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09 Jan 2012

Week 18 DVOA Ratings

by Aaron Schatz

Once again, it is time for postseason DVOA ratings. As always, the following rules apply:

  • All 32 teams are ranked, whether they made the playoffs or not.
  • Teams are ranked in order of weighted DVOA, not total season DVOA.  Since weighted DVOA is meant to lower the strength of older games, these ratings do not include Weeks 1-4, and Weeks 5-10 are somewhat discounted.
  • Teams which did not play in the wild card round are treated as if they had a bye week. (That includes both the 20 non-playoff teams and the four teams with byes.)

Playoff odds are also updated. You'll notice that New England is now the team with the best odds to win the Super Bowl thanks to drawing the easiest Divisional Round matchup. Unlike the weighted DVOA ratings below, the playoff odds report is adjusted for the drop in Houston's offense since Matt Schaub got injured (although T.J. Yates had his best game as quarterback this week). You will also find DVOA matchup pages for the four second round games on the FO Premium page. And we'll let you know today or tomorrow where you can track your team for our Football Outsiders Playoff Fantasy Challenge.

* * * * *

To save people some time, we remind everyone to put their angry troll hatred into the official zlionsfan angry troll hatred Mad Libs form:

<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 are new to our website, you can read the explanation of how DVOA is figured here. As always, positive numbers represent more points so DEFENSE is better when it is NEGATIVE.

1 NO 34.7% 1 14-3 49.4% 1 16.2% 27 1.5% 14
2 GB 26.6% 3 15-1 38.5% 2 16.2% 28 4.3% 7
3 PIT 26.5% 2 12-5 17.0% 7 -5.8% 11 3.7% 8
4 NE 24.6% 4 13-3 37.0% 3 19.3% 30 6.9% 2
5 PHI 24.5% 5 8-8 15.9% 8 -7.6% 4 1.0% 16
6 HOU 22.1% 7 11-6 12.5% 10 -7.9% 3 1.6% 13
7 SF 17.0% 8 13-3 2.5% 15 -8.9% 2 5.6% 5
8 DET 15.7% 10 10-7 20.1% 6 0.5% 13 -3.9% 29
9 ATL 12.3% 6 10-7 7.9% 13 -5.9% 10 -1.5% 23
10 BAL 11.4% 9 12-4 10.2% 12 -6.9% 9 -5.7% 30
11 MIA 10.0% 14 6-10 -3.4% 21 -7.5% 5 5.9% 4
12 SEA 8.5% 12 7-9 -1.8% 20 -7.1% 8 3.1% 10
13 NYG 8.3% 16 10-7 14.9% 9 8.1% 20 1.4% 15
14 NYJ 8.2% 11 8-8 -3.5% 22 -7.3% 7 4.4% 6
15 SD 6.7% 13 8-8 24.0% 5 17.7% 29 0.5% 17
16 TEN 5.8% 15 9-7 0.2% 18 6.4% 17 12.0% 1
17 CAR 3.8% 19 6-10 26.7% 4 20.6% 31 -2.3% 26
18 DAL 0.4% 17 8-8 12.2% 11 10.9% 21 -1.0% 19
19 CHI -3.2% 20 8-8 -23.5% 31 -13.9% 1 6.4% 3
20 CIN -4.8% 18 9-8 3.4% 14 11.0% 23 2.8% 11
21 DEN -5.1% 23 9-8 0.0% 19 5.2% 15 0.1% 18
22 WAS -6.2% 21 5-11 2.4% 16 7.2% 18 -1.5% 22
23 KC -8.3% 22 7-9 -14.2% 27 -7.4% 6 -1.5% 24
24 CLE -8.6% 24 4-12 -4.7% 23 7.3% 19 3.4% 9
25 OAK -12.5% 25 8-8 2.0% 17 13.4% 24 -1.1% 20
26 ARI -15.4% 27 8-8 -15.7% 28 1.5% 14 1.8% 12
27 JAC -15.6% 26 5-11 -17.8% 29 -3.6% 12 -1.4% 21
28 BUF -23.9% 28 6-10 -7.1% 24 14.9% 26 -1.9% 25
29 IND -28.4% 29 2-14 -14.2% 26 11.0% 22 -3.2% 28
30 MIN -31.9% 30 3-13 -11.3% 25 14.6% 25 -6.0% 31
31 STL -35.7% 31 2-14 -23.7% 32 5.7% 16 -6.4% 32
32 TB -44.5% 32 4-12 -19.6% 30 22.4% 32 -2.5% 27

