by Aaron Schatz
In a statistical metric based on play-by-play analysis rather than wins and losses, sometimes a team will rate better for a close loss than another team rates for a close win. That's what happened this week in the Football Outsiders DVOA ratings, and it was enough to knock the undefeated Los Angeles Rams out of the top spot. Instead, the Kansas City Chiefs ascend to No. 1 despite losing their first game to New England on Sunday night. (Perhaps it is more accurate to say that Kansas City doesn't ascend but instead stands in place while the Rams and Chicago Bears drop.)
After Week 6, neither the Chiefs nor the Rams now rank among the dozen best offenses we've ever tracked through this point of the season. The Rams really saw their passing game struggle against Denver this week. The Rams had only 2.6% offensive DVOA for the game after adjusting for Denver's defense, and the split there was -43.1% for passes and 42.8% for runs. It really was a huge ground game for Todd Gurley, even considering that the Broncos are one of the league's worst run defenses (29th in DVOA).
For Kansas City, the interesting split this week was first half vs. second half. In the first half, Kansas City had -32.3% offensive DVOA. In the second half, the Chiefs had 68.1% offensive DVOA.
There are two big differences between the Chiefs and the Rams this year. The first is schedule strength. The Rams are still higher than the Chiefs in non-adjusted VOA, although both teams saw this rating drop after Week 6. However, the Rams saw their DVOA drop as our opponent adjustments got stronger, while Kansas City's DVOA actually went up slightly. Kansas City's past schedule now ranks seventh by average DVOA of opponent, while the Rams' schedule ranks 22nd.
The second difference is special teams. I'm usually reticent to draw attention to special teams early in the season because one or two plays can have such a huge impact on special teams DVOA in just a game or two. But now that we're talking six games, I think it's a bit more safe to talk about how historically good the Kansas City special teams have been this year. Kansas City has had positive special teams value in five of six games, and the other game was -0.6%. Kansas City has more games with special teams DVOA over 25% than the entire rest of the league combined: Week 1 against the Chargers and Week 6 against the Patriots, compared to just the New York Jets in Week 1 against Detroit.
This isn't just about Tyreek Hill. Head over to our special teams ratings table (now sortable!) and you'll see that Kansas City currently ranks first or second in all five aspects of special teams that we measure. Rookie Tremon Smith had the 97-yard kickoff return on Sunday night, Dustin Colquitt leads the league in net punting average, and Harrison Butker hasn't missed a field goal or extra point yet this season. As a result, the Chiefs are on pace to rank among the best special teams we've ever tracked:
|BEST SPECIAL TEAMS DVOA
THROUGH 6 GAMES, 1986-2018
Of course, a caveat goes here: special teams performance is nowhere near as consistent as offense or defense, so it's harder to predict what we'll get from the Chiefs special teams for the next two and a half months. For example, that 2003 Chiefs team with Dante Hall, the team with the best special teams DVOA ever through six games? They do not appear on a similar list of the best special teams over an entire season, because the 2003 Chiefs had below-average special teams in the second half of the year. But a few of the units listed above do finish on the list of the best special teams DVOA ever through an entire season, including the 1986 Saints, 1996 Panthers, 2006 Bears, and 2009 Browns.
Below the Chiefs and Rams, the Chicago Bears drop to No. 3 after losing to Miami this week. But the big gap we had last week between the top three and the rest of the league is now gone. Baltimore moved up 8.8% DVOA after shutting out Tennessee, and the Los Angeles Chargers moved up 6.6% DVOA after beating Cleveland. A third team was also a big riser this week after blowing out an inferior team: the Seahawks moved up from No. 14 to No. 8 after their big win over the Raiders in London.
Seattle is now up to No. 4 in defensive DVOA. Chicago is still No. 1, and Baltimore is No. 2. So who is No. 3? You'll have to scroll all the way to the bottom of the overall DVOA table for that one. We have to talk about the insane split right now between the Buffalo Bills offense and the Buffalo Bills defense.
The Buffalo Bills defense right now is third in DVOA, narrowly behind Baltimore. The Bills are even better against the pass, second behind Chicago. The offense, on the other hand, is the worst in the league. But this is not a run of the mill worst of the league. We've had plenty of teams before that were run-of-the-mill bad on offense and very good on defense. The Bills are in another galaxy compared to the rest of the offense-fortified NFL of 2018. Right now, the average team is gaining 5.7 yards per play. Arizona is 31st at 4.4 yards per play. Buffalo is way down at 3.7 yards per play. It's even worse if we look at net yards per pass attempt. The NFL average is 6.6, and Arizona is 31st at 5.1. Buffalo is way down with 3.8 net yards per pass attempt. The Bills lead the league with nine interceptions and are dead last with only three passing touchdowns. (Somehow they are not in last place in total offensive touchdowns; Buffalo has seven and Tennessee has only six.)
Put it all together and normalize for the overall offensive environment of the 2018 season, and Buffalo now has the second-worst offense we've ever tracked through six games.
|WORST OFFENSIVE DVOA
THROUGH 6 GAMES, 1986-2018
Now, we could compare Buffalo to other teams that have had a high ranking in offensive DVOA and a really low ranking in defensive DVOA. For example, last year's Arizona Cardinals were 30th on offense and fourth on defense. However, what really matters here is the rating, not the ranking. The Bills are so, so far behind everyone else in offensive DVOA that it's not enough just to say that they rank dead last.
So I've put together this historical table of similar teams through six games. These are teams that had a bottom-five offensive DVOA but a strong defensive DVOA, with the biggest gap between the two, looking at the actual rating rather than just the ranking. You'll notice that the only team with a bigger gap was the team that's ahead of Buffalo (or should I say behind?) for worst offense through six games: the 2004 Miami Dolphins. That team had just four offensive touchdowns through six games. But they also only allowed seven offensive touchdowns through six games. The 2004 Dolphins had four different turnovers returned for touchdowns just in their first six games of the season! So the 2004 Dolphins were like this year's Bills only even more extreme. They were No. 1 in defense through six games as well as dead last in offense.
Most of these teams were terrible. What on earth are the 2015 Broncos doing on here? That team went to the Super Bowl! However, they weren't as good in their early games as you would expect a 6-0 team to be. Denver won five of those six games by just one score. At least their offense significantly improved over the course of the season, while their defense stayed No. 1. They had a lot more success than the rest of the teams on this list.
Is there hope for Buffalo? If Josh Allen is injured and they have to play Nathan Peterman, it would seem not. But maybe veteran Derek Anderson can rescue the Bills from historically awful offensive efficiency. The 2004 Miami Dolphins, at least, didn't suffer with an offense this bad for the whole year. They beat the St. Louis Rams 31-14 in their very next game. Eventually, as you can see in the table, their offense regressed towards the mean a bit. Unfortunately, so did their defense. Most of the teams on this table were bad on offense all year long, even if things got a little better than they were in the first six weeks. The 2015 Broncos are really the exception.
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Stats pages should now be updated through Week 6, including playoff odds, the FO Premium DVOA database and snap counts. We're still working on transitioning all our tables over to the new sortable tables but you'll notice this week that spspecial teams are now sortable, which should be super helpful because you can sort by any of the five aspects of special teams that we track. The defense vs. types of receivers table is also now sortable although we need to tweak that one a little more to make it look right.
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These are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through six 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.
Because it is early in the season, opponent adjustments are only at 60 percent strength; they will increase 10 percent every week through Week 10. As always, positive numbers represent more points so DEFENSE is better when it is NEGATIVE.
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 30 percent of DAVE for most teams (40 percent for teams with just five games played).
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).