So, let's talk about Green Bay some more. Their narrow win over the Giants actually drops their overall season DVOA slightly. I'll admit, the whole Packers situation is a bit frustrating. The majority of the football commentariat describes Green Bay as unbeatable, as head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the league. Those of us who look at things a little closer know that the Packers have flaws. We know there is a difference between "unbeatable" and "unbeaten." And yet... let's face it, it just looks weird to not have an undefeated 12-0 team on top of the DVOA ratings. It's even worse now that they've dropped to third in Weighted DVOA. Doesn't Green Bay look like the best team in the league to all of us, even if we don't think they should be ranked among the best teams of all time?
That's a quote from my DVOA commentary after Week 13 of the 2011 season. Does it sound familiar?
I've detailed my frustrations about the 2020 Kansas City Chiefs, both in Audibles each week and in the DVOA commentaries. The majority of the football commentariat believes the Kansas City Chiefs are massive favorites to win the Super Bowl, that there's a chasm between the Chiefs and the rest of the league. "If it's Chiefs vs. The Field to win the Super Bowl, most would take the Chiefs" according to Pro Football Talk this week. "The Chiefs are inevitable and they just feel unbeatable," wrote our old friend Charles McDonald this week. Even analytics people on Twitter maintain that the Chiefs are dominant. "I just don't see how any team except maybe -- MAYBE -- the Packers can beat this Chiefs team," said Ben Baldwin on Twitter Sunday.
And I'm frustrated and feel like I'm going a little bit crazy because every week the Chiefs play a close game and they don't pull away from the rest of the league in our DVOA ratings. It's not just that the Chiefs aren't way ahead of everyone else; the Chiefs aren't even No. 1. And just like the 2011 Packers after Week 13... the Chiefs had a narrow win this week that actually dropped their overall season DVOA slightly. Yes, that's right, the Saints ended up with a higher DVOA on Sunday than the Chiefs did. It was 39.8% total for the Saints, 12.9% for the Chiefs. The Saints outgained the Chiefs 5.5 yards per play to 4.7, while the Chiefs had the higher success rate, 49% to 40%. Add in the Chiefs' fumbles and the Drew Brees interception, and the offense and defense ratings were basically even. The difference comes in the special teams. I did not count the free kick at the end of the first half, or else the gap would have been even larger. Losing seven yards on a punt return is bad, and getting the ball stripped is worse.
Do you feel like that overrates special teams? Maybe it does, but that doesn't matter to Kansas City's overall DVOA. The Chiefs rank third in total DVOA behind New Orleans and Tampa Bay, and second in weighted DVOA behind New Orleans. If we took out special teams, they would rank... exactly the same, because right now Kansas City has a special teams DVOA of 0.0%.
Trying to figure out why my opinion of the Chiefs is so much different from everybody else's opinion of the Chiefs, I brainstormed for similar teams and came up with the 2011 Packers. But I didn't realize quite how similar these two teams were until I went back and looked at what I wrote about the Packers while the 2011 season was going on.
In order to talk about Green Bay properly, I think we need to separate the concepts of "greatness" and "dominance." The Packers are by no means a dominant team. They are fairly one-dimensional; that dimension just happens to be performing off the charts... Some readers have suggested that perhaps total DVOA is not the proper measure to use when a team is so superlative in one area of the game. That's the "defense doesn't matter, because Aaron Rodgers can outscore anybody" theory.
Now this should really be sounding familiar.
Aaron Rodgers spent the 2011 season outscoring everybody... until he suddenly didn't. First came Week 15, when the Packers lost their first game of the season. Ironically, the team they lost to was Kansas City. The Chiefs sacked Rodgers four times and kept him to 235 passing yards while Kyle Orton -- remember when he played four games for Kansas City? -- had 299 passing yards and the Chiefs had four field goals to win 19-14.
It didn't really matter, though. That was considered a blip by pretty much everyone. The Packers were still prohibitive favorites to win the Super Bowl going into the 2011 playoffs. They were 8-point favorites over the Giants in their first playoff game. Then they lost 37-20. Eli Manning torched the Packers defense for 330 passing yards and three touchdowns. The Packers fumbled the ball three times and the Giants recovered all three. And just like that, the Green Bay Packers went home, and their attempt to defend the title was over.
If the Packers are not a dominant team, how have they managed to go 12-0 this season? The main answer is consistency. The Packers have been absurdly consistent. After this week, the Packers lead the league with 3.3% variance.
