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DVOA Prefers 49ers in Close Final Four

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DVOA Prefers 49ers in Close Final Four
Aaron Schatz
23 Jan 2023, 02:45pm

DVOA Prefers 49ers in Close Final Four

The San Francisco 49ers continue to lead the NFL in our weighted DVOA ratings after a win over Dallas that was bigger than the final score indicates. After adjusting for the quality of the Cowboys, the 49ers ended up with 61% DVOA for the game, putting them close to the dominating victories by Philadelphia (74%) and Cincinnati (78%) earlier in the weekend.

That big Cincinnati victory moves the Bengals up and the Bills down, which puts the next three teams after San Francisco very close together. Kansas City and Cincinnati, in fact, are now tied in weighted DVOA before they face each other next Sunday in the AFC Conference Championship.

This year’s NFL final four contains four of the top five teams from the regular season and four of the top five teams in weighted DVOA including the playoffs. The Buffalo Bills are the odd man out. That means that there has still never been a year where the top four teams in DVOA all made it to the conference championships. That’s part of the fun of the NFL playoffs! In fact, there’s never even been a year where the top two teams in each conference ended up in the two conference championship games, even if those teams weren’t the top four teams overall.

It’s sad to see Buffalo go, as it is surprisingly rare in recent years for the No. 1 team during the regular season to actually win the Super Bowl. (It last happened with the 2016 Patriots.) DVOA got some criticism over this during the weekend, but it wasn’t alone. Pretty much every advanced metric had the Bills as the No. 1 or No. 2 team going into the playoffs. They were No. 1 before this weekend by regular-season DVOA, ESPN FPI, and Pro Football Reference’s Simple Rating System. They were tied for No. 1 with Kansas City in PFF ELO. They were second to San Francisco in Pythagorean Wins and weighted DVOA, and they were second to Kansas City in 538 ELO. The Bills were also higher than the Bengals in EPA/play on both offense and defense during the regular season. Sometimes, you just get outplayed… and as we pointed out in the Monday livestream, outcoached as well.

The final four teams are very balanced according to the Vegas odds, with all four given roughly 25% chance to win it all. At BetMGM, for example, they’ve got the Chiefs at +250, Bengals at +260, Eagles at +270, and 49ers at +280. Our playoff odds simulation prefers the NFC teams but also comes out very close, with all four teams listed between 21.2% and 29.4%. I was asked this morning on Twitter whether this is the most balanced final four we’ve ever seen by DVOA. The answer is no, but it’s a very balanced final four depending on which version of DVOA you want to look at.

Based on regular-season DVOA, this is the most balanced final four in nearly 25 years. I went back and looked at the standard deviation of DVOA for the last four teams in each season, all the way back to 1981. The most balanced year of all was 1997, where all four teams finished the regular season between 26% and 30% in DVOA. Then came 1986, 1998, and 2022 is fourth. Here’s a look at the closest final fours since 1981 by regular-season DVOA, with the eventual Super Bowl champion of each year in bold:

Closest Final Fours by Regular-Season DVOA, 1981-2022
YEAR STDEV RK1 TM1 DVOA1 RK2 TM2 DVOA2 RK3 TM3 DVOA3 RK4 TM4 DVOA4
1997 1.5% 1 DEN 29.9% 3 GB 29.1% 4 SF 27.5% 5 PIT 26.7%
1986 3.5% 4 NYG 19.9% 5 DEN 19.0% 8 WAS 15.0% 9 CLE1 12.3%
1998 3.8% 1 DEN 32.2% 2 NYJ 28.0% 3 MIN 27.4% 6 ATL 22.9%
2022 4.1% 2 SF 27.6% 3 PHI 25.2% 4 KC 23.0% 5 CIN 18.1%
1981 4.1% 2 DAL 18.2% 3 SD 17.1% 5 CIN 16.4% 12 SF 9.2%
2009 4.3% 6 NO 25.2% 7 MIN 22.8% 8 IND 17.0% 9 NYJ 16.5%
2020 5.0% 2 TB 31.5% 3 GB 25.8% 4 BUF 23.8% 6 KC 19.6%
1990 5.0% 1 NYG 30.6% 2 LARD 24.1% 3 BUF 23.0% 7 SF 118.5%

Which final was was the least close, you might ask? The answer is 1991. Not only was Washington the best team ever measured by DVOA, but the other three teams included Buffalo (fourth), Denver (13th), and Detroit (15th).

