Football Outsiders Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What are we talking about here?
Football Outsiders brings you a series of brand new, in-depth statistics you can't find anywhere else. With these stats, we attempt to bring objective analysis to football that matches the revolution in baseball writing and analysis over the past 20 years. We have new methods for analyzing skill players, offensive and defensive lines, special teams, and total team efficiency. Right now these statistics are complete for the years 1986-2016, and they are updated each week during the 2017 season.
We don't just have reams of stats, though; we also write in-depth articles explaining these statistics as well as articles to answer specific questions and challenge conventional wisdom about the game. Some of our articles aren't necessarily based on statistics, but still give a more intelligent viewpoint on professional (and college) football, combining fan obsession with a bit of acerbic wit. Our lineup of regular columns is split between those articles which appear on Football Outsiders, and those which appear as part of our partnership with ESPN.com. Some of our writers (and former writers) also appear on other sites including SI.com, SB Nation, CBS Sports, and Bleacher Report.
Q: When does Football Outsiders publish new material?
A: Here is our schedule for the 2018 season. College football columns are in blue. Material that appears somewhere other than FootballOutsiders.com is in italics. All ESPN material is on ESPN+.
Audibles at the Line
One Foot Inbounds
Any Given Sunday
Scramble for the Ball
Seventh Day Adventure
ESPN: Upset Watch
ESPN: Rotating NFL Feature
Word of Muth
The Week in Quotes
Q: I'm new to your site and would like to know if there's any kind of "Football Outsiders Primer" of basic findings you've uncovered with research? It would help immensely in understanding what you do.
A: You will find a list of this research in our essay on Football Outsiders Basics.
Q: How on earth does DVOA work? (or DYAR, Adjusted Line Yards, etc.)
A: Most of the advanced statistics are explained on a different page called Methods To Our Madness. Some shortcuts:
If you have a question about another stat not explained on that page, check out the Football Outsiders Glossary.
Q: When are the stats updated on the website each week?
A: In general, the stats pages will be updated on Tuesday nights. It can occasionally be delayed because Aaron Schatz does this manually once the DVOA commentary is finished. The offensive line and defensive line pages are not necessarily updated each week. Jim Armstrong updates the drive stats separately, on his own schedule.
Q: Why does player X have a higher DVOA, but player Y has higher DYAR? What does each really mean, and which is more important when evaluating a player?
A: The easiest way to remember this is, DVOA is a rate stat, while DYAR is a cumulative stat. That is, DVOA aims to show how a player performs on a per play basis, while DYAR adds up the total contributions for a whole season (or game, drive, etc.). To compare to standard NFL stats: DVOA is similar to stats that measure per attempt (yards per carry, completion percentage), while DYAR is similar to total stats (yards, touchdowns, points).
A high DVOA signifies that when a player is involved in the play, the outcome is typically good, above league-average expectations. A high DYAR signifies that a player contributes to his team's success regularly, either through very good plays or a lot of mediocre ones (for example, giving 250 carries per year to a league-average running back is better than giving those same carries to someone off the practice squad). When players have a high DVOA but relatively low DYAR, it generally means they aren't "involved" in as many plays as their peers (e.g., No. 3 receivers, goal-line tight ends, Carson Palmer). When players have high DYAR but low DVOA, it generally means they are involved in a lot of plays, but haven't produced quite as much on each specific play.
As for which is more important, they really can't be played against each other like that. Both give insight into a player's contributions, and along with other stats (like RB Success Rate) can give a good picture of a player's performance. Remember also that these stats are all dependent on teammates (How is the line blocking? How good are the quarterback's receivers?), so we can't simply compare DVOA/DYAR to tell who is "better." These stats are a valuable tool to aid in comparisons, but do not completely replace observation.
Q: Does DVOA really work?
A: Yes. The goal of DVOA is to balance two things:
- The correlation of the opponent-adjusted statistics from year-to-year, representing the intrinsic quality of a team regardless of luck and random chance, and
- The correlation of the non-opponent-adjusted statistics to wins.
DVOA -- at least, the team version -- does these things better than any other statistic available. Here are some correlation coefficients to demonstrate:
|Correlation of various stats to wins in
same year, 2000-2014
(Off - Def)
|VOA (not adjusted for opponent)||.72||-.55||.86|
|Yards gained/allowed per play||.54||-.35||.72|
|Correlation of various stats from year to year, 2000-2014|
with wins Y+1
with same stat Y+1
|VOA (not adjusted for opponent)||.35||.44|
|Points scored - points allowed||.34||.39|
|Yards gained - yards allowed||.29||.47|
(For those unfamiliar with statistical terms, correlation coefficients are explained here.)
Q: I want to bet on this game. How does DVOA convert into expected score?
