by Aaron Schatz
Seattle is No. 1 again.
The first-ever DVOA Championship Game turned into a blowout to rival the worst early-'90s Super Bowls. In fact, thanks to the high opponent adjustments for playing Arizona, Seattle earned 115.7% DVOA for its Week 17 blowout victory, the best single-game DVOA rating of the entire year. That game made Seattle the clear No. 1 team for the entire year with 38.0% DVOA, ten percentage points ahead of the rest of the league. Arizona fell behind Cincinnati, which finishes No. 2 for the season at 27.9% DVOA.
Seattle's big win gives the Seahawks four straight seasons on top of our ratings, which no other team has ever done. It even launches the 2015 Seahawks into the all-time top ten, right behind the 2012 and 2013 Seahawks but ahead of the 2014 Seahawks.
The gap between Seattle and Cincinnati ends up as the fifth-highest gap in DVOA ever measured between the top two teams. Four other years have had a gap of at least ten percentage points:
- 1991: Washington at 56.9%, San Francisco at 26.0%
- 2007: New England at 52.9%, Indianapolis at 28.3%
- 1996: Green Bay at 42.0%, San Francisco at 29.3%
- 1989: San Francisco at 39.0%, Cleveland at 24.4%
|BEST TOTAL DVOA, 1989-2015|
Even more impressive than Seattle's total DVOA for the season is Seattle's weighted DVOA, which lowers the strength of games that took place more than a month ago (particularly games more than 12 weeks ago). Seattle is only the third team in DVOA history to finish the regular season with weighted DVOA over 50%. But beware, Seattle fans. The best weighted DVOA ever belonged to the 2010 New England Patriots, a team that won four of its final five games by over 30 points... and then got upset by the New York Jets in the divisional round.
|BEST WEIGHTED DVOA AT END OF REGULAR SEASON, 1989-2015|
|2010||NE||14-2||44.6%||1||54.3%||1||Lost Div Round|
|1991||WAS||14-2||56.9%||1||52.4%||1||Won Super Bowl|
|2012||SEA||11-5||38.7%||1||47.1%||1||Lost Div Round|
|2013||SEA||13-3||40.0%||1||43.7%||1||Won Super Bowl|
|1989||SF||14-2||36.0%||1||42.9%||1||Won Super Bowl|
|2007||NE||16-0||52.9%||1||42.5%||1||Lost Super Bowl|
|2012||DEN||13-3||36.5%||2||41.4%||2||Lost Div Round|
|2004||PIT||15-1||37.6%||1||41.4%||2||Lost AFC Championship|
|1992||DAL||13-3||35.1%||1||40.6%||1||Won Super Bowl|
|1994||SF||13-3||27.6%||3||39.5%||1||Won Super Bowl|
I'm often asked which rating actually does a better job of predicting the playoffs, total DVOA or weighted DVOA. The answer is that they are virtually identical. We use weighted DVOA in our playoff odds report, because there's so little difference between the two and weighted DVOA seems to fit common sense. Shouldn't the fact that Kansas City and Seattle are playing better now than they did in September matter when it comes to predicting the playoffs?
And yet, as I pointed out in a long series of tweets yesterday, there's no indication that "being hot in December" leads to playing better in January. Recent history is filled with examples of teams that played well for most of the year, ended the regular season with a poor December, and then turned things back around in January. Weighted DVOA doesn't even look at things in that short a term -- the last eight games are measured at 95 percent strength or better -- and yet it doesn't predict the playoffs better than full-season DVOA. (Playing around with the weights to try to get a version that does predict the playoffs better is one of those things I try to do every couple of offseasons.)
But the good news for Seattle and Kansas City fans is that those teams have been hot for long enough to lift their DVOA ratings for the entire season. The playoff odds report might overstate the chances of the Seahawks and Chiefs winning it all because their weighted DVOA ratings are so high, but Seattle still finished No. 1 overall and Kansas City was No. 5 overall. And both Seattle and Kansas City were exceedingly well-balanced teams this year. Seattle did not finish No. 1 in any of the three phases of the game but did end up in the top four for offense, defense, and special teams. Kansas City ended up sixth in both offense and defense and seventh in special teams.