We can also look at which final four was closest going into the conference championships by looking at weighted DVOA. These ratings include the first two rounds of the playoffs and discount early-season games. Since they include fewer games, they naturally have a wider spread and higher standard deviation. I don’t have these ratings as handy as regular-season DVOA, but I did go back and look at the last dozen years. Because San Francisco has pulled out to a big lead in weighted DVOA with its fantastic late-season performance (not to mention dropping Week 1 out of the formula), the 2022 season is not the closest final four by weighted DVOA, even in just the last dozen years. Instead, the closest final four of the last dozen years was 2018. The 2022 final four comes out third in this group.

All Final Fours by Weighted DVOA after Divisional Round, 2011-2022
YEAR STDEV RK1 TM1 DVOA1 RK2 TM2 DVOA2 RK3 TM3 DVOA3 RK4 TM4 DVOA4
2018 4.7% 1 KC 33.7% 4 NE 25.7% 5 NO 25.7% 6 LAR 22.8%
2015 7.1% 3 CAR 36.8% 5 DEN 25.3% 6 NE 22.4% 7 ARI 21.1%
2022 7.3% 1 SF 43.9% 3 KC 32.4% 4 CIN 32.4% 5 PHI 26.3%
2020 9.6% 1 BUF 42.6% 2 GB 41.1% 3 TB 40.3% 6 KC 22.3%
2016 9.7% 1 NE 46.5% 2 ATL 31.0% 3 PIT 27.4% 5 GB 24.9%
2011 10.4% 2 NE 34.9% 5 SF 22.4% 11 NYG 15.9% 13 BAL 10.9%
2017 10.9% 1 NE 39.0% 2 MIN 39.0% 7 PHI 24.2% 9 JAX 17.3%
2013 11.2% 1 SEA 47.6% 3 DEN 30.7% 5 NE 26.8% 7 SF 21.9%
2021 11.9% 2 KC 33.4% 3 LAR 32.7% 5 SF 25.8% 12 CIN 7.8%
2014 12.8% 1 SEA 42.6% 2 NE 36.8% 3 GB 30.3% 10 IND 13.0%
2019 15.6% 3 KC 44.3% 4 SF 39.7% 5 TEN 31.5% 10 GB 9.1%
2012 17.0% 2 NE 48.9% 4 SF 31.6% 9 BAL 14.7% 11 ATL 112.3%

As always, the following rules apply for postseason DVOA ratings:

  • All 32 teams are ranked, whether they made the playoffs or not.
  • Teams are ranked in order of weighted DVOA, not total season DVOA. Since weighted DVOA is meant to lower the strength of older games, these ratings do not include Weeks 1-5, and Weeks 6-13 are somewhat discounted.
  • The ratings listed do not include the adjustments used in the ratings for our playoff odds report. Right now, Philadelphia is adjusted to account for the two Gardner Minshew games and Kansas City is adjusted to try to account for the Patrick Mahomes injury.
  • Only weighted DVOA is listed for offense, defense, and special teams. Total DVOA is also listed, but adding 10 games to a 271-game sample won’t change things very much.
  • Teams are treated as having a bye week in any week where they did not play. Since most teams haven’t played in two weeks, that means some of the ratings for non-playoff teams can start getting a little unreliable. Really, this is only to be used for playoff teams, the other teams are just there for ranking comparison purposes.
  • DVOA, as always, takes a long-term view of an NFL team’s performance. That means that the games of the last two weeks are just two games among many, so teams may be listed below other teams that they have beaten in the playoffs.

* * * * *

To save people some time, we remind everyone to put their angry troll hatred into the official zlionsfan angry troll hatred Mad Libs form:

is clearly ranked because . is way better than this.

If you are new to our website, you can read the explanation of how DVOA is figured here. As always, positive numbers represent more points so DEFENSE is better when it is NEGATIVE.

Teams in yellow are still alive in the playoffs. Teams in gray lost this past weekend.

