2021 DVOA Projections Predict Bucs-Chiefs Rematch
Here are our DVOA projections for 2021, updated from the season forecasts in Football Outsiders Almanac 2021.
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 updates, certain players getting injured in the preseason).
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 12-5 or better, and it is going to have teams that are 5-12 or worse. It may seem like our simulation predicts half the league to be near .500, 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 2021. 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. Usually, this smaller simulation ends up more conservative than the simulation we do for the book. This year, surprisingly, it ended up less conservative, and the best teams are now listed with higher mean win projections and higher chances to win the Super Bowl. I'm not sure why that is and we'll definitely look into it before doing next year's simulations.
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.
One thing that's interesting: usually, every team ends up with at least 0.1% chance of winning the Super Bowl and at least 0.1% chance of winning the No. 1 overall pick. Perhaps it is an additional game providing more space between the best and worst teams, but this year we have some exceptions. The Jets and Texans won the Super Bowl each in fewer than 50 of our 50,000 simulations, while the Chiefs and Buccaneers won the No. 1 overall draft pick in fewer than 50 simulations.
In general, our forecast each year will "project" the playoffs to look very similar to the playoffs from the year before. (Obviously, we're projecting probabilities here rather than a clear dichotomy where certain teams are playoff teams and other teams are not.) This year, we are projecting five new playoff teams: Denver, Miami, and New England in the AFC as well as Dallas and San Francisco in the NFC. Remember that some of the teams at the bottom of our projections are going to surprise and make the playoffs. Last year, our last-place team in the projections was Washington, and they ended up winning the NFC East. Sure they only won one more game than our mean projection of 6.0 wins, but they did make the postseason!
Four teams have improved their projected mean DVOA by at least 2.5% since the simulation we ran for the book, and four teams have declined by at least 2.5%. Let's take a look at those teams, beginning with the four teams that have improved:
- For Kansas City, most of the improvement here is in the offensive projection, which was already the best in the league and is now even stronger. There are a set of variables regarding offensive line play which try to balance out offensive line continuity (which is good) and youth on the offensive line (which, it turns out, is also good). Kansas City already had no continuity but our projected lineup for the Chiefs looks a lot younger now with Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith and Lucas Niang starting. The projected defense is also a little bit younger than we thought it would be, which is a tiny bump for the defensive projection. Kansas City not only improves in DVOA but also becomes our AFC favorite because of the decline of Baltimore, which I'll get to below.
- Green Bay improves a little bit in all three phases of the game. The offensive projection likes the addition of Randall Cobb. The defensive improves... by not doing anything. Because a few teams lost significant defenders in the preseason, the whole league shifts a little bit and the other teams get a little better so that the league average stays at zero. The special teams projection improves because the Packers were very bad punting last year -- that's the part of special teams that is most stable from year to year -- and now they have a new punter, Corey Bojorquez.
- Denver improves because they named Teddy Bridgewater the starting quarterback.
- Arizona improves because of changes on the projected offensive line.
And the four teams that declined since the book:
- New Orleans improves and declines. The Saints improve because Jameis Winston was named as the starting quarterback. However, that improvement is balanced by the injury to Michael Thomas. In addition, the Saints take a hit because they won't be playing a full season of home games. Teams that play neutral-site games instead of home games generally end up with lower DVOA. It's likely that Hurricane Ida will force the Saints to play at least two games at neutral sites, with the full amount still to be determined. (This variable also hurts the Falcons and Jaguars.)
- Houston added a ton of veteran free agents in the offseason, which means the Texans actually did reasonably well in the variables that measure personnel changes (especially on defense). They jettisoned a number of those players in the last few weeks, which means that essentially we overestimated their defensive personnel in the book and have a more accurate handle on it now. Also, they take a hit from trading away Cobb.
- Baltimore lost J.K. Dobbins. I know, he's just a running back, but there's a variable based on net DYAR lost/gained compared to the previous year at positions other than quarterback, and Dobbins was sixth in rushing DYAR last season.
- Indianapolis lost value due to the injury to T.Y. Hilton and the fact that Eric Fisher and Quenton Nelson may not be ready to start the year.