Baltimore has been the clearly most dominant team in the NFL through two weeks according to the Football Outsiders DVOA ratings. The Ravens are No. 1 with a rating nearly double that of any other team, and they rank in the top five in all three phases of the game.
Most of the teams you expect are at the top of the ratings, the 2-0 teams that have played two strong games this year. Seattle and Pittsburgh round out the top three. Remember last week, when Green Bay shockingly came out with a negative rating for its win over Minnesota? That wasn't a problem this week; Green Bay's win over Detroit had the second-highest single-game rating of Week 2 and powers the Packers up to fourth in overall DVOA. Right behind them is the team that had the best DVOA of the week, the Los Angeles Rams, followed by Buffalo. All good so far.
So what are the New Orleans Saints doing at No. 7? How did they move up two spots after they lost to Las Vegas? And even stranger, how did Las Vegas drop 12 spots after a win to rank 20th, the lowest of the 2-0 teams? Looks like I have another weird result to explain.
In some ways, this result is similar to the weird results of Week 1 that I explained in last week's commentary. Once again, the team with the higher DVOA for the game ran fewer plays. Las Vegas had 76 total plays while New Orleans had just 57. But the Saints gained more net yardage than the Raiders, 424-375. Even if you eliminate the meaningless 48-yard final Saints drive, the teams were nearly tied, 376-375.
How did the Saints match the Raiders in total yardage and beat them in DVOA? Well, we're talking efficiency stats here, and when you look at official plays, the Saints were better by pretty much any efficiency metric. The Saints gained 7.4 yards per play compared to just 4.9 yards per play for the Raiders. The Saints had a 60% success rate wihle the Raiders were at 47%. Each team had two turnovers, with the Saints' one interception balancing out two Raiders fumbles (one recovered by each team).
There's a big difference in this game, however, that we didn't see in the games we discussed in Week 1: penalties. Oh man, there were a lot of penalties on the Saints in this game. The Saints took 10 penalties for 129 yards. The Raiders took only 3 penalties for 13 yards.
DVOA only includes a few penalties, based on research on what helped the system be more predictive. Mainly, the two pass interference penalties for 49 yards count in DVOA. The other penalties do not, and they had a huge impact on this game.
The best example of this is the Saints' only third-quarter drive. Officially, the Saints gained 67 yards on six plays. However, they also lost 35 yards on three plays. DVOA looks at this drive and says, "Hey, here's an offense that's pretty efficient considering how many yards they are gaining compared to the down-and-distance.
- 20 yards on first-and-10
- 16 yards on first-and-10
- 4 yards on first-and-20
- 10 yards on second-and-26
- 9 yards on second-and-31
- 8 yards on third-and-22
Only the first two plays are successful by our success rate metric. However, remember, DVOA isn't just about success. It's about success compared to a baseline. Four of those plays are better than the baseline. Those second down plays are failures, but they gain more yardage than the expectation in those situations. So overall, DVOA likes this drive. It suggests success for this offense in the future.
Should DVOA be doing more to incorporate penalties, and thus give the Saints offense less credit for a drive like this? Maybe. I've played around with penalties in the past to try to figure out a way to incorporate them in DVOA and make it more predictive. I'll probably play around with them some more in the future. For now, this is how we do things and how it comes out best for us.
The other issue is probably whether DVOA is still not doing enough to cut off garbage time. The Saints had a much better DVOA in the second half of this game than in the first. Should it matter that they were losing all that time? Well, the Saints had four drives in the second half. For three of them, the Saints were still within one score and were very much in the game. The fourth drive was meaningless, down 10 with 1:05 left. Let's take that out. Let's also take out the three rushing plays the Raiders ran after the DPI on Janoris Jenkins mostly iced the game with 2:14 remaining. (Ignore the fact that it didn't ice the game entirely; Daniel Carlson could have easily honked a 54-yard field goal, giving the Saints the ball back with 1:05 and 56 yards to go to score a touchdown.)
Take those plays out and the DVOA for this game absolutely changes. It just doesn't change that much.
New Orleans goes from 39.1% to 28.7%.
Las Vegas goes from -28.9% to -15.8%.
Either way, we're ending up with New Orleans higher for the game. Add on Week 2 to what we had for Week 1 and the Saints' rating for the season goes up, and the Raiders' rating for the season goes down. Now combine that with the preseason projection for the Saints, which was the highest in the league and still counts 85% of the Saints' DAVE rating. That means that despite being 1-1, the Saints are still second in DAVE and third in our Super Bowl odds.
