DVOA Analysis
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Week 20 DVOA Ratings

by Aaron Schatz

As usual after the Conference Championship games, we're not going to bother with the full 32-team table of weighted DVOA ratings, since there are only two teams left and most teams haven't played for three weeks. Instead, let's just look at the two remaining teams, Carolina and Denver.

Have you been waiting for the day when Football Outsiders stats finally laid hosannas upon the Carolina Panthers? Well, that day has finally arrived. Carolina's colossal ass-kicking and Palmer-licking 49-15 victory registered as one of the ten best single games in the history of DVOA ratings, going all the way back to 1989.

Here are the ratings for the Conference Championship games:


DVOA (with opponent adjustments)
TEAM TOT OFF DEF ST
DEN 41% -20% -53% 7%
NE -4% -15% -7% 4%
CAR 137% 55% -69% 13%
ARI -42% -17% 22% -3%
VOA (no opponent adjustments)
TEAM TOT OFF DEF ST
DEN 20% -27% -39% 7%
NE -20% -44% -20% 4%
CAR 92% 34% -46% 13%
ARI -80% -46% 31% -3%

Here's a look at the 13 games in DVOA history that have registered over 130% in single-game DVOA. Four of them are playoff games, listed below in italics. The top three games were all Week 1, which may say something about the amount of random variation involved in that first week of the season. (Consider Tennessee beating Tampa Bay and San Francisco beating Minnesota in Week 1 of this year.)

Best Single Games by DVOA, 1989-2015
Rank Year Team DVOA Week vs. Score Opp.
DVOA Rank
1 1991 WAS 149.6% 1 DET 45-0 17
2 1989 CLE1 149.2% 1 PIT 51-0 18
3 1999 PIT 145.4% 1 CLE 43-0 30
4 1993 SF 145.0% 20 NYG 44-3 7
5 2012 SEA 141.1% 14 ARI 58-0 27
6 2008 NE 139.0% 16 ARI 47-7 21
7 1994 PHI 138.2% 5 SF 40-8 3
8 2015 CAR 136.6% 20 ARI 49-15 3
9 1989 SF 135.2% 19 LARM 30-3 3
10 2002 ATL 135.1% 12 CAR 41-0 25
11 2005 CAR 131.6% 18 NYG 23-0 9
12 2009 NE 130.9% 6 TEN 59-0 21
13 2004 NE 130.2% 10 BUF 29-6 3

As you might imagine, a win this huge really boosts Carolina's ratings. Carolina's weighted DVOA jumped over 10 percentage points, from 29.4% last week to 40.9% this week. Here's a look at both Super Bowl teams using both total DVOA and weighted DVOA. Both sets of ratings incorporate the playoffs in both the ratings and the rankings.

TEAM DVOA RANK OFF
DVOA
OFF.
RANK
DEF
DVOA
DEF.
RANK
S.T.
DVOA
S.T.
RANK
CAR (DVOA through Week 20) 32.0% 2 13.3% 5 -20.4% 2 -1.6% 23
CAR (WEI DVOA through Week 20) 40.9% 2 19.7% 2 -19.6% 5 1.5% 18
DEN (DVOA through Week 20) 20.1% 8 -8.6% 24 -26.6% 1 2.1% 11
DEN (WEI DVOA through Week 20) 21.6% 5 -4.5% 18 -23.6% 2 2.5% 14

For those wondering, yes, the one team ahead of Carolina for both total and weighted DVOA is Seattle.

