April 17, 2021

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Week 16 DVOA Ratings | Football Outsiders

8 min read
Dallas weekly chart

The Baltimore Ravens continue to dominate the Football Outsiders DVOA ratings after this week’s win over the Cleveland Browns. It’s hard to keep moving up when you’re already above 40%, but the Ravens move up a little bit this week from 40.8% to 41.8%. The No. 2 New England Patriots also move up a little bit after their win over Buffalo, going from 33.3% to 34.5%.

Although the top ten teams in both total DVOA and weighted DVOA remain the same as a week ago, there is some movement below the top two. Kansas City moves up from fifth to third in total DVOA thanks to a big Sunday night win over Chicago. Seattle drops from sixth to eighth after its upset loss to Arizona, covered in this week’s Any Given Sunday column. That means that, yes, Minnesota and Dallas each both move up one spot despite disappointing losses this week. Each team fell in DVOA but dropped less than Seattle. Unlike the Seahawks, the Vikings and Cowboys did not have their worst games of the season this week. Minnesota’s worst game by DVOA was a Week 4 loss in Chicago, while Dallas’ worst game was the Thanksgiving loss to Buffalo.

Let’s talk a little about the Dallas Cowboys, shall we? I’ve seen a lot of complaints about the advanced metrics, including our DVOA, that have the Cowboys ranked among the league’s top ten teams. Let’s break the Cowboys down a little bit unit by unit to figure out whether we’re overrating the Cowboys.

Dallas ranks 31st in our special teams ratings. We’re certainly not overrating them there.

Dallas ranks 20th in our defensive ratings. We could be overrating them there, but that’s actually a much lower rank than the Cowboys have in the league’s official measures of defense. The Cowboys are 11th in points allowed and yards allowed. And the Cowboys are eighth in the league in yards allowed per play. Why does DVOA have the Dallas defense so much lower than other measures? Schedule is a big part of it, as the Cowboys have faced the No. 28 schedule of opposing offenses.

That brings us to the offense. We have the offense ranked second in DVOA behind Baltimore. Is that too high? To answer that, let’s first answer a trivia question. Can you name all the seasons since the merger where the Dallas Cowboys have led the league in offensive yards per play?

I’ll give you a hint: there are three seasons where Dallas has led the league in yards per play.

One of them came before we have DVOA and play-by-play data.

And here’s the real surprise: the Dallas Cowboys never led the NFL in yards per play when they were led by the triplets of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin.

The answer to the question: 1971, 2009, and 2019. Yes, it’s the Dallas Cowboys not the Baltimore Ravens who currently lead the NFL in yards per play.

I discovered this fact when I went to look at where this year’s Dallas offense stacked up against the offenses of the Dallas dynasty years. The 2019 Dallas Cowboys are the second-best offense of the franchise’s last 35 years based on DVOA ratings. The only Super Bowl year with a better offense is 1995.

Here’s a look at the three Dallas Super Bowl champions compared to this year’s Cowboys in DVOA, yards per play, first downs, and turnovers. I also tossed in the 2009 Cowboys and the 2016 Cowboys, Dak Prescott’s rookie year. That gives us the six best Dallas offenses since 1985.

Best Dallas Cowboys Offenses, 1985-2019
Year DVOA Rk Pass Rk Run Rk Sched Rk Yd/Play Rk FD Rk TO Rk
1995 29.6% 1 51.1% 1 19.8% 1 -2.7% 5 5.78 2 364 1 23 5
2019 24.5% 2 39.2% 5 9.1% 4 -1.3% 9 6.41 1 357 2 17 10
1992 23.6% 2 39.6% 2 13.7% 6 0.5% 16 5.53 3 324 4 24 4
1993 21.8% 2 38.1% 2 18.4% 2 1.2% 19 5.65 2 322 4 22 4
2009 21.7% 3 41.9% 3 13.9% 3 -1.3% 10 6.26 1 335 6 19 4
2016 19.9% 3 38.2% 3 11.5% 2 -0.7% 10 5.97 4 358 4 15 5

The Cowboys are averaging 0.93 yards more than the league average this season. They will likely finish the season with more yards and first downs than any Dallas offense in history. These Cowboys rank lower than other strong Cowboys offenses in turnovers, but only four turnovers are the difference between being tied for tenth and being tied for third.

OK, but haven’t the Dallas Cowboys played a really easy schedule this year? Actually, they have not, at least when it comes to opposing defenses. They played an easy schedule early in the season, beating up on the Giants and Washington and Miami. But look at the games the Cowboys have had since the bye week. Five of the Cowboys’ last eight games have come against teams ranked in the top ten in defensive DVOA, including the historically great Patriots (in a driving rainstorm, further depressing the Cowboys’ offensive numbers for that game). Combine that with Philadelphia now ranking 13th in defensive DVOA, and the Cowboys come out playing one of this year’s ten toughest schedules on offense.

Here’s one more table featuring those same six teams.

Best Dallas Cowboys Offenses, 1985-2019
Year Team W-L Total
Rk Off
Rk Def
1995 DAL 12-4 32.7% 2 29.6% 1 0.9% 13 4.0% 6
2019 DAL 7-8 15.7% 7 24.5% 2 4.7% 20 -4.1% 31
1992 DAL 13-3 35.1% 1 23.6% 2 -9.5% 5 1.9% 8
1993 DAL 12-4 24.9% 1 21.8% 2 0.8% 18 3.8% 7
2009 DAL 11-5 25.5% 5 21.7% 3 -2.9% 10 1.0% 14
2016 DAL 13-3 20.3% 2 19.9% 3 1.1% 18 1.6% 9

What’s the difference between this year’s Cowboys and the other strong Cowboys offenses? You can blame Dak Prescott and Kellen Moore and the Cowboys offense for having their worst game of the year at the worst possible time, in a division-deciding contest against Philadelphia, but overall the offense is not the problem for the 2019 Cowboys. This offense has been better than the Dallas offenses of most of the legendary triplets seasons. The problem has been defense and special teams, and coaching decisions, and luck and timing. (The Cowboys are 0-5 in games decided by seven points or less, 1-6 in games decided by eight points or less.)

