The New Orleans Saints open up an even wider lead over the rest of the NFL in this week's Football Outsiders DVOA ratings. The Saints' 24-9 win over Atlanta moves them up from fifth to third in defensive DVOA and -- here's the shocking part -- moves them up from sixth to fifth in offensive DVOA.
Yes, that's right. The Saints lost future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees and received a ton of criticism for the decision to start a 30-year-old gadget player (Taysom Hill) instead of their more experienced backup (Jameis Winston). And yet their offensive DVOA went up this week.
Last week, the Saints had offensive DVOA of 13.5%. This week, they have offensive DVOA of 15.0%. Some of that is changes in opponent adjustments, but the Saints also got 18.2% offensive DVOA for Sunday's game, slightly higher than their rating for the year. However, as you might expect, this wasn't because of passing (-1.8%) but instead because of rushing (36.0%) where the Saints had their best single-game rating of the season so far.
Meanwhile, the Saints defense is red hot, allowing ratings below -40% in each of the last three wins. For the season, the Saints don't have a single game with a negative DVOA, even their losses. After adjusting for opponent, they have only one below-average game on offense (Week 5 vs. the Chargers) and only one below-average game on defense (Week 7 vs. the Panthers).
The Saints are now in the top five in all three phases of the game: offense, defense, and special teams. Since 1999, only four teams have been in the top five of all three phases at this point of the season: the 1999 Rams, the 2001 Eagles, the 2007 Patriots, and now the 2020 Saints. Going all the way back to 1985, the only teams to finish a season in the top five of all three phases were the 1985 Bears, the 1991 Redskins, the 1992 Eagles, the 1996 Packers, the 2012 Seahawks, and the 2015 Seahawks.
The rest of the DVOA top 12 stays mostly the same. No. 2 Tampa Bay drops in DVOA after a loss to the Rams but stays ahead of the No. 3 Pittsburgh Steelers. The movement comes with Seattle and the Rams each moving up two spots to No. 6 and No. 7, respectively. They replace Baltimore and Green Bay who each drop two spots to No. 8 and No. 9. Tennessee also moves up three spots to No. 13, switching places with Minnesota, which is down three spots to No. 16.
One of the reasons that New Orleans and Tampa Bay are so high in DVOA is that they've played difficult schedules so far, starting with the two games they've played against each other. Based on average DVOA of opponent, New Orleans has played the No. 5 toughest schedule this year, while Tampa Bay's schedule ranks No. 4.
We're a little after midseason but this is still a good time to review schedule strength numbers and the effect that adjustments are having on DVOA. We're going to look at the teams with the biggest difference between DVOA and VOA. The VOA used here not only removes opponent adjustments but also the adjustment that makes all fumbles equal and the weather/altitude adjustments for special teams.
Top 5 Teams Adjusted Upward
1) Las Vegas, which goes from -4.4% VOA (19th) to 3.1% DVOA (14th). Las Vegas has played the third-toughest schedule in the league so far this year and things are about to get much easier. Their schedule ranks 30th the rest of the way. The Raiders have also had poor fumble recovery luck, particularly losing 7 of 11 fumbles on offense.
2) The New York Jets go from -41.2% VOA to -36.8% DVOA. Both are in last place, of course. The Jets are slightly less horrible than you think they are! What's interesting is that based on average DVOA of opponent, the Jets have played a slightly below-average schedule. However, they can't take advantage of the weaknesses in the schedule because they are terrible. For example, the Jets have played a few teams where the pass defense is much better than the run defense, including Kansas City, Miami, and Buffalo. This doesn't help when the Jets aren't able to run the ball because they fall behind and have to pass to catch up.
3) Detroit goes from -11.4% VOA (25th) to -7.3% DVOA (19th). Oh Lions, how you have become the bane of my existence. The Lions have played the No. 7 schedule and have recovered only 3 of 12 fumbles on defense. I hate having to say this but... they're better than they look. Although three of their four worst games of the year by DVOA have come in the last month.