Here are the one-game DVOA ratings for the first round of the playoffs. There are probably two surprises here. First, how close the New Orleans-Detroit matchup comes out, compared to the final score. Second, the fact that Denver gets almost no boost to offensive DVOA from playing the Pittsburgh defense. The main reason for this is that the opponent adjustments are based on how good the opponent is given the down and the type of play (run or pass). The Steelers were actually mediocre against the pass on second and third downs this year, but the best team in the league against the pass on first down. Except for that final touchdown in overtime, Tebow's passes generally came on second and third down. Therefore, no opponent adjustment.

DVOA (with opponent adjustments)
HOU 72% 48% -20% 4%
CIN -47% -5% 37% -4%
NO 33% 65% 32% 0%
DET 11% 38% 29% 2%
NYG 57% 44% -22% -8%
ATL -38% -20% 21% 3%
DEN 47% 40% -1% 6%
PIT -30% 5% 42% 6%
VOAf (no opponent adjustments)
HOU 73% 52% -17% 4%
CIN -62% -16% 42% -4%
NO 11% 53% 42% 0%
DET -13% 42% 57% 2%
NYG 30% 28% -10% -8%
ATL -41% -15% 29% 3%
DEN 33% 38% 10% 6%
PIT -14% 9% 29% 6%

One last issue to discuss this week. I got a tweet last week asking when was the last time that the team that finished the season ranked first in DVOA actually won the Super Bowl. Believe it or not, it's been almost ten years. The 2002 Tampa Bay Buccanneers are the last team to finish the season ranked No. 1 in total DVOA and then win the Super Bowl. We had years where the some teams coming off less impressive regular seasons made a run in the playoffs and went to the Super Bowl. We also had 2009, where the consensus best teams for the regular season, New Orleans and Indianapolis, finished sixth and eighth in DVOA behind a bunch of 11-5 and 10-6 teams.

Here's a look at the teams that have made the Super Bowl since 1992 and where they were ranked in DVOA. Bold are Super Bowl champions, italics are Super Bowl losers. Obviously, this kind of list doesn't take into account the difference between rating and ranking -- sometimes the difference between No. 1 and No. 2 is just a percentage point or two -- but it is still kind of interesting.

1: 2007 NE, 2002 TB, 2001 STL, 1999 STL, 1998 DEN, 1997 GB, 1996 GB, 1992 DAL
2: 2010 PIT, 2008 PIT, 2004 NE, 2002 OAK, 1997 DEN, 1995 DAL, 1993 DAL
3: 2010 GB, 2005 SEA, 2000 BAL, 1994 SF
4: 2005 PIT, 2003 NE, 1995 PIT
5: 1999 TEN
6: 2009 NO, 2006 CHI
7: 2006 IND, 2004 PHI, 1998 ATL, 1992 BUF
8: 2009 IND, 1996 NE
9: 1994 SD
10: 2000 NYG
12: 1993 BUF, 2001 NE
16: 2007 NYG
17: 2003 CAR
21: 2008 ARI

Three times a team won the Super Bowl after leading the league in weighted DVOA but not total DVOA: 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers, 2003 New England Patriots, and 1994 San Francisco 49ers.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 09 Jan 2012

64 comments, Last at 28 Jan 2012, 3:07pm by Dales


by RichC (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 4:18pm

"Three times a team won the Super Bowl after leading the league in weighted DVOA but not total DVOA: 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers, 2003 New England Patriots, and 1994 San Francisco 49ers."

Any chance we could get a similar list out for superbowl participants ranked by weighted? (IE, same list as above, but with weighted numbers instead of total)

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 4:25pm

why do the rankings for OFF and ST match the weighted DVOA, but not the DEF ?

and so much for DEF wins championships!


by Joshua Northey (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 4:43pm

"Here are the one-game DVOA ratings for the first round of the playoffs. There are probably two surprises here. First, how close the New Orleans-Detroit matchup comes out, compared to the final score."