Advanced stats folks, including myself, have made a lot of Carolina fans angry this year with a constant insistence that the Panthers were not as good as their record indicated. (The most famous instance of this might be Five Thirty Eight's "Carolina is the Worst 11-0 Team Ever" article.) There's a good reason why advanced stats have been saying this. It may surprise a lot of Carolina fans to learn that it has nothing to do with how much writers for stats sites dislike the people of the Carolinas. (For the record, mustard-based Carolina BBQ sauce is awesome*.) Nor were advanced stats lukewarm on the Panthers because of the ethnic background of their quarterback, or his post-touchdown celebrations. (For the record, Cam Newton's post-touchdown celebrations are swell, though not as enjoyable as Carolina BBQ sauce.) It simply comes down to the fact that for a large part of the season, Carolina was winning with good, not great performances. When the Panthers started 8-0, they had only one win by 14 points or more -- and it was exactly 14 points. The Panthers had that sweet win over Seattle, but for the most part they were winning close games over mediocre opponents.

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However, things have changed in the second half of the season, particularly once we consider the playoffs as well as the last eight games of the regular season. The Panthers have improved signficantly on offense as well as special teams. They have been putting up the dominating performances that are indicative of greatness, with the NFC Championship Game now standing as the most significant of those dominating performances. The same Panthers team that had just one win by 14 or more points in its first eight games has six wins by 14 or more points in its last ten games, including four different wins by 28 or more points. Including the playoffs, there were only eight games this season with single-game DVOA over 100%. Carolina has three of those games, all of them in the second half of the season: Week 11 against Washington, Week 14 against Atlanta, and the NFC Championship Game. That last game really was better than Carolina BBQ sauce.

* (Note: Yes, I know mustard-based sauce is a South Carolina thing and the Panthers play in North Carolina. They still represent both states and I'm on a plane and I'm hungry. North Carolina is more of a Virginia vinegar thing but that would also be delicious right now.)

The 8-0 Carolina Panthers were not playing at a level typical of a team that starts the season 8-0. But the 9-1 Carolina Panthers of the last three months are playing at a level typical of a team that would go 9-1. And while the Panthers had an easier schedule in the second half of the regular season, playing Arizona and Seattle the last two weeks has made it so their schedule in Weeks 10-20 does not rate much easier than their schedule of Weeks 1-9.

Carolina DVOA 2015, Weeks 1-9 vs. Weeks 10-20
Weeks W-L Wins by
14+ Pts
Total Rk Off Rk Def Rk ST Rk Avg DVOA
of Opponents
Weeks 1-9 8-0 1 19.0% 7 6.6% 11 -18.3% 4 -5.8% 28 -3.1%
Weeks 10-20 9-1 6 42.7% 2 18.5% 2 -22.5% 3 1.7% 16 -4.6%

If you average out their performance over the last five months, the Carolina Panthers have not been one of the greatest teams in NFL history, but they have played at a level that would make them worthy of the title "Super Bowl Champions." Furthermore, if we start around midseason, the Carolina Panthers of the last three months have been a historically dominant team. Somewhere between those two levels of play, the Panthers go into Super Bowl 50 as rightful favorites.

* * * * *

Please note that due to my transit home from the AFC Championship Game, FO Playoff Fantasy Challenge scores and snap count data will not be updated until Tuesday.

* * * * *

Once again this season, 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 week 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 the conference championships are:

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  • TE Rob Gronkowski, NE (24-HOUR HERO): Led all TE with 32 DYAR in conference championships (8-for-15, 144 yards, TD)
  • WR Ted Ginn, CAR: Led all WR with 60 DYAR in conference championships (52 receiving yards, 22 rushing yards, TD)
  • RT Mike Remmers, CAR: Helped block for 154 rushing yards on 35 carries.
  • RE Derek Wolfe, DEN: Led Broncos with 6 tackles, plus 2 QB hits, sack, pass defensed.

Comments

112 comments, Last at 31 Jan 2016, 1:53am

1 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

Numbers are about what I expected, at least for Den-NE. I won't go as far as to claim that I thought the NFCCG was in the top 10 of all time, but I knew it would have a huge number, probably the biggest of the year. That's what you get when you beat the snot out of a Top 5 team.

2 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

I assume the Giants decimation of the Vikings in the January 2001 NFCCG doesn't appear on the list because the Vikings defense was so historically bad that you needed to cook an 80-burger on them to register, insead of the mere 40-cocktail wiener that was served up.

