by Aaron Schatz
The New England Patriots continue to march through the weakest parts of the NFL, putting up another huge DVOA rating in their 33-0 win over the Jets on Monday night. The Patriots spanked the Jets so hard that their near-record DVOA went up this week despite opponent adjustments getting stronger. The Patriots now rank as the third-best team we've ever tracked through seven games.
|BEST TOTAL DVOA
THROUGH 7 GAMES, 1986-2019
The Patriots climb in total DVOA despite the fact that their offensive rating dropped from eighth to 13th this week. Considering the field position they had all game, this was a fairly mediocre performance from the offense. But the defense is totally playing out of its gourd. You've probably seen all the insane stats elsewhere. My favorite is that the Patriots have allowed just one passing touchdown with 18 interceptions through the first seven games of the season. The waterlogged San Francisco 49ers also had a strong game against Washington this week, so both the Patriots and 49ers are on the list of the best defenses through six games. But the Patriots' fantastic performance against Sam Darnold moves them back to No. 1 among all DVOA defenses through seven weeks.
|BEST DEFENSIVE DVOA
THROUGH 6 GAMES, 1986-2019
|BEST DEFENSIVE DVOA
THROUGH 7 GAMES, 1986-2019
When you combine the Patriots' near-record DVOA with their easy remaining schedule (they're 23rd in remaining schedule strength) and the overall weakness of the AFC, you get absurdly high Super Bowl odds. Our simulation has the Patriots winning the Super Bowl 44.7% of the time. That's much higher than the betting market, which currently has the Patriots around 2:1 odds (or 33%). I admit that I wonder if we're doing something wrong to have the Patriots so high. The problem is that I don't really have anything to compare them with. If you look at the table of the best teams in DVOA through seven games, you'll notice that most of them came before we founded Football Outsiders. There's only one time we've ever dealt with trying to figure out the odds related to a team that had a DVOA or DAVE rating this high. We did playoff odds in 2007, but a) I can't find an archive of our playoff odds from that year, and b) the 2007 team would definitely have lower Super Bowl odds because they had to compete with another historically good team, the Indianapolis Colts, that played in the same conference.
The only year that possibly allows for a comparison with the 2019 Patriots is 2014. That year, we listed Denver with a 30.3% chance of winning the Super Bowl after Week 8. The next team was Baltimore at 9.5%. The eventual champion, New England, was listed at only 3.2%.
Is the problem that DVOA simply overrates the 2019 Patriots? Maybe we just aren't adjusting enough for the fact they've had the easiest schedule in the league so far. Out of curiosity, I ran another simulation that gave the Patriots the same DAVE rating as the San Francisco 49ers, roughly 20 percentage points lower than what New England's rating actually is. The Patriots were still the Super Bowl favorite in those simulations, but only won the Super Bowl 23.3% of the time. (San Francisco was second, going up from 13.4% to 16.8%.) Those odds suggest that the market believes that the difference between the Patriots and the rest of the league is about half of what DVOA thinks it is.
Meanwhile, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The Jets' spectral suckfest comes out with a single-game offensive DVOA of -84.0%. It could be even worse, as before opponent adjustment that rating is -118.0%. This game drops the Jets into last place in offense for the year, but that obscures the real headline, which is that the Miami Dolphins have climbed out of the bottom spot in offense.
In fact, Ryan Fitzpatrick not only used his Fitzmagic to take the Miami Dolphins off the list of all-time worst offenses, he also used that Fitzmagic to take the Miami Dolphins out of their spot as the all-time worst team ever tracked by DVOA. That title through six games now belongs to the 2005 San Francisco 49ers, who also are the worst team ever tracked through an entire season. However, the Fitzmagic can only go so far, as the Dolphins defense is still a disaster. Giving the poor Bills offense 6.0 yards per play combined with some changes in the opponent adjustments on their other games makes Miami the worst defense we've ever tracked through six games.
|WORST TOTAL DVOA
THROUGH 6 GAMES, 1986-2019
|WORST DEFENSIVE DVOA
THROUGH 6 GAMES, 1986-2019
As for the Buffalo Bills, their offensive DVOA moved up to 23rd this week but their defensive DVOA dropped from third all the way down to 12th after they allowed Miami to gain yards and score points against them. Combine all three phases of the game, and the Bills hold steady at No. 21 in the DVOA ratings. That's not where we normally find a 5-1 team. How bad is it? The Bills are officially the worst 5-1 team in DVOA history. I addressed Buffalo's playoff odds a couple weeks ago in the DVOA commentary, but let's talk about how they've managed to go 5-1 despite such a poor DVOA rating. First, the schedule. Only New England has played an easier schedule so far, and only New England plays an easier schedule over the course of the entire season. (Based on current ratings, the Patriots and Bills are projected to play two of the five easiest schedules we've ever tracked.) Second, for some reason opposing kickers seem totally unable to kick against the Bills this year. Bills opponents are 2-of-8 on field goals, with only one of those blocked by the Bills. They've also missed two extra points. Two of their wins, over the Jets and Titans, can be directly tied to missed kicks by the other team.