Scoring isn't that closely correlated with good football. There is A LOT of noise. I am not sure why you are surprised by those numbers, they look well within what I would assume the "error bars" would be for that game.

"Second, the fact that Denver gets almost no boost to offensive DVOA from playing the Pittsburgh defense. The main reason for this is that the opponent adjustments are based on how good the opponent is given the down and the type of play (run or pass). The Steelers were actually mediocre against the pass on second and third downs this year, but the best team in the league against the pass on first down. Except for that final touchdown in overtime, Tebow's passes generally came on second and third down. Therefore, no opponent adjustment."

This to me absolutely reeks of slicing your data too thinly because you are "data-fitting" too zealously. Just MO as I don't know the details, but as described here the system seems badly constructed considering the paucity of data available.

by Perfundle :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 5:14pm

One thing I can think of immediately is that Pittsburgh tends to take the lead, and other teams are forced to throw on first down to keep up. It's easier to play the pass on first down when you know it will be a pass. Whereas yesterday Denver had the lead for most of the game, and even when they didn't they were still running it on first down.

Also, doesn't DVOA have a "diminishing return" feature on long plays? So some of these long throws are counted the same as if they were 20 yards shorter. And the longer the plays, the less numerous the plays count in the total ratio.

by nat :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 4:49pm

The Broncos are almost exactly as far behind the leader in weighted DVOA as the Giants were in the 2007-2008 season at this point. (39.8% v. 39.7%)

Just to freak everyone out.....

by Jim Z. (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 4:54pm

I hate this constant chatter of "It's 2007 all over again for the Giants!"

That was clearly the flukiest Super Bowl winner in maybe the history of the game. If such a fluke occurs twice, in the span of 5 years, to the SAME team no less, then clearly something is happening behind the scenes to rig these games.

If we don't see New Orleans, Green Bay, or San Francisco in the Super Bowl this year, all of this statistical work is invalidated and I will refuse to acknowledge the NFL as a product based on logical outcomes and coherent results.

by Jim Z. (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 4:56pm

And as much as I would like to see the Broncos upset the Patriots and hear the reactions of Aaron Schatz and Bill Simmons on the podcast the following week, I will maintain the same level of disgust if neither the Patriots, Ravens, or even the Texans appear in the Super Bowl this year.

by paddypat (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 7:07pm

Yeesh, you guys. Haven't you been watching the trend the last few years? How about Carolina in the Super Bowl in 03', Arizona in 08', NYG in 07', NE in 01', GB in 10'? I mean, the NFL has become the land of WTF? It's like survivor or something--any random numbnut can win; it's just a matter of getting "hot" at the right time. If you look at the numbers on a statistical regression and you take the years 2003 all the way back to the beginning of the Super Bowl era, the number of Divisional round upsets averaged about .7 per year--essentially, you could expect lots of years with none, occasionally 1, and every once in a great great while, 2. Since 2004, including a year when there were NO upsets, that number has become an average of 1.8 upsets per year. The odds of this happening from chance, even with such a small sample (I know my stats) are less than 5 in a hundred. I think the Bill Polian rules emphasis has upset the whole balance of the game. Teams win and lose by passing the ball now, and I have the sense that passing offense tends to gel and ungel with strings of games 6-8 in a row whereas running attacks and running defenses are much more consistent throughout a season. I've only done some preliminary work to support this theory, but it seems to hold up over the past 20 years or so. I've tried to get Aaron and Mike etc. to pay attention to this, but they're a little wishywashy on the idea. Basically, I think that the rule changes have heavily emphasized a part of the game that's less consistent throughout a season than the more traditionally important facets. Hence, the 2007 Patriots were not as good as they seemed to be because a lot of that strength was built around early season passing, which didn't hold up consistently throughout the year, and the Giants in those playoffs were suddenly good, in large measure because Eli put it all together for a string of games. That kind of gelling happens with passing offenses, like the 2002 Giants down the stretch--all of a sudden, Amani Toomer, Kerry Collins, and Jeremy Shockey became unstoppable!

by thebuch :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 9:14pm

GB in 2010? DVOA liked the Packers last year.. Maybe not number 1, but close. Lots of blowout wins and a bunch of losses by 3 or 4 points with key starters not finishing due to injuries.. Last year, I think the Packers were that good (maybe even better than this year when they went 15-1)

by JasonK :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 5:11pm

Fun Fact: Single-elimination tournaments sometimes produce unexpected results.

