by Aaron Schatz
The 2019 NFL season has been very stratified so far. It certainly seems like we've seen some extremes when it comes to easy and hard early schedules, and the result has been more undefeated teams than usual. Last year, there were only three undefeated teams through Week 3. This year, there are eight undefeated teams if we include the 2-0-1 Detroit Lions. All eight of these teams rank in the top 11 of our DVOA ratings along with three 2-1 teams.
Of course, the story of the season is still at the extremes. New England remains No. 1 in DVOA after their 30-16 victory over the New York Jets. They currently have the fourth highest DVOA ever measured through three games. The only teams they trail are three of the greatest teams of all-time: the Super Bowl champion 1996 Packers, the 16-0 2007 Patriots, and the Super Bowl champion (and best team in DVOA history) 1991 Redskins.
Since someone asked on Twitter, I'll point out that the Patriots' DVOA would only be 4.0% higher if we removed the two Jets touchdowns. The muffed punt is not penalized as much as you might expect since muffed punts are recovered more often than most other fumbles, and the pick-six is not penalized as much as you might expect because we treat all interception returns equal based on the length of the pass and the location of the interception, plus the pick-six took place in one of the rare places where DVOA does discount "garbage time" (score gap of 22 points or more, not inside the red zone). Still, if you added 4.0% onto the Patriots' DVOA rating, they would be higher than the 2007 Patriots after three games.
The Dallas Cowboys move into the No. 2 spot after dismantling the Miami Dolphins, even though that game was surprisingly close through the first half. The Cowboys pass the San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs, and Baltimore Ravens, who each drop one spot. Despite playing each other with no opponent adjustments applied yet, the Chiefs and Ravens stay above 40% DVOA. That means we have five different teams still above 40% after Week 3, which has only happened three other times (2005, 2007, and 2009).
Of course, the extremes at the top are nothing compared to the extreme at the bottom. Miami is very, very bad. Miami is the worst team DVOA has ever tracked through three weeks. Miami is the fifth-worst offense ever tracked by DVOA through three weeks and the fifth-worst defense ever tracked by DVOA through three weeks. Or three games -- once we get to Week 3, we start running into teams that had a really early bye, so these tables represent the best and worst teams ever through three games rather than three weeks. Teams with asterisks were after Week 4 so their ratings do include some opponent adjustments. The other teams, like the 2019 Patriots and Dolphins, are being measured without any opponent adjustments yet.
|BEST TOTAL DVOA AFTER
3 GAMES, 1986-2019
|WORST TOTAL DVOA AFTER
3 GAMES, 1986-2019
Obviously, with the extreme early schedules leading to some extreme early ratings, I'm sure there's some curiosity about what things would look like with opponent adjustments. After all, the Patriots are dominating but all three of their opponents are 0-3. The Cowboys' opponents are 1-8. This season's early surprise, the 49ers? Their opponents are 1-8. On the other end, Miami's opponents are 8-1. Cincinnati's opponents are 8-1. Pittsburgh's opponents are 8-1.
So I decided to do something I also did after Week 3 a couple of years ago. I created two "what if" ratings that include opponent adjustments. One has opponent adjustments at 30 percent strength, which is theoretically what we might use on the same scale that has us introduce them next week at 40 percent strength. The other version has opponent adjustments at 100 percent strength, but only based on these three weeks of the season.
Two things may stand out about these alternative DVOA ratings. First, the results aren't as different from the regular DVOA ratings as you might expect, even at the extremes. Each of the alternative ratings still has four teams over 40%. The Patriots drop in each one to around 70%. The Dolphins only move up to around -90% in each one. In other words, even if we were including full strength opponent adjustments right now, the Dolphins would be the worst team ever tracked when compared to unadjusted past teams.
