Here are our DVOA projections for 2020, updated from the season forecasts in Football Outsiders Almanac 2020.
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 going back to 2003. 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 or opting out due to COVID-19).
Also, for housekeeping purposes, I'll note that these projections aren't in any way related to the new version of DVOA we announced last week. This still the same projection system we've been using the last couple of years; we'll need to put together an updated system next year that projects the new DVOA v7.3 and accounts for dome teams being higher on defense but lower on offense because of dome adjustments. However, the differences between the new and old DVOA are very small on offense and average only around 2% on defense so it wouldn't have a very large effect on these projections.
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 full 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 2020. 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. Mark Sunday, December 20 on your calendar, because if our projections are 100% accurate, that afternoon will bring us a Super Bowl LV preview between the New Orleans Saints and the Kansas City Chiefs.
|RK||SCHED||RK||NO. 1 PICK
Usually, we project the playoffs to look very similar to the playoffs from the year before. This year there's more change than usual, although that's helped by the addition of a seventh playoff team in each conference. However, even if we only had two wild cards per conference, we would be projecting six new playoff teams this year. Those new playoff teams are Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Dallas, the Los Angeles Rams, and Detroit. The teams we have dropping out of the playoffs are San Francisco (the big surprise to people, although the 49ers are only barely out), Green Bay, Minnesota, and Houston.
By far the biggest change in these projections compared to those listed in FO Almanac 2020 comes in the AFC East. The Jets and Patriots have both fallen significantly. The Jamal Adams trade plays a big role for the Jets, and COVID-19 opt-outs also affect both teams. We still have the Patriots narrowly ahead of the Buffalo Bills but the gap is much smaller than it was in the book and the Patriots have gone from eighth to 15th in how often they win the Super Bowl in our simulations.
Sometimes small changes in our projections are related to little variables based on continuity and/or average age at certain positions, but big moves are often attributable to major personnel changes. For example, three other teams have also dropped by 2.0% or more in mean DVOA projection: Las Vegas (Tyrell Williams), Baltimore (Earl Thomas), and Kansas City (Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Damien Williams).
The largest improvements between the book and this forecast are harder to explain, they're more about small changes in offensive line variables or age of skill position players. Tennessee (Jadaveon Clowney) and Seattle (Jamal Adams) are easier to attribute to specific player additions. The other teams that improved by over 2.0% since the original forecast are the New York Giants, Detroit, and Carolina, which is no longer projected as our favorite to pick No. 1 overall.
Except for considering COVID-19 opt outs as personnel losses, these projections make no attempt to subjectively change our usual forecast system to account for whatever may be different in the 2020 season due to the pandemic.