In the context of a league where even the strongest favorites lose outright roughly 1 time in 5, an outcome can be low-percentage and still be logical and coherent.

by Jim Z. (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 5:15pm

But what are the chances of an extremely low DVOA team defeating superior opponents in unfavorable conditions 4 games in a row? I can understand upsets occurring in a single-elimination tournament, but what happened with the 2007 Giants is simply ridiculous, and for it to somehow happen again (they would have to defeat the superior Packers, superior Saints/49ers, and then likely the superior Ravens or Patriots) would border on downright ludicrous.

by Independent George :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 5:58pm

The thing to remember about the 2007 Giants is that the next season, they finished 12-4, rushing for 2,500 yards and #4 DVOA rating before losing a close playoff game to the #1 DVOA-rated team. While the Super Bowl run was unlikely, hindsight tells me that they were in fact a legitimately good team with some flaws, as opposed to a completely flukey team which lucked its way through the playoffs.

by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 6:02pm

The 2011 Giants have little chance of following in their predecessor's footsteps. Back in 2007, neither Dallas nor Green Bay were all that imposing, certainly not to the level that NO and GB are this year. NY also simply cannot win in the bayou, so they have to hope that SF does some of the heavy lifting for them.

by John (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 7:47pm

For crying out loud. While there are years when a wildly undeserving team makes it to the playoffs, once you're in, you have a chance. To say that the Giants are incapable of winning any game is to completely throw out everything we've learned about NFL football.

The playoffs are never, ever completely predictable. Even the worst team in the league generally wins a game they shouldn't during the regular season.

"simply cannot win", what a load of crap.

Captcha: "mocolts" - I wholeheartedly concur

by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 8:19pm

You apparently haven't watched the Giants play the Saints the past couple seasons.

Barring Brees breaking his leg, they can't beat that team on turf. There is no reason to fly off the handle when I'm just stating facts here.

by theslothook :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 4:34am

gREEN bay and dallas weren't formidable opponents in 07? that is clearly a matter of access to the results impacting perceptions. I guarantee before those games, dallas and gb both looked very good. Dallas went 13-3 on the back of a dominant offense and a very strong defense, as did gb but less so in both areas. And if you really believe those 2 teams were cupcakes, the giants proceeded to beat the heavy weight 07 pats who i would argue are clearly better(especially in dvoa terms), than any team in the nfl this year.

by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 12:44pm

No, Dallas and Green Bay weren't as good as GB and NO are this year. I'm well aware of how results often influence evaluation, but that isn't going on here. They simply weren't as good.

by dmstorm22 :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 1:18pm

Neither Dallas nor Green Bay in 2007 were as good as GB this year (The 2007 Pats, however, were quite a bit better).

That said, the Giants this year are better by DVOA than in 2007.

Entering the playoffs (I use this because I wanted total DVOA instead of just weighted, and since all the teams we are talking about NYG playing were on byes, it shouldn't change their overall DVOA that much), the 2007 Giants were -.6. The Cowboys were 23.9% and the Packers 21.0%, so they had a lead of 24.5 and 21.6 respectively. Entering the playoffs this year, the Saints were a 23.3 and the Packers a 28.3%, however the Giants were a 9.0%, so the Saints and Packers had a 14.3 and a 19.3 lead, which is less than the DVOA gap between the teams in 2007.

If you want to use weighted DVOA, then the 2007 Giants were a 0.7% after the WC round, and the Packers were a 17.5% and Dallas a 14.5%, so they led by 16.8% and 13.8%. In 2011, the Giants now are a 8.3% and the Saints are a 34.7 and the Packers a 26.6%, so they lead by 26.4% and 18.3%.

