by Aaron Schatz
It’s no surprise that the New England Patriots remain No. 1 in our DVOA ratings after Week 4. What may be a surprise is just how good their defense is historically, even after we’ve introduced opponent adjustments into our numbers for the first time.
The 2019 New England Patriots are the best defense we’ve ever measured through the first four games of the season, going all the way back to 1986. They narrowly passed the 1997 San Francisco 49ers after Monday night’s games changed the opponent adjustments. A good game for Pittsburgh lowered the Patriots’ penalty for playing the Steelers in Week 1. That was also good enough to put the Patriots back onto the list of the dozen best overall teams through four games. They almost fell off this list because they had a horrible offensive game in Week 4 against the Bills. The Patriots had a -43.4% offensive DVOA this week; only Cincinnati and Washington were worse on offense in Week 4. Their offense dropped from fourth to ninth in DVOA this week.
New England’s chances of going 16-0 in our playoff odds simulation remained at 2.8%, the same as a week ago.
As regular FO readers know, Week 4 is when we start to introduce opponent adjustments, which begin at 40% of their usual strength and will gradually increase by 10% each week until we are at full strength after Week 10. With the extremes that we’re seeing this year, both high and low, it’s legitimate to ask if we should be making the opponent adjustments stronger, even this early in the season. If we had stronger adjustments now, the Patriots would probably not be the best defense ever measured through four games. They’ve played the easiest schedule and the easiest schedule of opposing offenses. Then again, plenty of the other teams on the “best ever through four games” list probably played easy schedules that we were measuring at only 40% strength after four games.
|BEST TOTAL DVOA
THROUGH 4 GAMES, 1986-2019
|BEST DEFENSIVE DVOA
THROUGH 4 GAMES, 1986-2019
(For the couple people who have asked, “CLE1” on these tables refers to the original Cleveland Browns, to differentiate them from the new Cleveland Browns.)
Just behind the Patriots are the San Francisco 49ers as a close No. 2. But of course, the 49ers have only played three games, while most of the other teams have played four. The 49ers have also been stellar on defense early. If the table above was “best defensive DVOA through four weeks” instead of four games, the 49ers would be in our top dozen. As the only unbeaten team in the NFC, the 49ers have seen their playoff odds move up to make them the No. 4 Super Bowl contender, even though their mediocre preseason projection is still dragging down their DAVE rating.
Dallas drops one spot to No. 3 after a loss to New Orleans. The Cowboys are our No. 2 offense so far, but average on defense and special teams. Fourth and fifth are the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens, holding on to their spots from last week. However, both fell a good amount in DVOA this week. The Chiefs are the one team in the top five that hasn’t played a very easy early schedule, but they had only a -10.3% DVOA for this week’s narrow victory over the Lions. (DVOA has the Lions outplaying the Chiefs with 16.1% DVOA this week.)
And the Ravens take a big hit from both the introduction of opponent adjustments and their loss to Cleveland this week, with their DVOA dropping by more than half, from 40.1% to 16.4%. Baltimore’s rating is being somewhat propped up by that Week 1 game against Miami, which still has the best single-game DVOA of any game this season by any team. That’s going to fall as the opponent adjustments get stronger, so the Ravens will have to get back to winning ways to keep their overall DVOA high. The split of Baltimore’s DVOA is a bit of a shock. We know the Ravens are one of the rare teams to be consistently good on special teams, so ranking second there is no surprise. The surprise is that the Baltimore offense is currently third and the defense is currently 29th! We knew that the Ravens lost a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball this offseason but they had plenty of strong talent left and they added Earl Thomas. Yet the Ravens rank 23rd in points allowed, and they’ve allowed over 500 yards in each of the last two games.
After Baltimore comes a whole bunch of NFC teams. Teams 6 through 13 in DVOA after Week 4 are all NFC teams, which means that overall, 10 of the top 13 teams are from the NFC. This is just one sign of how close the race for NFC playoff spots is going to be this year. Right now, we have nine different NFC teams with at least 9.0 mean wins in our simulations. (This includes eight of the teams in our top 13, plus New Orleans, which is 3-1 and will get a performance boost when Drew Brees returns.)
The most surprising of the NFC teams is probably Tampa Bay. Are the Buccaneers actually … good? They zoomed up from 20th to seventh in DVOA this week. We expected Tampa Bay to regress on offense and once again be terrible on defense, where they’ve ranked No. 32 in DVOA the last two years. Instead, Tampa Bay has stayed above average on offense (10th) and has been excellent on defense (sixth). That defensive rating is mostly run defense, however. The Bucs are average in pass defense, but they are the No. 1 run defense in DVOA at -38.5%. It’s worth noting that the Bucs are the only team currently in the DVOA top ten that has played a top ten schedule. Based on current DVOA ratings, their past schedule ranks fourth and their future schedule ranks 23rd.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Florida and the other side of the DVOA ratings, you’ll find the Miami Dolphins. Oh, the Dolphins are so bad. So, so bad. The Miami Dolphins are the worst team we’ve ever tracked through four games. And notice the gap between the 2013 Jaguars and everyone else. Essentially, if not for the 2013 Jaguars, the Dolphins would 20 percentage points worse than every other team in 34 years of NFL football.
|WORST TOTAL DVOA
THROUGH 4 GAMES, 1986-2019
The Dolphins are horrid on both sides of the ball. On offense, the Dolphins are easily in last place and rank as the No. 8 worst offense ever tracked by DVOA through four games. On defense, the Dolphins are more than twice as bad as the team in next to last place (currently Indianapolis) and are the No. 3 worst defense ever tracked by DVOA through four games.
|WORST OFFENSIVE DVOA
THROUGH 4 GAMES, 1986-2019
|WORST DEFENSIVE DVOA
THROUGH 4 GAMES, 1986-2019
How bad are the Dolphins? Well, the Bengals rank 31st in offense and 30th in defense, yet the Dolphins are almost twice as bad as the Bengals overall. This week, Miami went 0-16 in 10.7% of our simulations and 1-15 in another 24.7% of our simulations. In 5.1% of seasons, Miami’s only win is over Cincinnati in Week 16.