23 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

It's not the only factor though, there are three teams on that list which had a lower DVOA then the 2000 Vikings. So clearly those three games had VOAs significantly higher then the Giants did, and I suspect most of the games on that list do as well.

I'm sure that game had a great DVOA, but it didn't have a DVOA of 130+.

There are only 13 games on that list, in a dataset that includes over 7000 games. There are tons of one sided blowouts that wont make that list.

25 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

That Vikings team had a pretty good offense (they did win 12 games, after all), so pitching a shutout against them presumably picked up a few % points. That defense, however. Scoring 40 on them was really pedestrian!

48 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

I wouldn't say 40 was pedestrian, just not one of the best performances of all time.

There are some other factors at play, like how all 3 fumbles in that game were recovered by the Giants, and the effects the score far more then it effects VOA.

50 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

Fair enough, every sports fan has painful memories of their team. As a Lions fan, I have more then most.

It was easier before 2011, when I could just accept that we sucked. But Stafford and Megatron have deluded me into thinking we can actually compete for a playoff spot.

I hate that I love Stafford so much. Makes watching the Lions that much more depressing.

54 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

The timing with the new GM wasn't right, but I firmly belive that hiring Gase away from the Bears, to be head coach, would have been the surest path to accomplish the most important task for the Lions; getting 5-plus consecutive years of well above average play from Stafford.

58 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

I really like what Jim Bob Cooter did towards the end of the season. The only problem I have with it is us going 6-2 to close out the season probably got Caldwell a contract extension.

75 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

Stafford is 27, he should be just entering his prime. I think Will's point is that should be the Lions goal and hiring Gase seems the most obvious way to accomplish it, not that it would happen for sure if they did it.

77 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

Stafford can do it, he's good enough to win a Super Bowl. Lions just need to be better at everything else (except wide receiver, we're good there too), especially at coaching.

3 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

More than a little amusing that best game #2 was a Cleveland shutout decimation of Pittsburgh, while game #3 was a Pittsburgh shutout shellacking of Cleveland ten years later.

The latter game sent the browns into a panic attack that has thus far lasted sixteen years.

4 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

Washington went on to crush Detroit 41-10 in the '91 playoffs, so the Week One destruction wasn't too much of an anomaly in that instance.

78 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

Perhaps the most amazing stat relating to that'91 'skins team is that thanks to their dominance, it took 14 years of Dan Snyder ownership for me to stop rooting for the franchise. As a kid growing up in DC, my earliest football memories were of that team, and as far as I was concerned, my Mark the Rypper t-shirt was the coolest one on the elementary school playground.

In Snyder's 15 years, they have fielded three excellent squads (in 1999 [his first year owning the team], 2005, and 2012), and two more good than bad teams (2007, 2015). With Snyber around, I am confident he will find a way to backtrack from the successes they had this season.

5 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

Went back to see how those three playoff teams fared the following week after coming off a top ten all-time DVOA performance............two of the three teams won their next game with the 1989 SF 49ers crushing the Denver Broncos 55-10 in their next game to win the Super Bowl.

As for those three teams with awesome week 1 starts...............As most know the 1991 Washington Redskins went 14-2 and won the Super Bowl and are one of the tops teams of the last 25 years. The 1989 Browns went 9-6-1 and lost in AFC Championship game and the 1999 Steelers went 6-10 overall.

6 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

Wow, Arizona is on the receiving end of three of those beatdowns, with two in the last four years. That has got to leave a mark.

8 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

As a Broncos fan, I am happy for the unexpected Super Bowl berth. At no point this season (save maybe for a flicker of hope after the Green Bay game) did I think this was a Super Bowl team. In fact, after any particularly dumb or maddeningly ineffective play or drive (and there were many), my brother and I would sarcastically text "Super Bowl" to each other.