By weighted DVOA, the Giants in 2011 are comparatively worse off than they were in 2007, but in total DVOA (which Schatz has said isn't any worse as a predictive measure) the 2007 Giants were further away because the 2007 Giants were not as good as the 2011 team.

by Dales :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 3:11pm

Actually, GB (19.9) and Dal (22.9) were not significantly below in DVOA where NO is today (23.3).

And NE was signficantly higher (53.1) than GB today (28.3).

The odds of the Giants winning it all this year are much better than the odds of them winning in 2007 were.

by thebuch :: Fri, 01/13/2012 - 1:55pm

Just because you have about a 2% chance of something and do it (4 years ago) does not mean that, if you give them a 4% chance the next time, they're likely to do it again only because the organization got extremely lucky once. The chances are still terrible.

by Dales :: Sat, 01/28/2012 - 3:07pm

Vegas sure doesn't seem to view it that way.

by JasonK :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 6:23pm

Well, also consider that, although the DVOA numbers might well be the best objective indicator that we have, they are far from a perfect measurement of overall team quality.

I'm not going to address the likelihood of the '11 Giants making a similar run (I agree that it would be surprising), but I'll say that although the '07 Giants had a mediocre DVOA, by the end of the regular season were playing much better than they had all year. Some key guys were healthier (Aaron Ross, Sam Madison, Steve Smith), and, most importantly, some young players were emerging (Ahmad Bradshaw, Kevin Boss, Justin Tuck, Corey Webster, and, not least, the Quarterback), and not in a 3-consecutive-games-of-your-life fluky way. With the benefit of hindsight, you can see that those guys' made legitimate steps forward in their play, as their 2008 performances pretty closely matched their level of play in the '07 playoffs.

It is very unusual for a team to have so many important players pick up their games like that late in a season, but it's what appears to have happened, and it's a less "ridiculous" way to view events than your "they got real lucky"X4.

Edit: Or, what Independent George said.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 7:00pm

It's not that unsurprising. They happen in NCAA Basketball with irregular frequency. I can name a bunch of 10-seeds or greater who made the Final Four (4 wins), and a couple more who either made the Finals or won it (5 or 6 wins), all against either higher seeds or equally unlikely low-seeds.

2000 had two 8-seeds
2006 had an 11-seed
2008 was the only meeting of 4 1-seeds
2010 had an 8-seed versus an 11-seed in one national semi-final, with the 8-seed losing in the Finals (their second consecutive Nat'l Champ game)

1979 had a 9-seed
1985 was won by an 8-seed

As it turns out, unlike teams making the Final Four is more likely than all the expected teams making it. A bottom bracket team has made more Final Fours than times every favorite made it.

by Jim Z. (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 5:18pm

It's like picking, blindfolded, the one black marble out of a jar filled with nine white marbles. If you do it four times in a row, you could easily pick the black marble once, or even twice, but to do it all four times is highly statistically improbable.

Then to come back for a second round, and to pick the black marble again, four times in a row, would be a nigh impossible feat to accomplish, barring some kind of cheating.

by tuluse :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 5:26pm

1 out 5 != 1 out of 10

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 10:40pm

A football team is not constant jar of marbles. If you had a jar of marbles where some fluctuated between black and white, you'd have a better analogy.

by Rikki (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 6:19pm

I found Aikman's comments at the end of the Giants game irritating, and I agree. I can certainly see how the 2007 win at Green Bay would be an advantage to the players that were there, but if it was significant they wouldn't have been blown out there in the regular season in 2010.

by NYMike :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 10:17am

And the 2010 game was essentially a playoff game. Win and you're in. Lose and you're out. And they got blown out. But that narrative (The Giants are going to get killed in Green Bay) is nowhere near as intriguing is the Giants are going to upset the 15-1 Packers.

