Here’s a new exercise: very, very early DVOA projections for 2021. Don’t get too excited, because the goal here was to be incredibly simple.
First, I adjusted 2020 DVOA ratings based on games where teams sat starters or had COVID issues or used backup quarterbacks. For example, the Dallas offensive rating started with just the offensive DVOA from Weeks 1-4 when Dak Prescott was healthy. The New Orleans defensive rating removed the Week 12 game where Denver had no quarterbacks. Kansas City’s rating doesn’t include Week 17. 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 gave a small bonus to teams with second-year starting quarterbacks.
- I gave a small bonus to the Los Angeles Rams offense and a similar penalty to the Detroit offense.
- I slightly improved the San Francisco defense based on all the injuries they suffered in 2020.
- I manually set the Indianapolis offense at -3.0% due to Philip Rivers’ retirement. I just wanted to pick a number about two-thirds down since we have no idea who will be playing quarterback for the Colts.
- New Orleans offense is based solely on the four games with Taysom Hill at quarterback, with the expectation that Drew Brees will retire.
- Philadelphia offense is based solely on games started by Jalen Hurts, with the expectation that Carson Wentz will be traded.
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 players returning from COVID opt-outs and I didn’t account for any injuries except for starting quarterbacks and San Francisco’s defense. I didn’t account for a possible Deshaun Watson trade. I didn’t account for the lower salary cap and teams that might have to gut their rosters. (Hi, New Orleans.)
The goal here is just to see who looks best for next year based mainly on quarterbacks returning from injury and offense being more predictive than defense. Since this was a quick project plus we still don’t know how many games are in the 2021 season, there are no schedule strength projections or win projections. You can play around with schedule strength yourselves in the comments if you feel like it.
Green Bay, as the top offense of 2020, has the top way-too-early projection for 2021.