Sitting starters? Not a problem for the Baltimore Ravens, whose league-leading DVOA rating barely moved after their 28-10 Week 17 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens didn’t take the No. 1 spot in DVOA until after Week 13, but they had an absurdly dominant last half of the season. The Ravens had a single-game rating over 30% in their last ten straight games of the year. The only other team to finish over 30% for the season was Kansas City, which moves up one spot into the No. 2 spot in DVOA this week. The Chiefs pass the Patriots, who fall to third in total DVOA and sixth in weighted DVOA with their shocking upset loss to Miami.
Baltimore’s losses are so far back in the rearview mirror at this point that the Ravens have a weighted DVOA of 50.9%. Their performance this year is so far past any other team that they win the Super Bowl in over 40% of our playoff simulations. The Ravens finish the season in the top ten for all three phases of the game, including first on offense and fourth on defense. If we look only since Week 10, the Ravens are second on offense (behind, here’s a shocker, Tennessee) and second on defense (behind Pittsburgh).
So how do the Ravens end up among all teams ever tracked by DVOA, since 1985? We’ve been updating this list each week throughout the season and we end up with the Ravens at No. 7.
|BEST TOTAL DVOA, 1985-2019|
|*only 12 games due to strike|
If you’ve been reading each week, you also know that part of this list each week has been updating where the 1985 Bears stand historically. Now that the season is over, we can reveal that the 1985 Bears — often considered the best team in NFL history — only end up third for regular-season DVOA behind the 1991 Redskins and 2007 Patriots. If we include their dominant postseason, the Bears move up to No. 2, but still rank behind the 1991 Redskins, who also had a pretty good postseason run. The Bears also don’t end up as the best defense we’ve ever measured. For the regular season, the Bears are behind the 1991 Eagles and tied with themselves, the 1986 Chicago Bears. Including the postseason, the Bears are all alone in the No. 2 spot.
We’ll reveal the rest of the 1985 DVOA and DYAR numbers in February after Super Bowl LIV, but for now, let’s return to running down the results from the 2019 season.
If we measure weighted DVOA instead of total DVOA, looking at how each team was playing going into the playoffs, the Ravens are sixth since 1985. The teams ahead of them are the 2010 Patriots, 1985 Bears, 1991 Redskins, 1987 49ers, and 2015 Seahawks. The Ravens hope not to join the 2010 Patriots and 1987 49ers, who despite being red hot going into the playoffs suffered two of the worst postseason upsets in NFL history.
For the most part, Baltimore’s comfortable Week 17 win means we don’t need to have a long drawn-out discussion of why we don’t adjust DVOA ratings for teams sitting starters at the end of the season. However, I did make a fun little table and I would hate to see it go to waste. This table shows the top 20 teams in DVOA if we removed games where teams sat starters because they had clinched playoff position. Teams such as the 1999 Rams, the 2005 Colts, and especially the 2004 Eagles climb our ranks if we remove these end-of-season games. The teams in red have adjusted ratings due to sitting starters.
While sitting starters doesn’t really affect Baltimore’s DVOA much, it did have some impact lower down on the table, in particular with the game between Tennessee and Houston. The Titans moved up from 13th to ninth in total DVOA this week, and they are now all the way up to fifth in weighted DVOA. That comes in part thanks to the benefit of playing Houston’s backups in Week 17. The Texans fall from 15th to 19th this week and are down to 23rd in weighted DVOA. The Texans would be the lowest playoff team in DVOA even without the effect of Week 17, but holding out players such as Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins just exaggerates the difference. Therefore, we’ve removed Week 17 from Houston and Tennessee in the ratings we’re using for our playoff odds simulation. We did the same for Baltimore, Buffalo, and Minnesota.