DVOA does not particularly convert into a specific score projection. However, we do now offer weekly picks against the spread (and straight up) in our Premium section, based on a formula which considers DVOA, injuries, and weather.
Q: Why doesn't Football Outsiders do more work to improve DVOA (or ALY, or DYAR, or KUBIAK, or any of our metrics and projection systems)?
When it comes to deciding which of our methods and systems to work on improving, it comes down to a question of time/money. It's as much a decision about resources as it is about knowledge. Sometimes we have to make the decision between spending a lot of time to make incremental changes on a stat that we think is fairly accurate already, or spending time on something new. Not always, but often, we'll pick the something new.
Q: Why is Football Outsiders biased in favor of the New England Patriots (or Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks, etc.)?
A: We're not biased against your favorite team; we're actually biased against you personally, as well as your race, religion, city of origin, sexual activities, and your promiscuous mother. No, no, that's a joke. But since you must know, the statistical rankings here are based entirely on the NFL's play-by-play data, and are not adjusted to reflect bias for or against any particular team. Whenever formulas are adjusted, it is to improve their performance for over 25 years of data and over 750 team seasons, and changes are not geared toward screwing over any one team.
On the other hand, all of the writers here are fans first, and it has always been the policy of Football Outsiders to be very upfront about which teams we root for. Here is a list, just in case readers want to go looking for hints of bias:
- Dave Bernreuther: Indianapolis Colts / Syracuse Orange
- Zachary O. Binney: Miami Dolphins / Jacksonville Jaguars
- Ian Boyd: Texas Longhorns
- Cale Clinton: New England Patriots
- Bill Connelly: Missouri Tigers
- Brian Fremeau: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
- Tom Gower: Tennessee Titans
- Scott Kacsmar: Pittsburgh Steelers
- Derrik Klassen: No team in particular
- Bryan Knowles: San Francisco 49ers
- Rivers McCown: Houston Texans
- Ben Muth: Arizona Cardinals / Stanford Cardinal
- Chad Peltier: Georgia Bulldogs / Ohio State Buckeyes
- Andrew Potter: New Orleans Saints / Jacksonville Jaguars
- Aaron Schatz: New England Patriots
- Vincent Verhei: Seattle Seahawks
- Robert Weintraub: Cincinnati Bengals / Syracuse Orange
- Carl Yedor: Seattle Seahawks / Washington Huskies
The most common bias complaint is that we are pro-Patriots, but this is easy to explain. Aaron Schatz, the editor-in-chief, is a Patriots fan and the most visible writer on the site. Most of the media attention during the first year of Football Outsiders came from Boston Sports Media Watch, Boston sports radio, and the Boston Globe. We've done polls, and more Patriots fans read FO than fans of any other team (Eagles and Steelers are second and third) which means there's lots of Pats talk in the discussion threads. Plus, the Patriots happen to have won the Super Bowl in the first two years of our existence, so we couldn't exactly say nasty things about them. The stats are not biased in favor of the Patriots in any way, and if you find hints of pro-Patriots bias in Scott Kacsmar's articles, you are seriously looking too hard.
Q: What's the deal with all the mentions of Brown University (or James Develin and Zak DeOssie)?
A: The initial founders of Football Outsiders, for the most part, were brothers at Zeta Delta Xi at Brown University (creator Aaron Schatz, designer Benjy Rose, cartoonist Jason Beattie, and original Scramble for the Ball writers Ian Dembsky and Al Bogdan). James Develin and Zak DeOssie are the only two Brown alumni currently on NFL rosters. Brown doesn't send a lot of people to the pros, so we end up talking about these obscure players a lot.
Q: Why do you do a single open game discussion thread each week instead of offering separate threads for each game?
A: We do a single thread rather than separate threads for each game based on reader feedback: Despite the huge number of comments in each thread, people like being able to follow other games thanks to the comments of their fellow readers. You can find the weekly open discussion threads here.
Q: Are there any rules for the discussion threads? Do you guys moderate at all? Are any topics off-limits?
A: We generally just ask that you keep the discussions civil and relatively family-friendly. Personal attacks are discouraged, comment spam is not well-received, and comments that are racist or otherwise blatantly offensive will be removed. Repeated offenses can result in a banning, although we hope to avoid that whenever possible. The comment filter picks up most swears, so try not to use them. It also picks up a lot of references to gambling and specific drugs, words popular with spammers. Please limit political commentary as much as possible, as it tends to dominate any thread in which it's started.
We do pride ourselves on having some of the most intelligent, humorous, and thoughtful readers on the Internet, and our discussions cover a wide variety of topics. In general, we frown on thread hijacking, except of course for the weekly game discussion threads where you can discuss pretty much anything. Our readers do a very good job of self-policing, and we encourage you to help keep things under control and nicely warn people who may be getting out of hand.