All the discussion is how the Giants offense can move on the Packers. Hell, the BUCCANEERS offense can move on the Packers. The question is who is going to stop the offense, which will nearly be full strength this week, something it was not in New York a few weeks ago.

by mrh :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 1:12pm

You may be assuming that Aikman was presenting an analysis. He in fact may just have been hyping the next game. This is a problem with much NFL game coverage.

by Kurt :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 11:13am

Honestly, if unpredictability upsets you that much, if the games on the field are primarily an annoyance which interferes with the statistical models, maybe sports isn't your thing. You might consider Home Improvement reruns or Nancy Drew mysteries as more comforting hobbies.

by TADontAsk (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 4:54pm

Wow, Ravens dropped from -13.7% defensive DVOA (1st) to -6.9% (10th) this week? Either one of two things happened. The offensive/defensive DVOA rankings from last week were not weighted, or they were weighted but are now even more focused on the final games of the regular season. I'm guessing the former.

by TADontAsk (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 4:57pm

Actually, the defensive rankings look a little off.

by Aaron Schatz :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 5:42pm

These ratings are weighted only. You're comparing the weighted Week 18 rating to the full-season Week 17 rating. The weighted Week 17 rating was -8.8%.

by Jim Z. (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 4:59pm

Also, you guys have the Pittsburgh defensive DVOA percentage messed up, or the rankings messed up.

They are listed at #2 in defense with a -5.8% defensive DVOA despite the #3 team being listed at -5.9%

by Wikitorix (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 5:29pm

It's not just PIT. SF is #4, at -8.9%, PHI is #5, at -7.6%, and so on - all the way to NO being ranked ahead of BUF despite having a worse weighted DVOA. My guess is that the rankings are based on the non-weighted DVOA.

by Aaron Schatz :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 5:42pm

Sorry, yes, the rankings for defense were wrong. That's fixed now.

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 5:02pm

So this means the Broncos severely outplayed the Steelers?

I thought they were a bit better, and even then I thought I was being a homer.

by JIPanick :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 5:16pm

The numbers jibe with my observations; I thought the Steelers were massively outplayed and were hanging in because of fumble luck and errant whistles.

by MJK :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 5:52pm

I didn't see every play of the game, but by my count:

* I saw four fumbles. All four recovered by the Steelers.

* I saw one DEN INT negated by an offsides that had nothing to do with the play. Not affecting DVOA or the outcome, but symptomatic of how well the Denver offense was playing and yet how the Steelers were hanging in there.

* I saw another INT dropped by Champ Bailey.

* I didn't see any corresponding near-INT's by PIT DB's.

* In fact, most of the time I didn't even see any PIT DB's...certainly not any safeties.

* I saw one bad whistle that negated what should have been a PIT fumble.

* I saw a PIT team that for much of the game struggled to get into long field goal range, while a DEN team that not only scored TD's, but came within a couple of yards of scoring more TD's and settling for FG's instead.

* I saw the only time the Steelers seemed to move the ball was when John Fox, in ultra-conservative John Fox fashion, started rushing just 3 when leading late and essentially play a prevent defense.

* I also saw some Broncos drives fail due to very poor playcalling.

In short, I saw the Steelers get outplayed but stay in the game because of good luck and conservative Broncos coaching. The numbers seem about right.

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 6:27pm

I believe the very first Broncos offensive play featured a fumble recovered by the Broncos.

Doesn't change anything for your argument, just info.

by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 5:50pm

That was how I saw it, and it would have played out as such if the officials had correctly called the fumbled lateral. Correctly give the ball to Denver there and Pitt probably never gets within 7 points.

by Anonymous454545 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 5:39pm

I've been watching the Pats' Special Teams ranking climb steadily all year. What's kind of funny is that they don't really seem all that "special.". Very few long returns and TD's. No block barrage like the 2010 MIA game. Just solid kicking and coverage combined with dependable returning. Both Gost and Zoltan are slightly above avg and very consistent. The returners seem to know when to return, fair catch, and get the heck out of the way of the ball. My guess is that the Pats are probably among the fewest called for blocks in the back on returns. Just solid if unspectacular -- the perfect cromulent balance between their amazing offense and the craptastic defense.