To answer the inevitable question: Yes, I have eyes. I saw how the Saints played this week. I saw how desperate they looked at the end, when Sean Payton threw a ridiculous challenge flag on an obvious non-fumble. I know the advanced stats on Brees, that he's gone from the king of CPOE (completion percentage over expected) to the bottom of the league this year. He looks like his arm is shot, and he can't get the ball downfield. He's not even trying to get the ball downfield. And yet despite this, the Saints gained 7.4 yards per play this week, which ranked fourth in the league for Week 2. Take out that last meaningless drive, and the Saints still averaged 7.2 yards per play when the game was in doubt.
As for incorporating the preseason projection, I don't have a lot of confidence in that given how Brees has played in the first two weeks. But this is what all our research has shown that we should do: for most of the season, your preseason projection is still giving you good information about how good a team is. You get the most accurate picture of how good a team will be for the rest of the season by considering both early results and what you knew going into the season. Maybe Drew Brees has suddenly turned into 2015 Peyton Manning, but it's going to be a while longer before we know if he's cooked for good. And we can't change how much we consider the preseason for this team specifically just because we don't like how Brees has looked in the first two games.
(Quick aside: Raiders-Saints was one of two games where the losing team had the higher DVOA. Giants-Bears was the other, which explains how the Bears dropped down to No. 18 despite being 2-0.)
The Saints aren't the only team where we might be questioning the usefulness of our preseason projection at this point. Let's talk about the Philadelphia Eagles. They look horrendous through two games, dead last in DVOA. This is a team that we projected to be above-average and a playoff contender. How sure can we be after two games that this projection is garbage?
The answer is: not as sure as you probably think.
I went back and looked at the last eight years of Football Outsiders projections to find other teams that had an above-average projection and then got off to a hideous start. Here's where the Eagles stand among those teams:
|Worst Starts by Teams with Positive Preseason Projection, 2012-2020|
A real mixed bag here. The 2015 Saints had a surprisingly bad DVOA to start the season, even though they lost those two games 31-19 to Arizona and 26-19 to Tampa Bay. They finished the season 7-9 with one of the worst defenses of all time. The 2017 Giants' poor start was a definite sign that the team would fall off from an 11-5 season to a 3-13 garbage fire that cost Ben McAdoo his job. The 2019 Steelers, of course, lost their quarterback in Week 2 and dramatically underperformed their projection. But some of these teams also rebounded. The 2014 Chiefs were good for the rest of the year. So were the 2012 Bengals and the 2013 49ers.
So what's the prognosis for the Eagles? It could be anything, from a rebound to a collapse, but it's interesting to note that the average remaining DVOA for these other 10 teams was -2.0% -- almost exactly what the current DAVE rating is for the Eagles combining their Week 1-2 performance with their preseason projection. That's the most likely result, that the Eagles will be an average team the rest of the way, not as good as expected but not as bad as they've been these first two weeks.
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Once again this year, the DAVE ratings have been adjusted based on a slew of injuries in the second week of the season. The projections incorporated in the DAVE ratings have been adjusted for season-ending injuries such as Saquon Barkley, Courtland Sutton, and Anthony Barr. I've also made temporary changes in the playoff odds simulation for four major offensive injuries: Jimmy Garoppolo, Drew Lock, Christian McCaffrey, and Michael Thomas. Once again, I'm treating DAVE the same way I did last year. Since DAVE is an attempt to project DVOA for the remainder of the season, the DAVE listed on our stat tables incorporates each of these injuries with a rating in between what DAVE would be with and without each injury. Each player is projected to miss one-third of the rest of the season.
For example, the Panthers take a 9% DVOA hit to their offensive projection without Christian McCaffrey. Their total DAVE would be -15.2% with McCaffrey and -22.9% without McCaffrey. One-third of that difference is -2.6%. Add that to the DAVE with McCaffrey, to represent one-third of the season without him, and you get the listed DAVE of -17.8%.
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These are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through two 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 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.) Our second weekly table which includes schedule strength, variance, and estimated wins will appear beginning after Week 4.
DAVE is a formula which combines our preseason forecast with current DVOA to get a more accurate projection of how a team will play the rest of the season. DAVE is currently 85% preseason forecast and 15% actual performance.
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>