Speaking of timing, there’s another reason why conventional wisdom differs so much from advanced metrics when it comes to the Dallas Cowboys: recency bias. The Cowboys have played five of their six worst games of the year over the last six weeks. They were a much better team at the start of the year, but their big win over the Rams in Week 15 is the lone recent bright spot. Here’s one of our DVOA week-to-week graphs to show the decline:

Dallas weekly chart

The silver lining for Cowboys fans around this year’s cloud is that offense is more predictable than defense. It’s likely that the Dallas defense and special teams bounce back next year but the offense continues to play well. The performance in close games will rebound. The in-game decision-making errors may be fixed by a coaching change. There’s no evidence that playing worse in the second half of the season carries over to the following season. This Cowboys team is poised to be a serious contender in 2020.

One more note while we’re talking about the Cowboys. We’ll have to see what happens in the final game against Washington but a close loss could leave the Cowboys with the record for the best DVOA ever by a losing team. However, they probably can’t have a win big enough to set a new record for best DVOA by an 8-8 team. Right now both of those records are held by Dick Vermeil Chiefs teams. The 2004 Chiefs (7-9) had 15.1% DVOA. The 2002 Chiefs (8-8) had 24.4% DVOA.

Finally, let’s run our “best of/worst of” tables that I’ve been updating each week. One more game and we can compare this year’s teams to the legendary teams over full seasons! That also means that next week I’ll be officially unveiling where the 1985 Chicago Bears stand on the all-time total and defensive DVOA tables.

First, Baltimore, which drops a couple of slots this week even though its total DVOA went up:

THROUGH 15 GAMES, 1985-2019
Year Team W-L DVOA
1991 WAS 14-1 57.9%
2007 NE 15-0 55.7%
1985 CHI 14-1 54.0%
1987 SF* 10-2 47.0%
1995 SF 11-4 42.4%
2010 NE 13-2 42.1%
2019 BAL 13-2 41.8%
2012 SEA 10-5 41.1%
2004 PIT 14-1 40.7%
1996 GB 12-3 38.9%
2013 SEA 12-3 38.6%
1999 STL 13-2 38.1%
*only 12 games due to strike

Hopefully, the performance of the 2019 Baltimore Ravens backups this week won’t knock the Ravens out of the all-time top dozen. Perhaps I’ll put together a “no sitting starters” list that considers where teams such as the 1991 Redskins, 1999 Rams, and 2004 Eagles stood before they started playing backups in the last couple weeks of the season.

The Patriots’ overall rating and offensive rating both went up this week, but their defensive rating got a little worse. That only drops them one spot on this table, though:

THROUGH 15 GAMES, 1985-2019
Year Team W-L DVOA
1991 PHI 9-6 -41.1%
1985 CHI 14-1 -34.4%
2002 TB 11-4 -32.1%
1986 CHI 13-2 -31.6%
2019 NE 12-3 -29.2%
1988 MIN 10-5 -27.9%
2012 CHI 9-6 -27.7%
2004 BUF 9-6 -27.2%
2015 DEN 11-4 -26.9%
1995 SF 11-4 -26.9%
2008 BAL 10-5 -26.3%
1997 SF 13-2 -26.1%

Finally, the Miami Dolphins no longer rank on the list of the worst overall teams in DVOA history. Their defensive rating also improved a little bit this week, but not enough to take them off the worst defenses list.

THROUGH 15 GAMES, 1985-2019
Year Team W-L DVOA
1986 TB 2-13 27.9%
2015 NO 6-9 27.2%
2000 MIN 11-4 26.8%
2008 DET 0-15 24.7%
1987 MIA* 7-5 24.4%
1999 CLE 2-13 23.8%
2019 MIA 4-11 22.8%
1986 MIA 8-7 22.0%
1992 ATL 6-9 21.9%
2004 MIN 8-7 21.1%
1996 ATL 3-12 21.1%
2004 SF 2-13 20.2%
*only 12 games due to strike

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Stats pages should now be updated through Week 16, including playoff odds, the FO Premium DVOA database and snap counts.

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These are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through 16 weeks of 2019, 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 to 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 represents an attempt to figure out how a team is playing right now, as opposed to over the season as a whole, by making recent games more important than earlier games.

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>

  • NON-ADJUSTED TOTAL DVOA does not include the adjustments for opponent strength or the adjustments for weather and altitude in special teams, and only penalizes offenses for lost fumbles rather than all fumbles.
  • ESTIMATED WINS uses a statistic known as “Forest Index” that emphasizes consistency as well as DVOA in the most important specific situations: red zone defense, first quarter offense, and performance in the second half when the score is close. It then projects a number of wins adjusted to a league-average schedule and a league-average rate of recovering fumbles. Teams that have had their bye week are projected as if they had played one game per week.
  • PAST SCHEDULE lists average DVOA of opponents played this season, ranked from hardest schedule (#1, most positive) to easiest schedule (#32, most negative). It is not adjusted for which games are home or road.
  • FUTURE SCHEDULE lists average DVOA of opponents still left to play this season, ranked from hardest schedule (#1, most positive) to easiest schedule (#32, most negative). It is not adjusted for which games are home or road.
  • VARIANCE measures the statistical variance of the team’s weekly DVOA performance. Teams are ranked from most consistent (#1, lowest variance) to least consistent (#32, highest variance).


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