthers" would indicate). Carolina's odds of winning the Super Bowl actually go down this week because their odds of winning the NFC went down with Seattle and Arizona having big wins and rising ratings.
Before we go, let's just update our best and worst defenses of all time. The Broncos are still ranked high despite giving up a lot to Pittsburgh -- after all, the Steelers have this year's top offense, so even the best defense can't completely hold them down -- and the Saints are terrible and look even worse after letting the Lions move the ball easily on Monday night.
|BEST DEFENSIVE DVOA
THROUGH WEEK 15, 1989-2015
|WORST DEFENSIVE DVOA
THROUGH WEEK 15, 1989-2015
Finally, a mea culpa on our playoff odds report. A bug in the tiebreakers prior to this week was giving Denver a tiebreaker over Kansas City that should have gone the other way. Therefore, our odds for Denver winning the AFC West were far too high. That has been fixed for this week, and we now have Denver only winning the AFC West in roughly 60 percent of simulations.
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Once again in 2015, we have teamed up with EA Sports to bring Football Outsiders-branded player content to Madden 16 Ultimate Team. Each week, we'll be picking out a handful of players who starred in that week's games. Some of them will be well-known players who stood out in DVOA and DYAR. Others will be under-the-radar players who only stood out with advanced stats. We'll announce the players each Tuesday in the DVOA commentary article, and the players will be available in Madden Ultimate Team packs the following weekend. We will also tweet out images of these players from the @fboutsiders Twitter account on most Fridays. One player each week will only be available for 24 hours from the point these players enter packs on Friday.
The Football Outsiders stars for Week 15 are:
- ROLB Vontaze Burfict, CIN (24-HOUR HERO): 7 combined tackles, 3 PDs, sack, interception.
- MLB NaVorro Bowman, SF: 12 combined tackles, 10 of which were successful by FO baselines. 7 tackles of 2 yards or less.
- P Brett Kern, TEN: Averaged 54.4 gross yards on five punts.
- RT Bobby Massie, ARI: Cardinals RB gained 134 yards on 14 carries to the right with a 64 percent success rate.
- WR Emmanuel Sanders, DEN: Third among Week 15 WR with 63 DYAR (10-for-16, 181 yards, TD, plus a 24-yard run).
Washington fans who are upset not to see Kirk Cousins on our list should have some patience and watch what gets added to Madden Ultimate Team over the next few days. Detroit fans who are upset not to see Matthew Stafford on our list should scroll up to that table about "worst defenses ever" again.
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All stats pages are now updated with Week 15 information (or will be soon) including FO Premium, snap counts and playoff odds. You can also check out further commentary on our playoff odds report at ESPN Insider.
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These are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through 15 weeks of 2015, 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 DVOA are adjusted for strength of schedule and to consider all fumbles, kept or lost, as equal value. SPECIAL TEAMS DVOA is adjusted for type of stadium (warm, cold, dome, Denver) and week of season. As always, positive numbers represent more points so DEFENSE is better when it is NEGATIVE. WEIGHTED DVOA represents an attempt to figure out how a team is playing right now, as opposed to over the season as a whole, by making recent games more important than earlier games.
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>
- NON-ADJUSTED TOTAL DVOA does not include the adjustments for opponent strength or the adjustments for weather and altitude in special teams, and only penalizes offenses for lost fumbles rather than all fumbles.
- ESTIMATED WINS uses a statistic known as "Forest Index" that emphasizes consistency as well as DVOA in the most important specific situations: red zone defense, first quarter offense, and performance in the second half when the score is close. It then projects a number of wins adjusted to a league-average schedule and a league-average rate of recovering fumbles. Teams that have had their bye week are projected as if they had played one game per week.
- PAST SCHEDULE lists average DVOA of opponents played this season, ranked from hardest schedule (#1, most positive) to easiest schedule (#32, most negative). It is not adjusted for which games are home or road.
- FUTURE SCHEDULE lists average DVOA of opponents still left to play this season, ranked from hardest schedule (#1, most positive) to easiest schedule (#32, most negative). It is not adjusted for which games are home or road.
- VARIANCE measures the statistical variance of the team's weekly DVOA performance. Teams are ranked from most consistent (#1, lowest variance) to least consistent (#32, highest variance).