I thought I would go back and look at the previous worst 5-1 teams by DVOA. They're interesting because two of them eventually made it to the Super Bowl.
|WORST 5-1 TEAMS BY DVOA, 1986-2019|
|1991||DET||-2.2%||16||12-4||-1.2%||17||Won division, lost AFC CG|
|1998||ATL||-1.9%||18||14-2||18.8%||7||Won division, lost SB|
|2003||CAR||0.1%||18||11-5||0.6%||16||Won division, lost SB|
|1996||IND||0.5%||18||9-7||-12.2%||22||Wild card, lost WC|
|2014||ARI||0.6%||15||11-5||-6.4%||22||Wild card, lost WC|
|1987||MIN||4.4%||13||8-4 (8-7)||1.3%||12||Wild card, lost NFC CG|
|2004||MIN||4.9%||11||8-8||-8.1%||20||Wild card, lost DIV|
|2011||DET||4.9%||15||10-6||10.1%||11||Wild card, lost WC|
The most interesting team here is the 1998 Atlanta Falcons. That Falcons start was in some ways similar to this Bills start. The first six 1998 Falcons opponents had an average DVOA of -17.4% after Week 7, the easiest schedule in the league that year. There was nobody as bad as this year's Dolphins, but that included the No. 26 Saints, the No. 29 Eagles, and two games against the No. 27 Panthers. The only good team the Falcons played early was San Francisco, which ranked No. 5 after seven weeks. That was also Atlanta's only loss.
Those 1998 Falcons aso had a kooky game with the Panthers in Week 5 in which they were outgained on average, 6.1 yards to 4.8 yards, and yet they won 51-23. Both teams threw two interceptions but Carolina also fumbled five times, and lost four of them. Atlanta only fumbled once, and recovered their own fumble.
Through six games, the Falcons were gaining 5.4 yards per play and giving up 5.6 yards per play. Then they got slaughtered by the Jets, 28-3 in Week 8. After that, they turned things on. From Week 9 until the end of the season, the Falcons gained 6.2 yards per play and gave up only 4.6 yards per play. Atlanta's total DVOA from Week 9 onwards was 37.9%. So while the Falcons' 5-1 start was similar to the 2019 Bills' 5-1 start, it's unlikely the Bills will suddenly become one of the league's best teams and go 9-1 over their final ten games.
Taking advantage of an easy schedule is a general trend here. For example, the 1991 Lions ranked 24th out of 28 teams in schedule strength after six games which is kind of crazy since they started the season with a 45-0 loss to the best team in DVOA history, the 1991 Washington Redskins. But their other early opponents ranked 17, 22, 23, 25, and 28 as of Week 6. The 2015 Falcons were 24th in schedule after Week 6. They also were similar to Buffalo in that opponents had terrible luck on field goals. 2015 Falcons opponents were 6-of-11 on field goals through Week 6, with all those misses coming indoors.
The 2003 Panthers were a little different. Unlike these other teams, Carolina didn't take advantage of an easy schedule. At least, they didn't in the early part of the year. Carolina ranked tenth in schedule strength after six games, but dead last in future schedule strength, which helps explain why they kept winning all year despite having a DVOA that hovered near 0.0%. Carolina's 5-1 start included four wins by less than a touchdown including two in overtime. By the end of the season, they ended up finishing 9-3 in one-score games.
The 1998 Falcons are obviously a huge outlier, but most of these teams didn't get much better over the course of the season. Yet many of them made the playoffs thanks to their 5-1 starts. And the Bills might too.
A few other bullet points from Week 7:
- Aaron Rodgers' perfect passer rating translated to DVOA as well, as Green Bay's 78.1% against Oakland was the best single-game offensive performance of the year so far.
- With by far their worst performance of the year, the Eagles plummeted from eighth to 15th in total DVOA and from sixth to 18th in offensive DVOA. The Eagles have had a very strange schedule this season. They have two games with single-game ratings above 70%, their Week 4 and 5 wins over the Packers and Jets. All five of their other games, including their Week 1 win over Washington, have negative ratings.
- The DVOA system loved Jacksonville's win over Cincinnati. The score was only 27-17, but the Jaguars outgained the Bengals 460 yards to 291 yards and had four takeaways. The Jaguars had only two takeaways in their first six games combined before four against the Bengals. This performance moved the Jaguars up to a surprising No. 12. Even more surprising, the Jaguars rank higher on offense (11) than defense (17). And even more surprising than that is the fact that DVOA ranks the Jaguars higher than either Houston or Indianapolis, the two favorites in the AFC South. The Colts in particular are being held down by poor ratings for their close 27-24 win over Atlanta in Week 3 and their 31-24 loss to Oakland in Week 4. All six Indianapolis games have finished within a touchdown.
- The hardest schedules in the league so far have belonged to the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers. The easiest remaining schedules in the league belong to the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers.
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These are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through seven 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.
Because it is early in the season, opponent adjustments are only at 70 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 25 percent of DAVE for teams with seven games and 35 percent of DAVE for teams with six games. DAVE for Kansas City and New Orleans assumes that Patrick Mahomes/Drew Brees will play 2/3 of remaining 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).