This is one of the three significant trends of the 2015 season.
- Trend one: except for two defenses, one good and one bad, no unit was historically great or terrible this season.
- Trend two: the top teams of 2015 were all well-balanced. The top seven teams in DVOA each ended up in the top 10 for offense and the top 12 for defense. Four of these teams are also in the top 10 for special teams.
- Trend three: by the end of the 2015 season, most teams had a DVOA rating that matched their win-loss records. Yes, we have a 10-6 team in the top spot while Carolina finishes 15-1 but fourth in DVOA. Baltimore ended up 17th in DVOA but only went 5-11. However, there's no team that missed the playoffs despite a great DVOA rating. The top eight teams in DVOA, and 10 of the top 11 teams, made the playoffs. The exception is the New York Jets at No. 9, but the two teams that won wild cards ahead of the Jets finished ahead of them in DVOA as well. Washington finishes 15th in DVOA, clearly ahead of its three division rivals. Houston makes it all the way up to 18th in DVOA, and is also clearly ahead of its three division rivals.
Carolina had the easiest schedule of the year by average opponent DVOA, but it's not a historically easy schedule. It's not one of the 20 easiest schedules ever, and doesn't even come close to the record, which belongs to the 1999 Rams. Yes, the Rams were great, but their average opponent had an absurdly low -15.7% DVOA. With the Arizona loss and fall in weighted DVOA, the Panthers regain their status as Super Bowl favorites in our playoff odds simulation. In fact, if the Seahawks win in Minnesota this week, the winner of the Seattle-Carolina divisional-round game goes on to win the Super Bowl 42.1 percent of the time.
Cleveland and San Francisco, two of this year's three worst teams, had the two hardest schedules. But remember, these numbers are adjusted for opponent, so a bad team isn't necessarily bad because of a tough schedule. Tennessee, the other team at the bottom, ranked 27th in schedule strength.
Meanwhile, remember what I said about a lack of extremes this season. San Francisco ends up in a virtual tie with the 2001 Minnesota Vikings as the best-rated team to ever finish dead last in DVOA. This is only the fourth season where no team was below -30%. The others were 1995 (Arizona was last at -27.9%) and 2014 (Jacksonville was last at -29.5%).
On offense, DVOA was somewhat unimpressed with Pittsburgh's final victory, so the Steelers fall to third to finish the year. The Cincinnati Bengals are narrowly ahead of the Seahawks as the top offense of the year, with Tennessee as the worst offense. At 18.6%, Cincinnati is the worst offense to ever finish No. 1 in offensive DVOA. The only other offenses to finish No. 1 with a DVOA rating below 20% were the 2008 Broncos (19.2%) and the 1994 49ers (18.9% -- their historically great standard stats were dinged in DVOA because of the easiest defensive schedule in the league). The Titans are the first offense to ever finish in last place with a DVOA rating better than -20%.
Defense is where we ended up with the extremes. Denver drops a bit with its final game, and ends up No. 8 on the all-time defense list. New Orleans made things really close by somehow playing a close defensive game against Atlanta with a 20-17 final, but in the end the Saints are narrowly worse than the 2000 Vikings to establish themselves as the worst defense in DVOA history. Good job, Saints! Things were particular horrible when it came to the passing game, where the Saints pretty much lapped every team we've ever measured with 48.1% pass defense DVOA. Only two other teams had ever allowed over 40% passing on defense, the 1999 San Francisco 49ers (41.7%) and the funhouse-mirror, great-offense and terrible-defense 1996 Ravens in Ray Lewis' rookie year (42.0%).