Cincinnati, by comparison, only goes 0-16 in 1.0% of simulations and only goes 1-15 in 5.0% of simulations.
Besides opponent adjustments, this week is also the season debut for the second weekly table that includes past and future schedule ratings. As usual early in the season, because our opponent adjustments are only at 40 percent strength, good teams generally get listed with easy schedules and bad teams get listed with hard schedules. However, there are a few teams that stand out, both because of their schedule so far and because of how things will change going forward.
- As noted earlier, Tampa Bay is the only team in the top ten that has played a top ten schedule. The flip side of that is Indianapolis, the only team in the bottom ten of DVOA that has played a bottom ten schedule. That’s part of why the Colts are ranked just 26th in DVOA despite a 2-2 record. However, the Colts schedule doesn’t really get harder. Their future schedule ranks just 25th. By the way, all four Colts games have been decided by one score.
- New England and Buffalo also have easy schedules both in their past and in their future. Washington and Arizona have difficult schedules both in their past and in their future.
- Teams whose schedules should get easier the rest of the way: Miami (but will it even matter?), New York Jets, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati.
- Teams whose schedules should get harder the rest of the way: Seattle, Chicago, Dallas, and Minnesota.
How do opponent adjustments affect the player stats so far? Here are players with particularly strong differences between DYAR and YAR.
- Jameis Winston goes from 13th in YAR to 10th in DYAR. Andy Dalton gets the biggest bump from opponent adjustments, but he’s been pretty terrible either way.
- Dak Prescott, Philip Rivers, and Jacoby Brissett take the biggest penalty in DYAR for opponent adjustment.
- Opponent adjustments switch this year’s top running back in rushing DYAR from Mark Ingram to Dalvin Cook.
- Christian McCaffrey goes from 12th in rushing YAR to fourth in rushing DYAR. Frank Gore and Aaron Jones also take huge positive jumps when we account for schedule.
- Josh Jacobs has played the easiest schedule of opposing run defenses, dropping from ninth in rushing YAR to 23rd in rushing DYAR. Leonard Fournette, Kerryon Johnson, and Sony Michel have also played easier schedules.
- Jamison Crowder has by far the biggest bonus from opponent adjustments out of all wide receivers, followed by the Arizona receivers Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald.
- Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb have two of the three biggest penalties from opponent adjustments, although Cooper has been good enough that it only drops him from fourth to fifth among wide receivers.
- Matk Andrews, Travis Kelce, and Will Dissly have played particularly easy schedules for tight ends. Tyler Eifert and Evan Engram have played particularly hard schedules.
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Once again this season, we have teamed up with EA Sports to bring Football Outsiders-branded player content to Madden 20 on a monthly basis. Today, we get to announce the Football Outsiders September players for Madden Ultimate Team on consoles, which will go live at 10:30am Eastern on Sunday. These players will also be coming to Madden Mobile.
- WR Amari Cooper, DAL: Fifth among wide receivers with 94 DYAR in September (21 catches, 286 yards, 4 TD).
- WR Terry McLaurin, WAS: Sixth among wide receivers with 93 DYAR in September (16 catches, 257 yards, 3 TD).
- TE Darren Waller, OAK: Third among tight ends with 59 DYAR in September (33 catches, 320 yards, 0 TD).
- LT Ronnie Stanley, BAL: Baltimore ranks second in adjusted line yards through September; no blown blocks in Sports Info Solutions charting.
- C Weston Richburg, SF: San Francisco leads the NFL in both adjusted line yards and adjusted sack rate; only 1 blown block in Sports Info Solutions charting.
- LE Danielle Hunter, MIN: Leads all defensive ends with 9 defeats, and fourth in the NFL with 17 hurries.
- LOLB Jamie Collins, NE: Led NFL with 14 defeats in September including 3 interceptions and 3.5 sacks.
- MLB Jordan Hicks, ARI: Led NFL with 48 plays made in September; tied for third with 11 defeats.
- CB Jaire Alexander, GB: Second among qualified cornerbacks with 3.6 yards allowed per pass in September; fifth with 73% success rate.
- CB Carlton Davis, TB: Tenth among qualified cornerbacks with 4.8 yards allowed per pass in September; 12th with 65% success rate.
- K Joey Slye, CAR: 10-for-11 on field goals including 4-for-5 from 50+ yards. 19 of 20 kickoffs were touchbacks.
- P Thomas Morstead, NO: No. 1 in Football Outsiders gross punt value metric, with punts worth 5.0 points of field position above expectation. Tied for second with 11 punts inside the 20.
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These are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through four weeks of 2018, 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.
Because it is early in the season, opponent adjustments are only at 40% strength; they will increase 10% every week through Week 10. As always, positive numbers represent more points so DEFENSE is better when it is NEGATIVE.
DAVE is a formula which combines our preseason projection with current DVOA to get a more accurate forecast of how a team will play the rest of the season. Right now, the preseason projection makes up 55% of DAVE for most teams (70% for teams with only three games). The DAVE for New Orleans assumes Drew Brees will play half the remaining 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).