One good guideline: If you feel the need to describe any NFL player as "the black ___," don't.
Q: Why don't you have open discussion boards where people can start their own threads?
A: We had to retire these due to spam issues.
Q: Who is Catholic Match Girl?
A: Catholic Match Girl is the girl from an advertisement that the Catholic Match online dating service bought on the site in September and October of 2006. She lovingly stared at our readers for weeks, and they became quite fixated on her.
Q: Who's better, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady?
A: It is official Football Outsiders policy that the answer to this question is "Rob Gronkowski." Arguments about Brady and Manning tend to take over any discussion when either one is mentioned, so we've actually created a special thread reserved solely for insane Brady/Manning arguments. Seriously, if you start comparing the two, don't be surprised if your comments are deleted.
Q: Do Football Outsiders writers agree on everything?
A: No. We have to constantly remind people of this, but the Football Outsiders writers do not share a hive mind. We are each independent thinkers with our own independent opinions.
Q: I have a question about [anything]. How do I e-mail you?
A: You'll find the contact form here. We try to provide guidance as to where to send specific types of questions. PLEASE do not send the same e-mail to six different people in an attempt to get an answer. It's annoying.
Q: I asked a question in the comment thread to your article, why didn't you answer it? (or, I e-mailed you a question, why didn't you answer it?)
A: It's often hard to keep track of all the comments in each discussion thread with all the other deadlines the writers have. We're more likely to answer questions by e-mail. But even then, we get so much more e-mail now than we did at the beginning, so we can't answer it all. You are more likely to get an answer about a non-stats question if you e-mail someone on the FO staff other than Aaron Schatz. Fantasy questions should go to Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter, who write Scramble for the Ball, at scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com.
Q: Can I become a writer (or intern) for Football Outsiders?
A: In general, we have no openings for additional regular writers. However, all readers are welcome to submit guest columns. You can submit either a rough draft, or just the idea to see whether we like it or not. The basic rule around here for a guest column is that it has to be different than all the other NFL writing out there (or really, really funny). Many FO writers, like alumni Michael David Smith and Mike Tanier, got started by writing guest columns.
As far as interning, every so often we put up announcements when we need interns. While it's good to have lots of people who want to help, it's hard to keep track of more than four or five interns at a time. But when we need more people, we'll let the readers know. Interning can also be a route to writing for FO regularly (example: Bill Barnwell, now at ESPN, as well as Zach Binney and Andrew Potter).
Q: You should write an article about [topic].
A: Forgetting for a second that this isn't actually a question, the first thing you should do is check the archives, and see if an article has already been written about that topic. In the 11 years FO has been online, we've written articles covering a wide range of topics. It's also possible the topic was covered in one of our annual books.
If the topic hasn't been previously examined, there's a chance it's on the "to do" list. The list of topics for future study is REALLY long. However, don't be afraid to suggest new things in e-mail. Often reader suggestions become articles or improvements to our stats -- they just don't often become articles or improvements to our stats immediately.
Q: How do I find your 2004 book?
A: Pro Football Forecast 2004 (a.k.a. PFP: The Lost Year) is a long and complicated story, but because the book is hard to find, we are selling the articles we wrote as an online package. You'll find that here.
Q: I just came here because I like analytics in other sports, but I'm just getting into the sport of football. If I want to read something intelligent to complement what I'm learning from Football Outsiders, what are the best books out there about the NFL?
A: The two best books about football, both of which are unfortunately out of print, are The Hidden Game of Football by John Thorn, Pete Palmer, and Bob Carroll -- which inspired many of the early stats on this website -- and The New Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football by Paul Zimmerman. The first book explores the statistical side of the game, the second book explores strategy and play on the field. Of course, you want to pick up the latest edition of Football Outsiders Almanac as well.
Q: Can you calculate DVOA for college?
A: Keep in mind that with so many more teams, fewer common opponents, and different styles of play in different conferences, creating a collegiate DVOA would be much harder than creating DVOA for the NFL. We do feature a drive-based rating system called the Fremeau Efficiency Index and a number of new play-by-play based stats in our other two college football columns, One Foot Inbounds and Seventh Day Adventure.
Q: Where does the old play-by-play data come from? Can I get it from you?
A: OK, this is complicated. All the play-by-play data we use is publicly available. Data from prior to 2002 was collected from various Internet archive sites. An absurd number of hours went into collecting this data, and we don't really send it out freely. We are considering making it available in the future. There are two exceptions:
If you want to write a guest column, and we like your idea, we can send you a specific cut of the data that will help you do the research.
If you are working on a class project in high school or college, and we have the time to put it together, we'll send you a specific cut of the data that will help you do the research.
Thanks to reader "Trogdor" for his help writing this FAQ.