Says the reanimated corpse of Peyton Manning: "You like that? YOU LIKE THAT?!?"

All that said, I am sad that the Broncos seem to have stumbled in to a buzzsaw of a Super Bowl opponent. Again. How does this keep happening? Is it so hard for the universe to serve up some marginal opponent instead of these juggernauting juggernauts from Juggernautsville? Ugh.

9 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

Other than the 87 Redskins and 98 Falcons, it really does seem like Denver runs into a buzzsaw every time. At least they beat a damn good 97 Green Bay squad.

91 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

Thank goodness for the pedestrian 1998 Falcons. When they beat the Vikings in the NFCCG (the Gary Anderson Game), it genuinely felt like the Broncos had just been handed the Super Bowl trophy.

Here's a fun Broncos-related fact:

I was born in 1980. With one lone exception (1991 Bills), every Broncos postseason in my living memory has ended in one of three ways:
1. Total blowout loss (86 Giants, 87 Washington, 89 49ers, 93 Raiders, 00 Ravens, 03 Colts, 04 Colts, 11 Pats, 13 Seahawks)
2. Crushing home loss to an inferior opponent (96 Jags, 05 Steelers, 12 Ravens, 14 Colts)
3. Super Bowl victory (97 vs Packers, 98 vs Falcons)

This has given me a weird sense of equanimity this year, as #2 was off the table after Houston lost, which just left #1 and #3. Both are still in play! I also think both are roughly equally likely (with a close or close-ish Panthers win making up the remainder of the probability).

92 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

That '98 Vikings team was among the most flawed 15-1 teams you'll ever see, and not tremedously better than the Falcons. The league didn't quite grasp yet what Randy Moss was, and the Vikings had other excellent offensive personnel, even if their qb play was overrated. On defense, they were decidedly mediocre, and hadn't been well coached since Dungy left three years earlier. I was not shocked that they lost, although the manner of losing was pretty annoying.

99 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

THE NIGHT BEFORE the Super Bowl.

As for the Minnesota game, I always felt that Gary Anderson got too much blame for the loss, and Atlanta not enough credit for the win. Let's not forget that after the miss, Atlanta had to drive for the tying touchdown, and then they still had to win the game in overtime. And after the Vikings scored 20 points on their first four drives, credit Atlanta's defense for holding the record-setting Vikings offense to seven points in its next nine drives.

101 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

I thought Cunningham had a poor game, getting stripped sacked in an inexcusable spot, missing open guys, most notably a wide open Randy Moss 50 yards downfield in overtime. Combine that with a defense that had very mediocre talent and coaching, well, the outcome was not a shocker.

100 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

That 1998 Broncos-Vikings matchup was the most scintillating Super Bowl never played. Both offenses were tremendous (Broncos balanced with a superb rushing attack, the Vikings with an unstoppable deep passing attack), and neither defense was very good. As happy as I was that the Broncos didn't have to face the Vikings, the football fan in me was sad to miss the fireworks. I still think about this hypothetical Super Bowl from time to time.

31 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

There isn't a more overused phrase in sports then defense wins championships (great teams win championships, it can be from great offense or great defense or good both.).

Defense gets tons of respect. Everyone always goes on about the importance of defense in winning.

They just prefer to talk about offense.

11 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

LOL!
Come now, you're not scared before the game even starts, are you?

Here's a history lesson:

Following the 2012 season, the SF 49ers were the #4 DVOA team in the league, and the Baltimore Ravens were the #8 team. The gap between #4 & #8 was ~16%. The Ravens were a 4 point underdog, after being an underdog vs. the Pats in the AFCCG, but the Ravens still won.

Following the 2015 season, the Car Panthers were the #4 DVOA team in the league, and the Denver Broncos were the #8 team. The gap between #4 & #8 was ~8%. The Broncos will be a 5-6 point underdog, after being an underdog vs. the Pats in the AFCCG. The Broncos are not running into a juggernaut. They are running into a very good team, which is kind of what you expect in the SB. If the Broncos play better, they will win- it is as simple as that.