RK TEAM WEI
DVOA
LAST
WEEK
W-L WEI OFF
DVOA
RK WEI DEF
DVOA
RK WEI S.T.
DVOA
RK TOTAL
DVOA
RK
1 SF 43.9% 1 15-4 26.4% 2 -12.8% 3 4.6% 6 30.9% 2
2 BUF 32.9% 2 14-4 17.5% 5 -8.2% 9 7.1% 2 33.0% 1
3 KC 32.4% 3 15-3 29.0% 1 -3.6% 13 -0.2% 23 23.3% 4
4 CIN 32.4% 4 14-4 23.8% 3 -7.8% 11 0.7% 21 22.1% 5
5 PHI 26.3% 5 15-3 12.6% 6 -8.8% 8 4.8% 5 27.7% 3
6 DET 19.5% 6 9-8 17.9% 4 2.5% 20 4.0% 8 7.7% 8
7 DAL 15.6% 7 13-6 6.1% 9 -8.2% 10 1.3% 19 19.5% 6
8 GB 12.4% 9 8-9 6.1% 10 -2.1% 17 4.3% 7 3.6% 12
9 BAL 10.8% 8 10-8 -4.2% 21 -11.0% 5 4.0% 9 17.5% 7
10 PIT 10.2% 12 9-8 3.7% 11 -9.6% 6 -3.1% 28 0.9% 14
11 JAX 10.1% 14 10-9 8.6% 8 4.9% 24 6.4% 4 3.5% 13
12 CLE 9.8% 10 7-10 2.9% 12 -3.1% 16 3.8% 11 5.2% 10
13 NO 8.9% 11 7-10 -8.2% 23 -15.1% 1 1.9% 17 -1.7% 18
14 MIA 6.1% 13 9-9 -2.8% 17 -6.0% 12 2.9% 14 7.1% 9
15 LAC 4.9% 15 10-8 -2.1% 16 -3.3% 15 3.7% 12 -0.6% 17
16 WAS 2.1% 18 8-8-1 -9.3% 26 -8.8% 7 2.5% 16 -4.9% 21
17 SEA 1.6% 16 9-9 -1.6% 14 4.3% 23 7.6% 1 4.4% 11
18 NYG -2.1% 17 10-8-1 10.8% 7 12.2% 31 -0.7% 24 -4.9% 22
19 ATL -3.9% 19 7-10 2.8% 13 10.6% 29 3.8% 10 -2.8% 19
20 CAR -5.9% 22 7-10 -3.2% 19 6.3% 26 3.6% 13 -13.9% 28
21 LAR -6.3% 21 5-12 -3.9% 20 4.3% 22 1.9% 18 -11.0% 24
22 NE -9.3% 23 8-9 -10.9% 27 -13.6% 2 -12.0% 32 -0.3% 15
23 NYJ -9.6% 20 7-10 -19.1% 30 -12.6% 4 -3.1% 29 -0.5% 16
24 LV -11.1% 24 6-11 -1.7% 15 12.0% 30 2.7% 15 -11.5% 26
25 TEN -15.1% 26 7-10 -9.0% 25 3.2% 21 -2.9% 27 -9.4% 23
26 DEN -15.8% 25 5-12 -12.3% 28 2.1% 19 -1.3% 25 -11.3% 25
27 TB -19.7% 27 8-10 -2.9% 18 10.5% 28 -6.2% 31 -3.7% 20
28 HOU -19.8% 28 3-13-1 -30.0% 31 -3.4% 14 6.8% 3 -26.7% 31
29 MIN -20.4% 29 13-5 -5.6% 22 9.9% 27 -4.9% 30 -13.8% 27
30 ARI -21.6% 30 4-13 -17.5% 29 5.2% 25 1.1% 20 -22.4% 29
31 CHI -32.4% 31 3-14 -8.7% 24 24.0% 32 0.4% 22 -26.6% 30
32 IND -37.9% 32 4-12-1 -35.1% 32 0.2% 18 -2.6% 26 -32.8% 332

Click here for a look at full-season DVOA with offensive and defensive splits.

Here’s a look at the single-game DVOA ratings for the divisional round. Kansas City comes out essentially tied with Jacksonville after applying opponent adjustments, but had the higher rating before that. However, the Kansas City-Jacksonville game was much closer than the other three games this weekend. Yes, the San Francisco game with Dallas had a close final score, but DVOA does not think the game was close at all. The 49ers had more yards per play, a higher success rate on offense, better third-down efficiency, and fewer turnovers. The 49ers ended up with 98.5% in our Post-Game Win Expectancy formula.

