January 22, 2022

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Chiefs Rising Up DVOA Ranks

6 min read
Chiefs Rising Up DVOA Ranks

NFL Week 14 – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers widened their DVOA lead over the rest of the league with this week’s win over the Buffalo Bills. Tampa Bay also has the easiest remaining schedule in the league, which is why we now favor the Buccaneers to win the NFC’s No. 1 seed (48% of simulations).

The New England Patriots remain No. 2 in overall DVOA for the season and also remain our top team in weighted DVOA, which lowers the strength of older games to get a better idea of how well teams are playing now. The Dallas Cowboys climb up to No. 3 in DVOA after a win over Washington that was bigger than the final score of 27-20 indicates — although it should also be noted that the Cowboys managed to recover all five fumbles in this game, two of their own and three by Washington.

Dallas hops over Buffalo, which drops a little bit with the loss to Tampa Bay. The Bills lose their title as “most inconsistent team in DVOA history” this week because they went out and played a game with a DVOA very close to their average DVOA for the entire season. All of a sudden, they were randomly consistent. What’s particularly remarkable is that the Carolina Panthers now have a variance almost as high as Buffalo’s after this week’s loss to Atlanta. So this Sunday, we’re going to see a matchup of two of the five least consistent teams in DVOA history. Anything could happen in this one!

Back to the top 10, the Rams move up to No. 5 with a victory over the Arizona Cardinals, who drop a spot to No. 6. Then at No. 7, we’ve got the Kansas City Chiefs moving up two spots, and that’s the team I want to focus on this week. The Chiefs also moved up to No. 4 in weighted DVOA this week and they are now the No. 3 Super Bowl contender in our playoff odds simulation behind New England and Tampa Bay. The markets now have Kansas City as the top team in the AFC, as do a number of other metrics around the Internet. We still have the Patriots higher because New England has been so, so good over the last 10 games, but Kansas City is on the rise and catching up to them.

Here’s a look at Kansas City’s week-to-week graph. You can see the Chiefs really have only two negative games, but their losses to Buffalo and Tennessee were pretty bad. Then there are a lot of good-but-not-great games, and finally in the last month a couple of dominant wins.

Kansas City week-to-week graph

Kansas City gets 82.7% single-game DVOA for this week’s victory over the Las Vegas Raiders. This week’s game seemed very similar to Kansas City’s win over Las Vegas on the road back in Week 10, but this one ended up with a much higher DVOA rating. The Chiefs had a bigger advantage in success rate than back in Week 10, and a much bigger advantage in yards per play and turnovers.

Comparing KC-LV Games, 2021
Week Score KC
Week 10 41-14 22.8% 6.8 5.9 53.3% 44.4% +1
Week 14 48-9 82.7% 6.5 4.8 48.2% 37.7% +5

What’s remarkable is the way that Kansas City is now winning with defense instead of offense. You probably know this already, because the discussion has been all over the football world, but the numbers are pretty stark.

For Weeks 1-5, the Chiefs had 30.7% defensive DVOA. That ranked 31st in the NFL. Only Jacksonville was worse in the first five weeks. Since Week 6, Kansas City has -17.9% defensive DVOA. That ranks third in the NFL. In the last nine weeks, only New England and Dallas have been better on the defensive side of the ball.

On the other hand, the offense has not played up to its usual standards. Let’s look at the same period we looked at for defense. In Weeks 1-5, Kansas City ranked second with 33.2% offensive DVOA. Only Tampa Bay was better in the first five weeks. Since Week 6, Kansas City has 0.8% offensive DVOA, which ranks just 13th in the league for that time period. This is not just an issue of turnovers. Kansas City’s average yards per play have gone from 6.48 in the first five weeks to 5.66 since. Kansas City’s success rate on offense has gone from 55% in the first five weeks to 47% since.

The Kansas City offense has turned things around in the past five weeks, as you can probably tell from two games scoring more than 40 points. 21.5% offensive DVOA since Week 10 ranks them fourth in the league. However, that period is only four games. Only three of them were particularly good on offense and two of those games were against the same team, Las Vegas. (The other game with a good offensive DVOA is the 19-9 win over the Cowboys; there are pretty strong opponent adjustments for playing the Cowboys defense at this point.) It’s reasonable to wonder if there’s something about the Las Vegas defense that makes the Raiders a particularly matchup for Kansas City. (As I suggested during this week’s game, the Raiders don’t play as much of the two-high safety defense that has bothered Patrick Mahomes this season. They also have problems at safety and depth issues at cornerback.)

Oh, and I should also add that Kansas City ranks second in special teams DVOA this season, including first in weighted special teams DVOA. They have slightly negative value on returns but the Chiefs have been strong on field goals, kickoffs, and punts.

The Sinking AFC North

The Patriots, Chiefs, and Indianapolis Colts are all significantly better in weighted DVOA than in total DVOA. There are other teams going in the other direction, primarily teams in the AFC North. All four teams in the AFC North are higher in total DVOA than in weighted DVOA, and three of the five biggest gaps belong to AFC North teams:

Biggest Negative Gap, Weighted DVOA vs Total DVOA
Rk Dif
CLE 4.9% 14 -0.2% 16 -5.0%
ARI 19.6% 6 15.1% 9 -4.5%
BAL 3.5% 16 -0.3% 17 -3.8%
NO 6.9% 13 3.3% 15 -3.7%
PIT -11.5% 23 -14.5% 24 -3.1%
SEA 2.5% 17 -0.6% 18 -3.1%

Cleveland is the biggest faller in recent weeks and it is mostly about offense. The defense is actually a little better in weighted DVOA than in total DVOA, but Cleveland’s offense drops from 6.2% to 1.7%. Baltimore’s drop is also about offense, which is 0.9% in total DVOA but -3.4% in weighted DVOA.  Pittsburgh’s decline in recent weeks is evenly split between offense and defense. (Cincinnati is the only AFC North team where the offense isn’t playing worse over the last few weeks.) The NFC teams on this list can pretty much all be explained by quarterback injuries.

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Football Outsiders playoff odds, snap counts, and the FO+ database are now all updated through Week 14. A reminder that all our free stats pages, including DVOA and player position stats, 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, fantasy football research tools, and picks against the spread.

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Here is the Football Outsiders Top 16 through 14 weeks of 2021, 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 opponent and 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.

You’ll notice that DAVE (DVOA Adjusted for Variation Early) is now gone from our tables; with 13 games played for every team, the use of preseason priors has fully washed out of our system.

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>

Click here for the full table.