by Aaron Schatz
Here are our DVOA projections for 2019, updated from the season forecasts in Football Outsiders Almanac 2019.
For those new to our website, you can find an explanation of DVOA here. Note that there's a big difference between DVOA and projected DVOA. The DVOA ratings that appear on the website during the season are based on the actual play-by-play that happens during the season, with no future projection whatsoever. The numbers here are a forecast, with offense, defense, and special teams DVOA all projected separately using a system based on looking at trends for teams over the past decade. Our system starts by considering the team's DVOA over the past three seasons and, on offense, a separate projection for the starting quarterback. Then we look at a number of other variables which suggest when a team will be better or worse than would otherwise be expected due to standard regression towards the mean. Factors include major offseason personnel changes, coaching experience, recent draft history, combined tenure on the offensive line, and certain players returning from injury (or, in the case of these preseason updates, certain players getting injured in the preseason).
The numbers we are presenting here are exactly what the projection system spit out. As we say every year: "A few of them will look strange to you. A few of them look strange to us." As always, the offensive projections come out in a wider range than defensive projections because offense performance tends to be easier to predict (and more consistent from year to year) than defensive performance. If you are looking for subjective projections, Thursday we will be running our usual staff predictions article where we all talk about where we think the numbers are wrong.
We've also done our first playoff odds report simulation based on these updated DVOA projections, and I've added the playoff odds and Super Bowl championship odds to the table below. At the start of a new season, our simulation is very conservative about the average number of wins and losses expected for each team. Obviously, the NFL is going to have teams that are 11-5 or better, and it is going to have teams that are 5-11 or worse. It may seem like our simulation predicts half the league to go 8-8, but we know that won't happen. We also use a "dynamic" playoff odds simulation. Each time it plays through the season, it adds 1.5% to the DVOA of every winner and subtracts 1.5% from the DVOA of every loser before moving on to the next week's games. This reflects the fact that DVOA projections are just estimates, and actual performance during the season gives us better knowledge of how good or bad teams really are.
Personnel changes aren't the only difference between this updated simulation and the one we did for Football Outsiders Almanac 2019. This is a smaller simulation which only uses one set of mean projected DVOA ratings, rather than using 1,000 different sets of ratings to represent that some teams have a wider range of probable performance quality than others. The smaller simulation is even more conservative than the one from the book, so average win projections will come out a little closer to 8-8.
The odds of getting the No. 1 pick listed below (and listed on the playoff odds report page) do not incorporate traded picks. Projected division champions are colored in light yellow and projected wild-card teams are colored in light purple.
You'll notice the biggest change between the book and this projection, which is that last yellow line. The Green Bay Packers fell a little bit in our projections based on a number of personnel adjustments that all changed small variables slightly, and that means that we end up with the Detroit Lions as our NFC North favorites. I've been trying to explain all preseason that Detroit is better than conventional wisdom but I did not expect to have to wave the flag of the Lions as division favorites and I'm not exactly happy about it. It seems like going a little bit too far, but that's what the numbers spat out in what is by far the closest division in the NFL according to our projections. All four NFC North teams have projected DVOA between 1.0% and 2.8%, and all four teams have mean projected wins between 8.0 and 8.3. Detroit is not as good as Chicago or Green Bay, but it's close, and they have the easiest schedule in the division. The Lions aren't prohibitive favorites, but nuance doesn't exactly work well on the Internet.
We've also had a change in our projected winner of the AFC South. The Indianapolis Colts have dropped into last place in the projections after the retirement of Andrew Luck. We thought we were going to have the Tennessee Titans as our projected division champions but Houston jumped ahead of the Titans at the last minute. Those trades this weekend may have hamstrung the future process of building the team, but we do think that the addition of Tunsil and Stills outweighs the loss of Clowney and that puts the Texans very narrowly ahead of the Titans as the favorites in the AFC South.
Besides the Colts and Packers, other teams that fell a bit since the DVOA projections in FOA 2019 are the Los Angeles Chargers, who were our AFC favorites in the book but have fallen behind New England due to injuries, and the Miami Dolphins, who come out even worse now than they did a couple months ago. I'll have to go through all the old books to see when's the last time we had a preseason mean projection below 5.0 wins but it was probably a long time ago.
You may notice that our mean projections have 10 of 12 teams returning to the playoffs. The only non-repeat playoff teams we have in our top 12 are Pittsburgh and Detroit. (Green Bay, if it was NFC North favorite, would also be a non-repeat playoff team.) Obviously, there will be more change in the playoff structure than that. Historically, about half the playoff teams have turned over each year, although that total has been lower in recent years. Still, forecasting most teams to stay consistent ends up being more accurate than blindly casting about to try to figure out which will be the new playoff teams.