DVOA (with opponent adjustments)
TEAM TOT OFF DEF ST
JAX 29% 17% 9% 21%
KC 28% 31% 6% 4%
NYG -43% -18% 27% 1%
PHI 74% 27% -39% 8%
CIN 78% 57% -17% 4%
BUF -19% 8% 29% 3%
DAL 3% -12% -8% 6%
SF 61% 27% -28% 7%
VOA (no opponent adjustments)
TEAM TOT OFF DEF ST
JAX 14% 18% 25% 21%
KC 23% 35% 15% 4%
NYG -75% -31% 45% 1%
PHI 81% 41% -32% 8%
CIN 41% 39% 2% 4%
BUF -32% 5% 40% 3%
DAL -26% -26% 6% 6%
SF 46% 13% -26% 7%

#1
by horn // Jan 23, 2023 – 3:19pm

PHL D is worse than WAS? I don’t think so. 

Points: 1

#2
by BlueStarDude // Jan 23, 2023 – 3:29pm

Rounding error. Also, Washington surely got a big boost from the giant fart that was Dallas’s week 18 performance.

Points: 1

#11
by Vincent Verhei // Jan 23, 2023 – 4:13pm

Both teams allowed 20.2 points per game. The Eagles allowed fewer yards and forced more turnovers, but the Commanders allowed the fewest first downs in the league. Eagles defense also played the second-easiest schedule in the league, Washington played the 10th-hardest. It’s pretty close.

Points: 0

#3
by rh1no // Jan 23, 2023 – 3:29pm

How does that Bengals win over the Bills stack up to other playoff wins? This was definitely the single best performance from the Bengals that I’ve ever seen, and a 78% opponent-adjusted DVOA seems pretty impressive overall.

Points: 0

#5
by KnotMe // Jan 23, 2023 – 3:46pm

The Bengals were 78%, Eagles were 71 % and Niners 61%. I would assume the Chiefs victory was worse since they only won by a single score. 

 

Kinda weird that Cincy has the lowest SB odds. Mahomes injury is hard to put in however.

Points: 2

#7
by Kaepernicus // Jan 23, 2023 – 4:04pm

538’s ELO has a QB adjustment for their ratings. I feel like they could add a similar adjustment to DVOA that accounts for how many legs your QB has.

Points: 0

#10
by rh1no // Jan 23, 2023 – 4:12pm

The Bengals had a few very inconsistent games against inferior opponents (looking at you, NE & TB), which I imagine brings down their efficiency ratings. So I’m not concerned that DVOA has then as the least likely Super Bowl champion in a pool of closely-matched contenders because they havent played as consistently well on a per-drive basis as KC, SF, or PHI.

Subjectively, though, it seems like the NFC teams have benefited from playing patty-cake schedules while the Bengals have had to find their footing against better teams, leading to a wider swing in performances. I thought that running through the gauntlet of their 2022 schedule would catch up with them eventually, but after watching them dismantle the Bills, I think they’ve only gotten stronger as the season has gone on. Their climb up the DVOA rankings seems to reflect this.

Points: 0

#4
by andrew // Jan 23, 2023 – 3:43pm

Is there an analystics thing for something like Rock-Paper-Scissors?  What I mean is, in theory Rock Paper and Scissors are equal, but Rock is ideally suited to face Scissors.

The Bengals are pretty close to the Chiefs, but they seem to be ideally suited for facing them?  that kind of thing?  Could you do some kind of similarity score for how their positions line up and and gauge how they did versus similar opponents (including them) and thereby attempt to quantify how well they are versus a given team?

 

 

Points: 0

#6
by KnotMe // Jan 23, 2023 – 3:48pm

I think matchups exist but I’ve never seen any rigorous attempt to quantify them(it’s not like there are only 3 things, and the sample sizes get small really, really quickly). 

Points: 0

#8
by andrew // Jan 23, 2023 – 4:07pm

It would probably lend itself better to something like baseball, where you have a lot of one-on-one matchups with larger sample sets.

Points: 0

#9
by turbohappy // Jan 23, 2023 – 4:10pm

This is very much a thing we see in football all the time, but it seems quite tough to analyze. It often comes down to finding success in certain personnel packages or formations or whatever and using them much more in that matchup than they would against other teams. Which seems hard to predict based upon other games.

Points: 0

#12
by Kaepernicus // Jan 23, 2023 – 4:13pm

Was the Giants vs. Vikings game last week the worst combined defense in playoff history? A 27th and 31st ranking is insane and the film definitely backed it up. It seems really unlikely that 2 teams with defenses that bad would ever make the playoffs, especially in the same conference.

Points: 0

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