by Aaron Schatz
With the Los Angeles Rams losing their first game of the season, it probably is no surprise that the Kansas City Chiefs remain No. 1 in our DVOA ratings this week. It's how high the Chiefs' rating has gone that's a little surprising.
A 37-21 victory sounds like a healthy win, but not the kind of dominant performance that should dramatically lift any team's DVOA rating. But Kansas City's offense hit the DVOA sweet spot in this game with a combination of big plays and consistent performance against one of the better defenses in the league.
Kansas City's 8.75 yards per play was the fourth-highest average of any offense in any game so far this season. Forty-five percent of plays were first downs or touchdowns, which was third highest of any offense in any game so far this season. Kansas City's success rate was 57 percent, one of the dozen highest success rates in any single game so far this season.
As a result, the Chiefs get the highest single-game DVOA of the year. It's the highest offensive performance at 118.2% DVOA, which means even though Kansas City had below-average defense in this game, the Chiefs also have the highest single-game total DVOA of the year at 98.7%.
And adding those plays in to what the Chiefs had done so far moves the Chiefs' offensive DVOA up to 41.6%, which is now the third-highest ever tracked through nine games. Combined with the Chiefs' No. 1 special teams and bad (but not horrific) defense, this week's game moved the Chiefs up to 43.8% total DVOA, which puts the Chiefs on the list of all-time best teams ever tracked through nine games.
Here's a look at the Chiefs' performance this week along with the rest of the ten best single-game offensive performances so far this year. You'll notice the Chiefs have three of the top five games.
|Top Offensive Games by DVOA, Weeks 1-9 2018|
The turnover column here represents all interceptions or fumbles, including those recovered by the offense. Why does Kansas City's Week 9 game say "1 (0)" in that column? That's because we've coded Patrick Mahomes' interception on the final play of the first half as a "Hail Mary." That means that it was not penalized in DVOA any more than an incomplete pass would have been penalized in that situation. This may be a bit questionable, of course, because there was always a tiny possibility the Browns could return the interception for a touchdown on the final play before halftime.
Do you think that this throw does help indicate that Mahomes is more likely to throw interceptions in the future? OK, but if we included it in DVOA as an interception there wouldn't be much difference. After all, we're talking about chucking the ball downfield on third-and-11, the classic "arm punt." If we counted this as an interception, Kansas City's DVOA would only drop to 112.0% for the game. Their offensive DVOA for the season would drop from 41.6% to 40.9%, less than a full percentage point, and they would still rank as the No. 3 offense in DVOA history.
|BEST OFFENSIVE DVOA
THROUGH 9 GAMES, 1986-2018
How good is Kansas City's offensive DVOA after their Week 9 win? There are only 12 single games this year where other teams had higher offensive DVOA than Kansas City has on the entire season so far. And remember, this is adjusted for era, so this accounts for the fact that offensive numbers around the league are so high this year. Here's a look at where the Chiefs rank among the top overall teams ever, despite their No. 27 defensive unit.
|BEST TOTAL DVOA
THROUGH 9 GAMES, 1986-2018
(You might notice the Dallas Cowboys appear on one or both of these tables for every year between 1992 and 1995. Damn, that team was good.)
Meanwhile, the Rams dropped from 33.3% to 30.1% after their loss to New Orleans, which means there's a hefty 13-point gap between the Chiefs and the Rams. Part of the issue here is that the Rams defense has not been as good as you probably think it is. The Rams are only 16th in defensive DVOA right now; they're above average against the pass, but I think most of us expected a team with that much defensive talent to be better than 12th against the pass at midseason.
The big DVOA gap between the Chiefs and Rams also produces a big gap in our playoff odds report. We now have the Chiefs as our prohibitive Super Bowl favorites, and they win the Super Bowl in 35 percent of our simulations compared to the Rams in just 21 percent of simulations.