My guess is that if ESPN or some other organization took the time to poll their "experts" on top Special teams play for the 2011 season, that the Pats wouldn't even make the top 10. And that is one of the many reasons, why I like visiting FO.

by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 5:53pm

The KO return unit is brutal, certainly amongst the bottom 5 in the entire league, but the KO and punt return coverage has been exemplary over the final half of the year. It's been good enough so that I'll actually *notice* how good it was 2-3 a game. If I had to guess, that would be what is driving the steady increase.

by PatsFan :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 10:16pm

The KO return unit is brutal

Got that right. I'm still trying to figure out (a) why Woodhead is the returner, and (b) why they don't tell him to just take a knee on everything he catches in the endzone. Most of a time a touchback would beat where he returns it to.

by Independent George :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 10:40pm

You Pats fans are spoiled if you think their return game is brutal; at least they hold on to the ball. I'm looking at you, Aaron Ross.

by Andrew Potter :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 12:08am

My impression of the Patriots' return game, like the run game, is that the players are simply told "Don't turn the ball over, and get what you can." In that order of priority.

by Anonymous454545 (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 5:06pm

Exactly what I meant by "dependable." Their kick coverage has been excellent lately (they get a lot of reps with that offense). KO return lousy, but fumble-free. PR also mistake free and with absolutely no indecisive running around @ the 10 yd line like so many teams with rookies out there. Very, very sound. It's like you took the 2003 Patriots and traded Ken Walter away for a five-hour energy drink-- a steal no matter how awful that $hit tastes!

by John Doe (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 7:41pm

Aaron Ross was given punt returning duties as punishment for being an incredible disappointment. He is an absolute liability in coverage, though he does tackle well for a DB which is a skill he gets to display often due to his absolute inability to cover even average receivers.

by RichC (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 9:50am

The patriots return game is -3.5%, and the league runs from about -10 to +10. They're below average, but nowhere near bottom 5.

Returns as a whole are brutal this year.

by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 12:49pm

Are you refering to simply KO returns or all returns. They are in the bottom 5 as far as KO yards per return are concerned. There is no way that NE's KO returns are simply below average, they are dreadful. The comment above asking why Woodhead doesn't just down everything that is caught in the EZ is dead on.

by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 5:57pm

I have to admit to not being surprised that Pitt was bounced early. I've commented numerous times about the contrast between their highly ranked weighted DVOA and what my eyes have told me. Pitt was simply an ordinary team down the stretch. Even more surprising was seeing them have offensive DVOAs of 20%+ for the Cleveland and KC games, because they were downright bad in those games.

That said, it is surprising how they lost. As poorly as they've played, the defense was consistently solid, so I was thinking more of a 16-10 type game.

by Pass to Set Up ... :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 7:51pm

Hurts seeing the Eagles up that high.

Stupid incompetent turnover-throwing poor-tackling Eagles.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 2:20am

And yet, as awful as they appeared to be, they went 8-8.

by chemical burn :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 8:07pm

I agree with Lurie, man: fool's gold. Fool's gold. That 4 win streak to end the season was blowouts against the Dolphins, Jets, Cowboys and Redskins. It was sucker-punching chumps. (In the case of the Cowboys and Redskins, I loved every second of it.)

Averaging well over 2 turnovers a game, batted balls ending up in Larry Fitzgerald's hands for a TD or falling softly into the loving arms of Buffalo defenders, runs that seemed stuffed turning in giant gains, a fumble while marching quickly into field-goal range for a game winner against an (ultimately) 13-3 team, impromptu goal-line laterals, botched punt returns, a dropped 4th down reception ending the night for a receiver who went 14-for-16 and over 200 yards, multiple stuffs on the goal-line in a single game, 5 blown 4th quarter leads, extended cameos by Mike Kafka... it was that kind of a season.

by Dales :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 10:35pm

DVOA loves some Andy Reid.

Philly will be 'overrated' in DVOA until the day he no longer coaches the Eagles. He calls games in ways that play to what scores well in FO metrics. They also happen to correlate with winning games.

The only problem is, they don't correlate with winning games quite sufficiently for either the Eagles or FO.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/09/2012 - 10:44pm

These late season rankings are an example of why, if your eyeballs don't agree with DVOA or DAVE early, just let the sample get bigger. There was no way, early in the year, that I could agree with the Vikings offense having a significantly higher rank than the defense. Now, they are both at 25, which seems about right.

by theslothook :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 4:43am

Has anyone wondered if its really the offenses that are historic or has the definition of defense been altered? Cris Collinsworth mentioned how defensive performances seem to be based off making one or two key plays rather than consistently matching an offense.

