by Aaron Schatz
The Los Angeles Rams are on top of our DVOA ratings after two weeks, thanks to big wins over Oakland and Arizona. The Kansas City Chiefs and their dominating offense are right behind them; the Chiefs are currently No. 1 in both offense and special teams but dead last in defense. Those teams are then followed by a couple of unexpected 2-0 teams, Miami and Cincinnati, and Jacksonville is No. 5.
Now, you might be saying to yourself, "Wait, the Chiefs beat two good teams, the Steelers and the Chargers. The Rams beat two tomato cans, the Raiders and the Cardinals. How are the Rams No. 1? And how are the Miami Dolphins third when the teams they beat had an injured quarterback (the Titans) and a rookie quarterback (the Jets).
This is where we point out that our ratings will not include opponent adjustments until after Week 4. After all, can we say that when the Chiefs beat the Steelers, they beat a good team? We think the Steelers are still a good team, based on the information we had going into the season. That's the point of Football Outsiders' DAVE ratings, after all, which combine performance early in the season with our preseason projections to get a better idea of how good teams will be going forward. But we don't know for sure which teams are good and bad this season. We need more information. Once we've got four weeks of information, we can start filtering that knowledge into our ratings and gradually correct for opponent strength with those corrections getting stronger each week.
After all, there are some very strange results early in the season, or at least results that look strange. The strangest after Week 1 is probably the dominating early performance of the Miami Dolphins defense. The Dolphins are No. 1 on defense by a fairly big margin. The New York Jets are a surprising No. 2. The Bears have moved up to No. 4. It's hard to tell how "real" this is because we don't know how good the offenses they played really are. When the Jets stopped the Lions, did they stop an average offense or a bad one? The same goes for the Dolphins holding down the Titans, or the Bears holding down the Seahawks. Are these the average-to-good offenses of recent years, or the bad offenses they looked like playing these defenses that have been dominant early. Time will tell.
I did go into the archives to see what happens with defenses that play as well as Miami has played early this season. The Dolphins currently have defensive DVOA of -40.8%. Thirty-seven different defenses since 2002 have put up defensive DVOA of -30% or better after Weeks 1-2, without considering opponent adjustments. These teams ended the season with an average defensive DVOA of -9.5%, and an average defensive rank of 8.5. However, that's dragged down a bit by a few defenses where the first couple weeks were particularly a big mirage, including the 2012 Eagles and 2014 Redskins. The median defensive rank of these 37 teams was fifth at the end of the year. Only seven of the 37 teams ended the year with a defensive DVOA above 0% (i.e. worse than average).
If we want to look at the Dolphins and Jets together, I'll tell you that 32 teams since 2002 ranked first or second in defensive DVOA after Week 2, without considering opponent adjustments. The average rank of these teams at the end of the year was 7.5, and the median rank was fourth. So there's a good chance that the Miami Dolphins defense has, in fact, improved significantly from last year's finish of 28th in defensive DVOA.
My guess is that the general consensus is that Miami will be dragged down a bit once the opponent adjustments go in, and I would agree with that. Miami is a surprising 13th in the DAVE ratings right now. When you combine that with a 2-0 record and a schedule that we rated among the league's easiest before the season, you end up with Miami now ranking FIFTH in our playoff odds and a shocking SIXTH in Super Bowl odds. Yes, this is probably too high. Miami's true playoff odds are likely lower than we are showing them right now. But they are also likely higher than conventional wisdom thinks they are right now. And the Dolphins have a nice winnable game this week with Oakland coming to down. It's not ridiculous to think the Dolphins could start the season 3-0.
Miami's hot start is part of an overall hot start for football teams in Florida, with all three teams at 2-0. Yet only two of them are in the DVOA top five. Tampa Bay is way down at No. 16. Why so mediocre? Well, the answer is that the Bucs have been a very similar team to the Kansas City Chiefs, only not quite as efficient on offense despite Ryan Fitzpatrick's big numbers. You know how I mentioned that the Chiefs are in first place in offense and last place in defense? Well, Tampa Bay is in second place in offense and second-to-last place in defense. But while their defensive DVOA is pretty close to Kansas City's, their offensive DVOA is 20 points lower because Tampa Bay is dead last right in run offense. The Bucs are also much lower than Kansas City on special teams. Tampa Bay actually makes sense as an average team because their wins have both been very close, each one by a touchdown. The Bucs also have had excellent early fumble luck, recovering all four of the fumbles they've caused on defense. And there's an element of waiting for the opponent adjustments here, since we think the Eagles and Steelers are good opponents to beat. That's not reflected in the ratings yet, and we'll have to see where the Steelers go since their locker room seems to be currently melting down.
The other team where the record and the DVOA look very different is Houston. Despite starting the season 0-2, the Texans are 11th in DVOA. That's without opponent adjustments, so there's no consideration for the fact that their first loss came to the New England Patriots. Instead, what's going on here is that the Texans absolutely whooped the Tennessee Titans in DVOA this week despite actually losing the game. Houston's DVOA for this game is 39.2%, with the Titans at -44.4%. The Texans gained 7.0 net yards per play, and held the Titans to only 5.0. Their turnover margin of -1 doesn't come close to making up for that yardage difference. The Texans just had a number of drives with a lot of yards that didn't end in points. They had drives of 58 and 38 yards end in punts, and another 38-yard drive ended in an interception. They also got 31 yards on the meaningless last play from midfield but ran out of time to get up, spike the ball, and get the field goal team on. (That one play matters more in the yardage average than in DVOA.) The Texans were also more efficient than the Titans on third downs (5-fo-11 vs. 5-of-15). They lost the game because of one big play (the fake punt touchdown), two Tennessee fourth-down conversions, and some very bad game and clock management. They got stuck twice with fourth-and-long in no man's land, and punted both times: fourth-and-14 on the Tennessee 38 and fourth-and-8 on the Tennessee 37. But overall when it came to getting yardage, the Texans were better than you think they were. Those yardage gains aren't usually going to end up with fourth-and-long in no man's land in future games. Thus, the higher DVOA rating.
Finally, I wanted to point out something about the DAVE ratings that's fairly important. I've seen a couple of references to DAVE on the Internet, usually on Twitter, that say DAVE ratings are stupid because they combine 2018 regular-season performance with preseason performance. Nope, although I admit, that would be pretty stupid. We don't do anything to rate preseason performance. What DAVE is including is preseason projection, which includes how well the teams have played over the last couple years, coaching changes, personnel changes, turnover regression, and other factors. That's an important distinction.
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The playoff odds are fully updated through Week 2. Snap counts and the FO premium database are updated as well. And we have offensive line and defensive front seven stats posted for the first time this season.
This week we're still experimenting with making the table below sortable plus we've added a "sticky header." Please let us know what you think.
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These are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through two weeks of 2018, 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. As always, positive numbers represent more points so DEFENSE is better when it is NEGATIVE.
Please note that there are no opponent adjustments in DVOA until after Week 4. (It's still listed as DVOA instead of VOA because I don't feel like going through and changing all the tables manually.) In addition, our second weekly table which includes schedule strength, variation, and Estimated Wins will appear beginning after Week 4.
DAVE is a formula which combines our preseason projection with current DVOA to get a more accurate forecast of how a team will play the rest of the season. Right now, the preseason projection makes up 80 percent of DAVE.
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>