The more I think about it, the more this should be a weekly post from me. Football Outsiders releases its team efficiency ratings each Tuesday, and I’ve always felt that they’re an awesome way to gauge the season given the website’s success of predictions in the past.
Upon releasing the site’s Week 7 ratings, Aaron Schatz, Football Outsiders’ founder, wrote about the top 5 offenses in depth here. The Patriots ranked 1st by being 32.8% above the average offensive production so far this season, which is a surprise to no one. The real surprise, though, is that the Bengals are on their heels at 32.3%, which speaks to the prowess of A.J. Green, Giovani Bernard, and, most importantly, their offensive line. Andy Dalton is a good quarterback, but he needs protection to flourish. When searching the DVOA for offensive lines in the league, you’ll notice that the Bengals’ O-Line is 4th in adjusted line yards, 6th in power run ranking, 2nd in stuffed ranking (or, “not getting stuffed ranking”), and 5th in 2nd level rankings. And that doesn’t include their abilities on pass plays, where they’re ranked 2nd. Andy Dalton is what he is. He’s a good but not great quarterback who can flourish with great playmakers and a great offensive line, and that’s exactly what he’s doing.
After Cincy, there is a sizable dropoff to the low 20s in percentage above average, and the Cardinals, Packers, and Steelers round out the top 5 in that zone. None of these are shockers, although I wasn’t sure if Arizona would be that high. Pittsburgh should be the best offense in the league besides the Pats when Ben Roethlisberger gets back. Last year, Green Bay finished as the top offense with a 24.7% DVOA, so I’d expect the Pats to come in around 27% and the Steelers to come in at 25-26% at the end of the season.
Schatz made an interesting point in his piece about how offenses are way more inconsistent both from season to season and from game to game within a season, which is why it’s more important to look at the offensive DVOAs now. The fact that defenses are more inconsistent throws some cold water on the Broncos, who clock in at the #1 defense with a -31.2% DVOA. While Football Outsiders’ rankings do adjust for opponent strength, I think even FO would admit that it doesn’t entirely account for the Broncos having played the Ravens, Chiefs, Lions, Vikings, Raiders, and Browns. Moreover, Peyton Manning’s offense is the worst in the league, as the 32nd ranked Broncos offense has a -27.9% rating, which is almost as horrible as its defense is awesome by the percentages. The Broncos are the craziest team that I can remember up to this point in the season in terms of the advanced stats… and it’s Peyton Manning’s side of the ball that’s the weak link. How the mighty have fallen. Even for fans of Peyton’s biggest rival throughout his career, it’s tough to watch a great one fall that far. Hopefully he can right the ship just well enough to be fun to watch and finish his career on a high note but not well enough to allow his defense to knock off the Patriots.
The rest of the top 5 defenses are the Jets with -29.4%, and then the Eagles, Cardinals, and Panthers after a huge drop off following the Jets. A few takeaways here:
- Any Pats fan who says they’re not worried about the Jets, especially with their defensive line and the Pats’ injured O-Line, is either a moron or a liar. Or both.
- The Eagles are number 3? I thought Chip Kelly’s best side of the ball was offense…?
- The Cardinals are a damn good team. The Pats are definitely my pick to play in Santa Clara from the AFC, and I think the Packers are my pick from the NFC right now because their defense is ranked 6th to go along with their 4th ranked offense. But the Cardinals are right on their heels, and that NFC Championship game is gonna be amazing.
- The Panthers’ numbers, much like the Broncos, probably don’t reflect their easy schedule as much as the numbers want us to think.
Finally, let’s discuss the Pats. As I said before, the Pats are the best offensive team in the league by the FO metrics, and they didn’t fall far from the 38.1% mark of last week to the aforementioned 32.8% this week. Falling over 5% might seem concerning, but it’s not. As I mentioned with my prediction for where the Pats and Steelers’ DVOAs will wind up at the end of the season, very few teams in league history will finish the season close to 40% better than average, so some regression is expected. And remember, the game this past weekend included a Pick Six courtesy of Julian Edelman that won’t happen again and an injury to Marcus Cannon during the game.
Defensively, the Pats got a little worst in terms of the overall stats but better in terms of the league rankings. Their defense dropped from 8.7% above the mean to just 3.7% above the mean, but they moved from 9th to 8th in that category. Given that they were playing on against a Colts offense that played very well in the 1st half and has a ton of potential, I’m ok with that result. A realistic but hopeful goal is that the Patriots have a Top 3 ranked offense with a defense that stays in, let’s say, the Top 12 in the league. Combine that with their 3rd ranked special teams and the overall genius of Belichick, this team should be the favorite to win in Super Bowl. But you already knew that.