A quick glance at the numbers have shown just about every major passing statistic has become inflated compared to other years...everything from pass attempts per drive, pass yds/drive, adjusted ypa, dvoa, qb dyar, etc, etc. This despite the fact that the run game is clearly no more effective than the dvoa numbers from 1992. The fact is, its the passing game that has exploded and defenses simply have not and possibly can never really adjust to it.

The equilibrium seems to have permanently shifted and this isn't just a phenomenon among the elite offenses, but has filtered downward. For all but the poorest of offenses, the average or mediocre offense today is far far better than the average or mediocre offense just 5 or 6 years ago. The difference has become staggering. For most fans, i'm sure its fun to watch, but for some of us who appreciate good defense, this is becoming a very watered down league and its kind of sad to see.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 10:17am

Defenses can adjust to it. They just need to start receiving favorable rule changes, instead of a consistent stream of antagonistic ones.

I predict in 10 years tackling the QB will be made illegal.

by NYMike :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 10:25am

I think one of the surprising outcomes of the year is how the lockout killed defenses, without having all that much effect on the offense. Especially with the new flag football rules, playing defense is much harder than playing offense.

The Packers, with largely the same personnel, went from really good to really bad on defense, while going from pretty darn good to awesome on offense (although the failure to play defense probably contributed to the Packer's offensive explosion).

by Danny Tuccitto :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 1:34pm

Here are some DVOA-related divisional round trends taken straight from a post I did for Niners Nation last year at this time (updated to make current):

1. DVOA favorites are 46-30 in the divisional round since 1992; game location has not been a factor in the upsets. In 2010, divisional-round favorites were 3-1 (NYJ over NE). The DVOA favorites this week are NE, HOU, GB, and NO.

2. Only 10 of the 30 DVOA upsets in the divisional round have been greater than 10.0%. In 2010, 10.0%+ divisional-round DVOA favorites were 2-1 (NYJ over NE). This week, NE is 32.5% better than DEN, and GB is 19.3% better than NYG.

3. Only 4 teams with a negative Total DVOA have won a divisional round game since 1992, and only 1 has done so since 2000 ('08 Cardinals). In 2010, below-average divisional-round teams were 0-1 (SEA lost to CHI). This week, DEN has a negative Total DVOA.

Obviously, these are general trends based on relatively small samples, so take from it what you will. Just throwing it out there for discussion purposes.

by Joseph :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 5:04pm

I'm going to recommend using either weighted DVOA for HOU, or their total DVOA since Schaub's injury. If the Saints had played the Texans last week instead of in week 3, the Saints don't need any 4th Q comeback. And lest anyone think that it's because the Saints offense is better, they won 40-33 iirc. They scored 23 points in that 4th Q (3 TD's + 2 2pt conversions). Personally, I think that BAL is marginally better than HOU, plus they're at home.
My predictions for this round (I got them all last week except for DEN over PIT) are: GB, NO, NE, BAL. Three earned their byes, and NO missed out on the other one because of the tiebreaker. For me, they're the top two teams in each conf, and they "deserve" to be in their CCG's.

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 01/11/2012 - 9:49am

As a Texans fan, I think the Ravens are more than marginally better than the Texans, and are a bad match-up to boot: they can slow Foster without an extra man in the box, Reed will let them cover Johnson effectively without having to strictly double him most of the time, they'll be able to move the ball on the ground, and Torrey Smith will beat Kareem Jackson deep.

by Joseph :: Wed, 01/11/2012 - 5:11pm

Mr. Shush, IMO, if the Texans had Schaub, Williams, and AJ healthy, I think they could pull off the upset. As it stands, though, they'll need a non-repeatable D or ST play (could JJ Watt do it again?), plus BAL dropping a pick or two, plus inaccurate Flacco to show up, to pull it off. I think BAL wins by about a TD, but keeps the fans nervous throughout.

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 01/11/2012 - 7:53pm

If the Texans had everyone healthy, it wouldn't be an upset and the game wouldn't be in Baltimore. As is, the inexplicable crappy Ravens will have to turn up. The TJ Yates Texans are still definitely better than the Jaguars.