Second, you may be surprised to see that some teams will move down with 30% adjustments but then up again with 100% adjustments, or vice versa. That is because the 100% adjustment is not automatically just 3.3x whatever the 30% adjustment is, because of the way creating the adjustments has multiple runthroughs that adjust the defenses, than adjust offenses based on those adjusted defenses, and so on.
|Team||W-L||No Adj||Rk||30% Adj||Rk||100% Adj||Rk|
As you might expect, the teams that take the biggest hit when we introduce opponent adjustments include the Patriots and Cowboys, because they were so far ahead of the rest of the league anyway. You might be surprised to see that with 100% adjustments, the San Francisco 49ers move ahead of the Cowboys. The 49ers are playing really well right now. They stomped two bad teams in the first two weeks, and while their game was close with the Steelers, part of that was very poor fumble recovery luck. The 49ers have recovered just 1 of 5 fumbles on offense and 2 of 6 on defense.
Taking a big hit in the ratings and also in the rankings are the Detroit Lions and the Buffalo Bills. Detroit falls from 11th to 12th with 30% adjustments and then down to 17th with 100% adjustments. Buffalo drops from ninth to 15th with both sets of adjustments. I will admit that those rankings feel a bit more in line with how these teams have played this year, suggesting that maybe we do need to incorporate opponent adjustments even after only three weeks of the season.
Also taking an unexpceted fall in the 100% adjustments are the New York Jets! They go up in the 30% adjustments, then way down in the 100% adjustments. I apologize for not having the time this afternoon to go through all the adjustments to figure out why this is the case, but besides the Patriots their opponents are ranked 15th (Buffalo) and 20th (Cleveland) in the 100% adjusted version of the ratings. That still seems like it shouldn't result in their rating taking such a big adjustment, but their run-pass ratios must somehow match where the Bills and Browns are at their worst (and the limited number of places where the Patriots aren't extremely good this season).
Can it possibly get worse, Jets fans? Actually, it will probably get better, because Sam Darnold will be coming back healthy to face the easiest remaining schedule in the league by both current DVOA ratings and DAVE ratings.
At the bottom of the ratings, the biggest gainer is Oakland, which moves up from 29th to 25th in the 100% adjusted ratings. Pittsburgh moves up from 30th to 29th. Miami moves up in rating, although they are still horrific. The big movers in the rankings are the other two Florida teams. Tampa Bay goes from 20th in the unadjusted ratings to 13th in the 100% adjusted verison. Jacksonville goes from 15th in the unadjusted ratings to 10th in the 100% adjusted version. The Jaguars have played three above-average opponents this year: they only lost to Kansas City by 14, they basically tied Houston (but lost because they went for 2 and failed), and they beat Tennessee handily.
And, what the heck, we'll run one more big table here. Let's run a schedule strength table a week early, only this is based on DAVE rather than on DVOA. These DAVE ratings assume Drew Brees returns Week 12 and Sam Darnold returns Week 5, and ignores the small difference I'm currently using between Kyle Allen and Cam Newton. (Past DAVE is based on past quarterbacks, so it counts Houston as playing Brees but counts the Browns and Patriots as playing Jets backups.)
Things are going to get a lot easier for the Jets, Steelers, and Jaguars, but a lot harder for the Chicago Bears. You can discuss further in the comment thread.
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All stats pages should now be updated through Week 3, including snap counts and playoff odds, and the FO Premium DVOA database. The Matchups view in the DVOA database has been updated so that it now displays 2019 ratings instead of 2018 ratings.
Another exciting announcement: we should be introducing our first Football Outsiders stars for Madden 20 Ultimate Team next week! They will feature outstanding September performers.
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These are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through three weeks of 2019, 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 70 percent of DAVE. In part because of the extreme schedules this year leading to some extreme early ratings, I've decided to increase the amount that I incorporate the preseason projection into DAVE for the next few weeks. (It was 60 percent for a few years, then 65 percent, and now is 70 percent.)
DAVE ratings represent what we expect a team's rating to be at the end of the season, so for certain teams the offensive ratings are adjusted to split the difference between two different quarterbacks who are expected to start for the remainder of the year (Carolina, New Orleans, New York Jets).
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>