It was just last week that I wrote about the fact that Kansas City has been the most consistent team in the NFL this year from week to week. After the Saints game, they now lead the NFL with a 3.9% variance. It's just one of the many similarities between the 2020 Chiefs and the 2011 Packers. Both teams were the defending champions, so they "took every team's best blow." Both teams were led by all-time great quarterbacks having all-time great passing seasons. Both teams were mediocre running the ball and defending against the pass. Both teams were porous defending against the run. This table looks at the current version of DVOA and has numbers through Week 15, matching this year's Chiefs with the Packers after their only regular-season loss, By that point, Green Bay was on top of the DVOA ratings, but just barely.
|2011 GB vs. 2020 KC after Week 15|
|Total DVOA||24.7% (1)||23.4% (3)|
|Pass Offense||61.7% (1)||53.4% (1)|
|Run Offense||0.7% (10)||-5.5% (13)|
|Pass Defense||9.2% (20)||3.1% (13)|
|Run Defense||5.5% (29)||2.6% (30)|
|Special Teams||2.2% (7)||0.0% (17)|
You know how the Chiefs make games close by giving up points late when they already have a very high win probability? That's one of the arguments as to why the Chiefs are more dominant than their close wins would suggest. Turns out the 2011 Packers did the same thing. In Week 2, they came back from a 13-0 deficit but the game ended close, a 30-23 Packers win, after a Cam Newton rushing touchdown with 37 seconds left. In Week 7, they beat the Vikings by only six points, 33-27, because Minnesota scored 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. In Week 9, a 45-24 lead ended up a 45-38 victory after Philip Rivers hit Vincent Jackson twice in a 1:07 span in the fourth quarter.
Is there something in the way DVOA is built that is missing an indicator of Green Bay's dominance? I don't think so. Instead of looking at Green Bay with DVOA, let's look at Green Bay with a fairly simple measure: points scored and allowed. Most readers know that we can estimate a team's wins and losses based on points scored and allowed, known as the Pythagorean projection. And here's the thing: By Pythagorean wins, Green Bay is not the best team in the league this year... Green Bay's totals of 420 points scored and 262 points allowed work out to a Pythagorean win percentage of .754, or 9.0 wins. The difference between Green Bay's actual win percentage and Pythagorean win percentage is the second-highest since the merger, behind only the 1992 Indianapolis Colts.
I used the original article in 2011 to introduce our adjusted "Pythagenport" projections that adjusted the exponent in the Pythagorean projections to reflect the offensive environment that each team plays in. That raised the Packers' Pythagorean projection to .776. By the end of the season, the Packers had added on the loss to Kansas City and a big win over Oakland, so the gap between their winning percentage and Pythagorean projection had gotten smaller.
And where do the Chiefs stand now? This Kansas City Chiefs team has one of the largest gaps between the Pythagorean projection and actual winning percentage we've ever seen. Do you remember how we were all writing about last year's Packers and Seahawks? Everyone in the analytics world agreed: Green Bay was not really a "13-3 team" and the best evidence for that was their small point differential. That Packers team had a huge gap between projected wins and actual wins. And this year's Chiefs have an even bigger gap. Going back to 2000, the only teams with a bigger gap between Pythagorean projection and actual win percentage are the 2012 Indianapolis Colts and this year's Cleveland Browns.
|Biggest Gap for Pythagorean Win Pct and Actual Win Pct, 2000-2020|
I made this table back to 2000 so it would be teams everyone remembers, but we could take it all the way back to 1978 and the only teams that we would add above the Chiefs and Browns are the 1992 Indianapolis Colts and the 1982 Los Angeles Raiders in a strike-shortened season. Obviously, things can change in the final two games, especially if Kansas City sits its starters and takes a loss to the Chargers in Week 17. Still, the analytics community usually critiques teams that win this many close games. That happened with the Browns. That hasn't happened with the Chiefs.
The Chiefs are this year's leader in Pythagorean wins with 9.9, but the Ravens have 9.8 and the Dolphins have 9.6 and the Saints have 9.5 and the Packers have 9.2. Teams are pretty closely grouped together.
So, let's circle back to the issue I brought up a few paragraphs ago, that we need to separate the concepts of "greatness" and "dominance." I think it's fair to say that the Packers are a great team, even if they aren't a dominant one... The toughest tests the Packers will face will not be in their remaining four games. The toughest test will be the playoffs.