109 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

Hah. My wife and I had a discussion akin to this last weekend. She (born and bred SEA fan) said Carolina looks unstoppable and will crush DEN. She can't imagine a scenario in which DEN wins. I was pretty impressed by DEN's D and (being a lifelong Colts fan) am pretty confident in Manning's brain at the very least. So we have a minor bet (a buck maybe? don't recall).

I'd be thrilled to see ole fivehead ride off into the sunset with another ring and really think the odds are maybe 45/55 for that to happen. Not crazy long odds. Not that she put numbers to it, but I suspect the missus thinks the odds are closer to 80/20 for CAR. I suspect a lot of casual football-watching America agrees with her.

(That being said, I really did expect more from ARI last week. Sheesh!)

12 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

As a Panthers fan who has been annoyed by some of these "the Panthers aren't that good" articles, I just want to say that what really upsets me is the condescension underlying statements like this:

There's a good reason why advanced stats have been saying this. It may surprise a lot of Carolina fans to learn that it has nothing to do with how much writers for stats sites dislike the people of the Carolinas. (For the record, mustard-based Carolina BBQ sauce is awesome*.) Nor were advanced stats lukewarm on the Panthers because of the ethnic background of their quarterback, or his post-touchdown celebrations.

I understand why Carolina rates as it does by various metrics, and I have never thought that any of these articles were the product of some anti-Carolina bias. When I disagree with the conclusions drawn from these metrics, I have good reasons as well. Most often it's because the article fails to give even a cursory examination of the assumptions necessary for its metric of choice to be a good measure of the quantity of interest (usually team or player quality). The Five Thirty Eight article referenced is a great example of this. Their rating system contains an assumption of year-to-year continuity (with a little regression to the mean) that is obviously problematic with the amount of roster turnover and injuries between Week 1 of 2014 and Week 12 of 2015 for the Carolina Panthers, but this problem is never considered even though that rating forms the foundation of the author's argument. As more and more sportswriting becomes predicated on the use of derived and sometimes proprietary statistics, I think it's important that writers spend a little bit of time examining whether the statistic they intend to use is really applicable to the situation they want to write about.

That's all. I don't actually disagree with the view of the Panthers taken in this particular article. I just felt the need to vent about the dismissive attitude taken in pieces like this towards complaints from people like me.

13 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

Did you consider that the statement which irritated you may not have been directed towards people with your views? Maybe it was directed at the no-doubt (given the very frequent irrationality of all fanbases) substantial volume of communication that Aaron receives which is, to be frank, unhinged? Heck, we saw a Seahawk fan last week get wide media exposure, for her social media communication, which made out Newton's treatment of a flag, with a number on it, to be something akin to a war crime. If you don't think Aaron gets spewings like that, from meatheads who wear their jerseys to bed each night, from all fan bases of teams that Aaron writes about with something less than pure adulation, well, you haven't been paying a lot of attention to your fellow fans. Anything that Aaron writes which ridicules that part of football fandom is something that likely has a large element of truth, even if it doesn't pertain to you.

14 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

Did you consider that the statement which irritated you may not have been directed towards people with your views? Maybe it was directed at the no-doubt (given the very frequent irrationality of all fanbases) substantial volume of communication that Aaron receives which is, to be frank, unhinged? Heck, we saw a Seahawk fan last week get wide media exposure, for her social media communication, which made out Newton's treatment of a flag, with a number on it, to be something akin to a war crime. If you don't think Aaron gets spewings like that, from meatheads who wear their jerseys to bed each night, from all fan bases of teams that Aaron writes about with something less than pure adulation, well, you haven't been paying a lot of attention to your fellow fans. Anything that Aaron writes which ridicules that part of football fandom is something that likely has a large element of truth, even if it doesn't pertain to you.