4) Minnesota goes from -1.6% VOA (15th) to 2.4% DVOA (16th). Yes, it's a little odd: the Vikings improve with opponent adjustments yet they drop a spot in the rankings because Las Vegas improves even more. Minnesota has played the No. 9 schedule and has recovered just 2 of 11 fumbles on defense.
5) New Orleans goes from 35.0% VOA (2nd) to 39.0% DVOA (1st). We covered New Orleans in detail above.
Also: Chicago, Carolina, and Tampa Bay.
Top 5 Teams Adjusted Downward
1) Pittsburgh plummets from 42.6% VOA (1st) to 27.4% DVOA (2nd). By far the team most affected by our adjustments, as the raw play-by-play data has the undefeated Steelers as the top team of the year. Pittsburgh has played the easiest schedule in the league including six games against teams ranked 25th or lower. They've also had great fumble recovery luck, primarily by recovering 8 of 11 fumbles on offense.
2) Philadelphia drops from -12.7% VOA (26th) to -20.7% DVOA (28th). Philadelphia ranks 26th in past schedule by DVOA compared to third in upcoming schedule. Philadelphia has also recovered 70% of fumbles this year including 12 of 18 fumbles on offense, 7 of 10 fumbles on defense, plus a couple of fumbles of special teams. The Eagles are the lowest-rated of the four NFC East teams according to DVOA and because of that plus the difficult upcoming schedule, they've now been passed by the New York Giants as our NFC East favorites in the playoff odds simulation. Washington is the best of the four teams but also has a difficult future schedule.
3) Cleveland drops from -2.6% VOA (18th) to -9.9% DVOA (22nd). Even if we didn't have opponent adjustments, Cleveland would be the lowest rated of all the teams with winning records, but the No. 27-ranked schedule drops them even further.
4) Miami drops from 13.7% VOA (9th) to 7.6% DVOA (10th). Miami has played the No. 28 schedule and is another team with strong fumble luck this year, including 8 of 11 fumbles on defense. The latter may regress towards the mean but the former won't -- the Dolphins also have the No. 28 upcoming schedule.
5) Arizona drops from 13.5% VOA (10th) to 7.5% DVOA (11th). Arizona has played the No. 25 schedule.
Also: Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Washington.
Finally, since we just addressed both Pittsburgh and the NFC East, let's take a look at updated odds that we've been tracking for some extreme results. Click on the links to see the simulation odds for each of the remaining Steelers and Jets games.
- Pittsburgh goes 16-0: 15.7% (up from 8.5%) -- click here for details
- New York Jets go 0-16: 20.9% (up from 14.9%) -- click here for details
- Entire NFC East has a losing record: 80.4% (down from 82.8%)
- Entire NFC East is 6-9-1 or worse: 36.5% (down from 45.5%)
- Entire NFC East is 5-10-1 or worse: 4.1% (down from 9.3%)
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You may have noticed a bit of a change on Football Outsiders over the last few days. All of our free stats pages, including DVOA and player position stats, now require registration to view. This is not a paywall! You only need to register (for free) and then log in to the site to view these pages. While you're at it, you can get a seven-day trial of FO+ and check out the FO+ features like a deeper DVOA database, weekly fantasy projections, and picks against the spread.
One of the advantages of this change is a better mobile experience. If you are viewing our stats pages on mobile, click on a team and you'll get a "mobile flyout" that lists all the stats for that team without having to scroll right across the whole big table. We're working on setting up player position pages to work like this on mobile as well.
As part of this change, we're going to ask readers to go to the team DVOA page to check out the full team table each week. I'll run the top half of the table here in the DVOA commentary, with the full table (including both weighted DVOA and DAVE, plus schedule strength, estimated wins, etc.) available in the DVOA database.
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Here is the Football Outsiders Top 16 through 11 weeks of 2020, 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 for performance indoors and 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.
WEIGHTED DVOA gives recent games more strength than older games to get a better idea of how well teams are playing now.
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>
For the full table, including DAVE, schedule strength, and non-adjusted VOA, visit the Football Outsiders DVOA database.