Baltimore finishes the year No. 1 in offensive DVOA, and the Ravens are No. 1 both passing and rushing the ball. Only five teams in history had accomplished this feat of leading the league in both passing and rushing DVOA: 1988 Bengals, 1993 49ers, 1995 Cowboys, 1998 Broncos, and 2002 Chiefs. The Ravens are the first team to do it in 17 years. Surprisingly, given the fact that they broke the all-time rushing yardage record held by the 1978 Patriots, the Ravens do not even come close to having the best rushing DVOA in history. They aren’t even one of the top 20 rushing teams we’ve ever measured. (No. 1 is the 2000 Rams.)
The Ravens were 15th in offensive DVOA in 2018, and their rise in 2019 matches one of the major stories of the 2019 season which is that it was a season of change. The year-to-year correlation of offensive DVOA is usually around .50, but for 2018 to 2019 it was only .30. A number of teams made huge leaps in offensive efficiency, including Dallas (24 to 2), Tennessee (22 to 6), Oakland (25 to 9), and Arizona (32 to 13). In the meantime, Pittsburgh and Carolina saw their ratings plummet after losing their starting quarterbacks.
The correlation wasn’t high for defense either: .28, compared to a usual correlation around .38. But the year-to-year correlation of total DVOA was higher, .44, because of a number of teams that saw their units essentially “switch places.” There were a number of teams that had significant defensive improvement paired with offensive decline. New England is the most obvious, but also Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and the Los Angeles Rams. The Dallas Cowboys were the opposite, with significant offensive improvement paired with defensive decline.
Both Miami and the New York Jets threatened to rank among our worst offenses ever early in the season, but it’s Pittsbugh that ends up in last place on offense, narrowly falling below the Jets. Miami ends up as the worst running team, so congratulations on trading Kenyan Drake. (I’m kidding, of course, since everyone on Twitter now knows that running backs don’t matter. Congratulations on trading Laremy Tunsil instead.) The Jets end up as the worst passing team, followed by Carolina, Pittsburgh and Washington.
Let’s move on to defense. Just as we’ve been tracking the Ravens against the best teams in DVOA history, so too have we been tracking the Patriots against the best defenses in DVOA history. Well, after a very bad game against the Dolphins in Week 17, the Patriots are no longer one of the top dozen defenses in DVOA history. Specifically, they fell to No. 16. But the Patriots still end the season as the No. 1 defense of 2019. The 49ers, who like the Patriots saw their defense decline in the second half of the season, finish No. 2. The Pittsburgh Steelers, they of the worst offense in football, had the best defense in football over the second half of the year and end the season at No. 3.
There is a 2019 defense that ends up among the ten best defenses in DVOA history, however: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Todd Bowles engineered a shocking turnaround for the Tampa Bay defense this year, as it went from dead last in DVOA for 2018 to fifth for 2019. And most impressive was the run defense, which allowed just 3.3 yards per carry, a yard below the NFL average. The Bucs come out as the No. 6 best run defense we’ve ever measured.
|BEST RUN DEFENSE DVOA, 1985-2019|
The worst run defenses are never as bad as the best run defenses are good, but this year also had one of the worst run defenses in DVOA history. Charlotte resident Scott Spratt has been lamenting this all season long in Audibles, and drawing attention to it whenever he recommends you play your running backs against the Carolina Panthers in his Sit and Start columns. The Carolina Panthers allowed a league-worst 5.2 yards per attempt and 31 rushing touchdowns when the next-worst team was Jacksonville with 23. So the Carolina Panthers have the worst run defense DVOA of the century. It’s interesting that most of the worst run defense DVOA ratings are from before the year 2000. This continues even if you go down to the top 20 or top 30.
|WORST RUN DEFENSE DVOA, 1985-2019|
2019 also brought us one of the worst overall defenses of DVOA history. The Miami Dolphins offense improved significantly over the course of the year, ranking 20th from Week 10 onwards. The defense did not improve anywhere near as much, ranking 30th from Week 10 onwards. For the entire season, Miami gave up 30 or more points in ten different games. Despite a 5-4 record over their final nine games, despite the upset win over the Patriots, the Dolphins end up as the No. 6 worst defense in DVOA history and the No. 4 worst defense against the pass.