79 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

I don't doubt that Aaron receives many meathead comments and that they are the impetus of the statements I complained about. But I have to read the same words in the end, words addressed to "Carolina fans" rather than "irrational fans on Twitter," and it irks me. Is my response to this an overreaction? Yeah, it probably is. As I said, I was venting. I know there's a lot of productive discussion in the comments on FO that the writers occasionally chime in on. But I do think there's a general problem with the way statistics like DVOA are used in sportswriting, in which frequently the only response to any criticism of the methodology is the ridicule of meathead fans, and I saw some of that mentality in those comments.

28 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

No, it's what separates him (and me) from a vocal subset of all sports fans. I fully expect Aaron gets similar emails from all sports team's fans, but, despite similar behavior, Carolina fans seem to be singled out as having particular difficulty.

I've had the same thoughts on the advanced stats as regards Carolina...538 uses ESPNs FPI, which at least for college is a colossal joke that hurts advanced stats.

I trust DVOA much better, but am not sure Carolina seeming to have a tendency to let off the gas with a big lead, and other factors, cause plays to be counted because the metric doesn't count plays as garbage time even though the coaches and players are treating it as garbage time. And that's OK...the metrics have to have a hard definition to keep it objective, and coaches would be foolish to make decisions on maximizing a metric that doesn't affect their winning a championship. College coaches it might be different.

33 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

You either haven't been reading this site for very long, or you have a short memory. Any team with a good w-l record which does not have a corresponding high DVOA ranking reliably produces meatheadism, with mild ridicule from Aaron forthcoming. Arizona and Atlanta fans spring to mind immediately, and I'm sure there are other examples.

61 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

I've been reading for about 8 years or so, and my memory is fine. Mild ridicule is as well.

The tone is a bit different, and frequently more patronizing when discussing Carolina. There is usually more differentiation between the meatheads and everyone else. It's something many Carolinians are sensitive to. Aaron actually seems to have a stronger "I really like the Carolinas", more so than when giving other meatheads a hard time, I think it's intended well, and it's fine.

What's also lost is context. We deal with the "Southerners are Idiots" stereotype all the time. We can be sensitive, but it's a sensitivity born of years of abrasion. Sometimes things not intended that way get caught up in the trash.

65 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

Where do ya' get one of those finely calibrated patronizometers, with which to make these discernments?

Sorry, if that's a little too snarky, but I'm really, really, really, skeptical about claims that one can empirically measure these things, by causal observation. Even with very earnest and detailed investigation I think it is a dubious proposition to say one can accurately measure this stuff in one individual, and I say that as someone who finds the bigotry associated with southern accents to be way too frequent, and really annoying.

71 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

I'll offer anecdotal support to that assertion. After growing up in Oklahoma, I went to college in Philadelphia. I had no real accent but did get more ribbing than I'd have ever expected from simply being from Oklahoma. My PhD advisor in Baltimore was no better. A decade later I'm still somewhat sensitive about it.

Worse, since I have been a loyal FO reader for over a decade, is that I'm a Cowboys fan and we all know that Aaron and his fancy "metrics" are biased against the Cowboys!!!

(That's a joke)

73 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

Sometimes a really wish there was a like button on comments for football outsiders.

I get most of my self worth from people liking what I say on facebook, there's also a ton of likeable material in FO comments sections.

62 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

Kneeling to win up 7 is not anything remotely close to losing. Carolina has been an unstoppable clown crushing juggernaut for 6 out of 8 football quarters in these playoffs so far. The other 2 quarters they were trading yards/points for time.

it's quite enjoying.

Sometimes I even trip myself out.

39 Re: Week 20 DVOA Ratings

538 is owned by ESPN, given how much they use their stats, I think they're contractually obligated to use QBR and FPI.

And as others have brought up. We're ridiculing all fans who think DVOA is wrong for subjective reasons. Carolina has been the most talked about team the last few weeks in terms of its gap between the advanced stats and the WL record. So right now it's your fans getting it.