|BEST DEFENSIVE DVOA, 1989-2015||WORST DEFENSIVE DVOA, 1989-2015|
Even more impressive -- or, I guess, the opposite of impressive -- is the colossal gap in suckitude between the Saints and every other bad defense in the league. There has never been anything like it. Despite the best efforts of defensive-minded new head coach John Fox, the Chicago Bears finished 31st in defensive DVOA. But the Bears finished 31st with a rating of 11.3%. So the gap between the Saints and Bears was a mind-boggling 14.8%. In other words, the difference between the Bears and league average was smaller than the difference between the Bears and the Saints. The gap between the Saints and every other defense was over twice as large as the gap between the last-place and next-to-last-place defenses in any other season. The previous record belonged to the 1992 Atlanta Falcons, who had 21.3% defensive DVOA while the Los Angeles Rams were 27th (in a 28-team league) at 14.4%. The only other year where the gap was over five percentage points was 2000, with a 6.7% gap between the Vikings and the No. 30 Arizona Cardinals.
Baltimore finished the year on top in special teams DVOA, positive in every aspect of special teams but particularly strong in punting. Houston finished in last place, a weakness to watch out for in the playoffs. (Kansas City was seventh in special teams and will have a massive field-position advantage when punting.)
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Other interesting notes on 2015:
- Buffalo had finished fourth and second in defensive DVOA the previous two years and added one of the top defensive minds in the game as head coach, and somehow sank to 29th in defensive DVOA. On offense, the Bills had gone 25th and 26th the previous two seasons and went with a veteran quarterback who had never started an NFL game, and somehow finished ninth in offensive DVOA.
- Kansas City lost its star running back after one month of the season, and finished first in run offense DVOA anyway.
- Baltimore's game-to-game variance of 3.6% is the second-lowest in DVOA history, trailing only the 1990 Los Angeles Raiders (3.3%). The Raiders were 12-4 and finished third in DVOA that year, so it's better to be consistent and good than consistent and mediocre (and, if you are the 2015 Ravens, unlucky).
- Arizona had been leading in adjusted line yards on both offense and defense going into the final week of the season. With Seattle's huge victory, the Cardinals fell behind Cincinnati and New England in offensive ALY and the New York Jets in defensive ALY.
- Preventing sacks on the quarterback is a good idea, right? Yet six of the top seven teams in offensive adjusted sack rate missed the playoffs.
- San Diego and Washington finished as the league's two worst rushing attacks but both ended up in the top ten for pass offense DVOA. Dallas was the opposite: dead last in passing, ninth in rushing.
- Only one team finished in the top ten for pass defense but the bottom ten for run defense, or vice versa: Tampa Bay, which ranked 26th against the pass but ninth against the run.
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All team and individual stats pages are now updated with final 2015 stats. (Final pending later play-by-play changes by the league, of course.) FO Premium will be updated later tonight with all 2015 stats and special matchup pages for the four wild-card games. Final snap counts may not be updated until tomorrow. We'll get individual 2015 stats onto all of our player pages sometime in the next few weeks.
Vince Verhei will discuss which players had the best and worst seasons by FO stats in tomorrow's Quick Reads Year in Review. Loser League results will be announced in Scramble for the Ball Wednesday, and our Playoff Challenge game will go up on the site sometime tomorrow.
Please note that while this article is called "Final 2015 DVOA Ratings," we will continue with our unofficial postseason weighted DVOA ratings each Monday through the playoffs.
Our Week 17 players for Madden 16 Ultimate Team are not yet decided, and will be announced in a post Tuesday morning.
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These are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through the entire 2015 regular season, 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 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. 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. As always, positive numbers represent more points so DEFENSE is better when it is NEGATIVE. LAST WEEK represents rank after Week 16, while LAST YEAR represents rank in 2014.
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.
- 2015 SCHEDULE lists average DVOA of opponents played this season, ranked from hardest schedule (#1, most positive) to easiest schedule (#32, most negative).
- PYTHAGOREAN WINS represent a projection of the team's expected wins based solely on points scored and allowed.
- 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).