Carolina moves up to No. 3 after beating Tampa Bay this week. It's a bit of a surprising result given that other indicators would suggest the Panthers aren't as good as their record. Their Pythagorean projection would only be 5-3, and they rank 29th in past schedule based on average DVOA of opponent. Nonetheless, they've been efficient on offense and improving on defense. Carolina is No. 3 in DVOA while New Orleans is still only No. 7, which leads to an interesting dichotomy in the playoff odds. With a one-game division lead, New Orleans is more likely than Carolina to win the NFC South, more likely to make the conference championship game, and more likely to make the Super Bowl. But the Panthers come out as slightly more likely to win the Super Bowl.
Other big risers this week include the Patriots (from 10 to 6), the Falcons (from 23 to 19), and the 49ers (from 30 to 26). This week's big fallers are primarily in the NFC East: Washington drops from 16 to 21, and Dallas from 19 to 24. Philadelphia's odds of making the playoffs went up 11.7 percent this week without even playing a game, and that's without even taking into account all the injuries that Washington has suffered through in the last couple weeks.
Finally, it wouldn't be the weekly DVOA commentary in 2018 without a check-in on the fascinating black hole that is the Buffalo Bills offense. Last week, the Bills were the worst offense we had ever tracked through eight games. Somehow, they got even worse, dropping from -51.8% to -53.9%. And this was the week for the Bills to get out of last place in our historical tracking, because the 2005 49ers had a horrendous Week 10 loss to the Chicago Bears. That dropped them to -53.0% offensive DVOA (based on how DVOA works now, not how it worked when Football Outsiders was around in 2005). Before the 2018 Bills, San Francisco's -53.0% offensive DVOA in Week 10 of 2005 was the only time since 1986 any offense was below -50% after Week 6.
|WORST OFFENSIVE DVOA
THROUGH 9 GAMES, 1986-2018
The next week, the 49ers played the Seattle Seahawks and kept the game close, losing 27-25. That game raised their offensive DVOA to -46.2%. So if the Bills don't get their act together against the New York Jets this week, there's going to be a big gap between the 2018 Bills and every other bad offense in the 33-year history of DVOA ratings.
Remember my little stat about the Chiefs' offensive DVOA compared to single games for other teams? Well, we can tell the same story about the Bills. There are only 10 single games this year where other teams have offensive DVOA worse than what the Bills have for the entire season so far. The Bills have the two worst single games on offense (Week 1, a 47-3 loss to Baltimore, and Week 4, Green Bay's 22-0 shutout) and five of the worst 11.
At least the Bills have one excuse for looking so bad: they've played a very difficult schedule. Buffalo has played the third-most difficult schedule of opposing defenses this year, trailing just Tennessee and Arizona. This sounds like a great excuse until you realize which team has played the fourth-hardest schedule of opposing defenses.
That would be the Kansas City Chiefs.
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This week we introduce weighted DVOA, our rating that drops the strength of earlier games to get a better idea of how well teams are playing now. The last eight weeks worth of games are still at full strength or close to it, so right now the only game with less than 95 percent strength is Week 1, and the weighted DVOA ratings are very similar to the total DVOA ratings. In future weeks, they'll begin to diverge a little bit. We're also (mostly) retiring DAVE, our rating that combines in-season performance with preseason projection early in the season. Usually, DAVE is gone in Week 8, but this year we extended it a bit to give some weight to the preseason forecast for a couple more weeks. In fact, I'm still using DAVE this week in the playoff odds report, but you won't find it on the team stats pages. This last week of DAVE weights the preseason forecast at 5 percent for teams with nine games played and 10 percent for teams with eight games played. The plan is still to do more research in the offseason to figure out if there's a way to change the weights on both DAVE and weighted DVOA to make both more predictive.
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These are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through nine 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. Opponent adjustments are currently at 90 percent strength, and will hit full strength next week. As always, positive numbers represent more points so DEFENSE is better when it is NEGATIVE.
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.
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).