May 20, 2022

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Cowboys Lead Way Too Early 2022 DVOA Projections

3 min read
Cowboys Lead Way Too Early 2022 DVOA Projections

NFL Super Bowl – Last year, I presented a new set of way, way too early DVOA projections right after the Super Bowl. It’s time to do it again for 2022!

Once again I remind readers not to get too excited: the goal here was to be incredibly simple. That being said, last year’s way too early projections were closer to reality than you might expect. Eleven of this year’s playoff teams finished in the top half of the way too early projections. The exceptions were New England, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati.

First, I adjusted 2021 DVOA ratings based on games where teams sat starters or had COVID issues or used backup quarterbacks. In the table below, I listed the quarterback who was considered the starter for each team. For example, the New Orleans offensive DVOA below is based only on games with Taysom Hill at quarterback. Seattle offensive DVOA is based on a rating without Weeks 6-8. The Cincinnati ratings don’t include Week 18. And so on.

Next, I used very simple equations that project next year’s DVOA based solely on last year’s DVOA and the usual regression to the mean. Defense and special teams regress to the mean stronger than offense does.

Then I made a few changes based on roster change and development that we know is coming:

  • I boosted Cincinnati a little bit. Normally my projections are all based on regular-season stats, but with Cincinnati we now have a four-game sample in the playoffs that shows that they played better than they did during the regular season.
  • I gave a small bonus to teams with second-year starting quarterbacks except for New England (already pretty high up in DVOA) and San Francisco (since Lance doesn’t have much experience yet).
  • I slightly improved the Baltimore defense based on all the injuries they suffered in 2020.
  • I penalized New Orleans because they are by far the team with the most salary cap difficulty for next year, even if they restructure a number of contracts.
  • I manually set the Tampa Bay offense at replacement level, i.e. the average backup, before doing the equation that regressed 2021 performance to the mean.

Then I re-normalized all the DVOA ratings so the league averaged 0.0%.

That’s it. I didn’t account for all the things that are accounted for in the usual preseason projections, such as three-year trends, coaching changes, turnover regression on defense (as opposed to general regression), and free-agent movement. I didn’t account for any injuries except for starting quarterbacks and Baltimore’s defense. I didn’t account for salary-cap issues except for New Orleans. I didn’t account for any possible quarterback trades, or where Deshaun Watson or Jimmy Garoppolo might be playing next year.

The goal here is basically just to see who looks best for 2022 based mainly on quarterbacks returning from injury and offense being more predictive than defense. The result looks a lot like the 2021 DVOA ratings with a few changes. That means that differences between DVOA and conventional wisdom will be differences here. Dallas, New England, and Seattle are higher than conventional wisdom. Cincinnati, Tennessee, and Atlanta are lower than conventional wisdom.

The big difference between this year and last year is that I also compiled schedule strength based on the way too early projections. The defending champion Rams have the hardest projected schedule. The NFC South is a weak division, but the entire NFC West is in the top 10 and the AFC West is a tough division. The Rams’ other opponents based on finishing in first place are Dallas, Green Bay, and Buffalo: the top three teams in the way too early projections. The Arizona Cardinals also have a particularly tough projected schedule. Every other team has an average opponent projection of 2.0% or lower.

The easiest projected schedule belongs to the Baltimore Ravens. They play the AFC East and NFC South, plus Denver, Jacksonville, and the New York Giants. The Dallas Cowboys also stand out as the only team in the top 10 with a bottom 10 schedule.