|WORST DEFENSIVE DVOA, 1985-2019|
|*only 12 games due to strike|
|WORST PASS DEFENSE DVOA, 1985-2019|
Finally, the Cincinnati Bengals may have had the worst win-loss record in the NFL but they also had the best special teams unit in the league. The Bengals led the league in kick return value and were also above-average on field goals, punts, and kickoffs. It was a very condensed year for special teams, with every team within ten percentage points. The Bengals were No. 1 at 4.6% but that would not have been the No. 1 special teams unit in any other season other than 1993, when the Lions led the league in special teams at just 3.9%. Although the Dallas Cowboys had the worst special teams unit for most of the year, they climbed out of the cellar at the end, so the Los Angeles Chargers end up last in special teams.
Another interesting thing about special teams this year is that it was very consistent from last year, unlike offense and defense. 2018 to 2019 is the rare year-to-year period where the correlation of special teams (.50) ended up higher than offense or defense. Eight of the top ten special teams units from 2018 also made the top ten in 2019.
Oh, and the New England Patriots, despite going through four different placekickers, ended up the season 11th in special teams DVOA. That makes this the 24th straight season where the New England Patriots had above-average special teams, a streak that goes back before Bill Belichick to the end of the Bill Parcells era and the 1996 Super Bowl team.
A couple of other notes from the 2019 season before we run the big tables:
- The Green Bay Packers end up the second-worst 13-3 team ever according to DVOA, trailing only the 1999 Colts. You can find the list of the worst 13-3 teams here in this tweet. Four of the previous six worst 13-3 teams lost in the divisional round, although the 1999 Titans did make it all the way to the Super Bowl and almost won it.
- The star-crossed 2019 Dallas Cowboys end up sixth with 17.1% DVOA, which makes them the fifth-best 8-8 team in DVOA history. They rank behind the 2002 Chiefs, 2006 Jaguars, 1999 Raiders, and 1993 Chargers.
- This year’s hardest schedules by DVOA were all in the NFC: Los Angeles Rams at No. 1, then Seattle, Arizona, Carolina, and Atlanta. Houston and Cincinnati had the toughest schedules in the AFC.
- The easiest schedule in the league, as projected before the season, belonged to the New England Patriots. Then came the Colts, Bills, Titans, and Jets. The easiest schedules in the NFC belonged to Philadelphia and Dallas.
- Miami, Cleveland, and Baltimore played easy schedules on defense but difficult schedules on offense. Denver, Tampa Bay, and Chicago played difficult schedules on defense but easy schedules on offense.
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All player/team DVOA stats pages are now updated through the end of the regular season, as are our playoff odds. We’ll review the best and worst player stats of the year in a special Quick Reads tomorrow. Snap counts and the premium DVOA database should be updated by the end of tonight. Drive stats and pace stats are updated with final numbers. Matchup View in FO Standard Premium will be added for the four wild-card games sometime on Tuesday.
Please note that while this article is called “Final 2019 DVOA Ratings,” we will continue with our unofficial postseason weighted DVOA ratings each Monday through the playoffs. There will also be small changes in the final 2019 DVOA ratings based on postseason changes to the play-by-play.
We’ll announce our December stars for Madden NFL 20 Ultimate Team in next week’s DVOA ratings article on Monday.
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These are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through the entire 2019 regular season, 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. 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. As always, positive numbers represent more points so DEFENSE is better when it is NEGATIVE.
LAST WEEK represents rank after Week 17, while LAST YEAR represents rank in 2018.
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 VOA does not include adjustments for opponents and for measuring all fumbles equally no matter who recovers.
- 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.
- 2019 SCHEDULE lists average DVOA of opponents played this season, ranked from hardest schedule (#1, most positive) to easiest schedule (#32, most negative).
- PYTHAGOREAN WINS represent a projection of the team’s expected wins based solely on points scored and allowed. Our “Pythagenport” formula uses a variable exponent based on the offensive environment of each team’s games to get a more accurate projection.
- 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).