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:
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|
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.
|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|
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.
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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.
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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.