Despite what DVOA says, I agree with the conventional wisdom that Kansas City is the best team in the NFL going forward. Plenty of research suggests that offense matters more than defense and special teams going forward. It's something we're trying to figure out how to account for in future versions of DVOA. Count defense and special teams with 67% strength, using weighted DVOA to get more strength for recent games, and you end up with this top five:
And with that change, we've made the Chiefs the best team in our ratings. This also doesn't account for the Saints defense getting to play against Kendall Hinton in Week 12. Account for that, and we've moved the Saints down below Buffalo. But then, we also should account for the absence of Drew Brees. He didn't have a good game this week, but his performance in Weeks 1-10 is more predictive than just one game that he had on Sunday. Take out the offense in the Taysom Hill games, and now the Saints are back to 24.8%, breathing down the neck of the Chiefs. Discount defense and special teams further, and the other teams move down but you do very little to change the gap between Kansas City and Green Bay. We still don't end up with a situation where Kansas City is ahead of the rest of the league by leaps and bounds.
The Chiefs are not exactly the 2011 Packers. There's no guarantee that they will lose in the playoffs in the same way. There are some significant differences between the two teams.
- The Chiefs have better coaching than the 2011 Packers.
- The Chiefs have a better defense than the 2011 Packers.
- Patrick Mahomes' record of performing exceedingly well when the team is behind is like no other quarterback.
- Based on weighted DVOA, the Packers declined over the course of the 2011 season. The Chiefs are not declining in a similar way.
We may not have the Chiefs as No. 1 in DVOA or even weighted DVOA but we still give them the best chance to win the Super Bowl because they're a very good team with a first-round bye. They win it all in 25% of our simulations, which is lower than other sites that do similar odds but still pretty impressive. The Chiefs even could rampage through the playoffs like an offensive version of the 1985 Bears, blowing out every opponent. It's a high-variance league, and that variance goes in both directions.
But I've been here before, nine years ago, with a very similar team. And that didn't end in the way people expected.
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And now for something completely different... do you realize how bad the Houston Texans running game is this year? I keep meaning to say something about this. Right now Houston is averaging 3.54 yards per carry, not including scrambles. They have a league-low 36% success rate on running plays. It works out to -34.4% DVOA on runs, and that is the second-worst figure in our entire database. The only team that was worse? Last year's Miami Dolphins.
|Worst Rush Offense DVOA, 1985-2020|
However, it's not quite that easy. You might remember from a few weeks ago when I wrote about the New Orleans run defense that there's a bit of a quirk here because of the way DVOA is calculated. All plays, both passes and runs, get thrown into team DVOA. For offensive DVOA, this also includes some dead-ball penalties. The league average for all plays is set to 0% every year. Since passes are more efficient than runs, the league average DVOA for passes is going to be positive every year while the league average DVOA for runs is usually going to be negative. (Because all penalties are negative, it is occasionally slightly positive.) And the difference between passes and runs has gotten larger in recent years.
So instead of comparing the Houston running game to all plays, we'll compare Houston runs only to other runs. We'll do this by subtracting each team's run offense DVOA from the league average for that season. Now we get this list of the worst dozen running games instead. Houston is still on it, but much lower down:
|Worst Rush Offense DVOA vs. NFL Average, 1985-2020|
|YEAR||TEAM||DVOA||NFL AVG||vs. AVG|
That's still pretty bad though! Appropriately, the Texans have also run the ball much less than any other team. They have 241 carries this year, not including scrambles or aborted snaps. Jacksonville is at 272, and every other offense is over 290.
This isn't all David Johnson's fault, by the way. Comparing only runs to other runs, David Johnson has a rush DVOA of -5.8%, which is below average but not horrible. His running back success rate of 43%, using a slightly different definition for success rate, ranks 38 of 40 running backs. But Duke Johnson has a rush DVOA of -44.7% and C.J. Prosise has -120.8% on 10 carries and even Deshaun Watson is only at -0.2% when you take out scrambles and aborted snaps.
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We'll finish up the week with an update on our odds of the NFC East producing a division champion with a losing record. Three of the four teams lost to non-division opponents, so these odds went way up. We're already guaranteed that the NFC East champion will be no better than 8-8. Going further than that:
- Entire NFC East is 7-8-1 or worse: 71.9% (up from 43.2%)
- Entire NFC East is 6-9-1 or worse: 15.4% (up from 4.4%)
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Football Outsiders playoff odds, snap counts, and the FO+ database are now all updated through Week 15. A reminder that all 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.
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Here is the Football Outsiders Top 16 through 15 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>
If you're curious, the missing team in weighted DVOA (ranked 15th) is Cleveland.
For the full table, including variance, schedule strength, and non-adjusted VOA, visit the Football Outsiders DVOA database.