Football Outsiders

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Football Outsiders
Web address www.footballoutsiders.com
Available language(s) English
Created by Aaron Schatz
Launched August 2003; 10 years ago (2003-08)
Alexa rank negative increase 53,599 (February 2014)[1]

Football Outsiders (FO) is a website started in July 2003 which focuses on advanced statistical analysis of the NFL. The site is run by a staff of regular writers, who produce a series of weekly columns using both the site's in-house statistics and their personal analyses of NFL games.

In 2005 and 2006, the site partnered with FOXSports.com to cross-publish many of the Outsiders' regular features, including power rankings based on a "weighted" version of the DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) statistic. In 2007, Football Outsiders content appeared on FOXSports.com (in a reduced capacity) along with AOL Sports and ESPN.com. Since 2008, the site has partnered exclusively with ESPN and provides mostly ESPN Insider content.

History[edit]

Football Outsiders was launched in August 2003 by Aaron Schatz, with two regular columns, one of which used an early version of the proprietary DVOA statistic. The original purpose of the site was to disprove a statement by Boston Globe reporter Ron Borges that the 2002 New England Patriots failed to make the postseason because they could not establish the run. Over the course of time, the site added more writers, and hosted Gregg Easterbrook for part of 2003.

Between 2004 and 2005, the site introduced new statistics such as Defense-adjusted Points Above Replacement (DPAR, later Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement, DYAR) and Adjusted Line Yards (ALY). In 2005, the site began to cross-publish many of its columns on FOXsports.com. In 2005, Football Outsiders also took over publication of Pro Football Prospectus, a book giving a preview of the upcoming NFL season. In 2009, the annual was renamed Football Outsiders Almanac.[2]

Currently, the site has incorporated the 1989-2012 NFL seasons into their statistics.

Key Metrics[edit]

Football Outsiders has devised a series of proprietary formulas to calculate different metrics.

DVOA[edit]

DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) calculates a team's success based on the down-and-distance of each play during the season, then calculates how much more or less successful each team is compared to the league average. According to Football Outsiders, DVOA "breaks down every single play of the NFL season to see how much success offensive players achieved in each specific situation compared to the league average in that situation, adjusted for the strength of the opponent. ... Football has one objective -- to get to the end zone -- and two ways to achieve that, by gaining yards and getting first downs. These two goals need to be balanced to determine a player's value or a team's performance."[3]

There is a separate DVOA measurement for special teams, which "compare[s] each kick or punt to the league average for based on the point value of field position at the position of each kick, catch, and return." [4]

DYAR[edit]

DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) calculates each player's cumulative value above or below a "replacement-level" alternative. DYAR differs from DVOA in calculating a player's total value through the course of a year, and not on a play-for-play average. States Football Outsiders, "DVOA, by virtue of being a percentage or rate statistic, doesn’t take into account the cumulative value of having a player producing at a league-average level over the course of an above-average number of plays. By definition, an average level of performance is better than that provided by half of the league and the ability to maintain that level of performance while carrying a heavy work load is very valuable indeed."[5]

Adjusted Line Yards[edit]

Adjusted Line Yards (ALY) "differentiate[s] between the contribution of the running back and the contribution of the offensive line." ALY attempts to "separate the effect that the running back has on a particular play from the effect of the offensive line (and other offensive blockers) and the effect of the defense. ... Yardage ends up falling into roughly the following combinations: Losses, 0-4 yards, 5-10 yards, and 11+ yards. In general, the offensive line is 20% more responsible for lost yardage than it is for yardage gained up to four yards, but 50% less responsible for yardage gained from 5-10 yards, and not responsible for yardage past that. Thus, the creation of Adjusted Line Yards."[6]

Drive Stats[edit]

Drive Stats calculate a team's average success rate on a possession-by-possession basis: "[E]ach team's total number of drives as well as average yards per drive, points per drive, touchdowns per drive, punts per drive, and turnovers per drive, interceptions per drive, and fumbles lost per drive. LOS/Drive represents average starting field position (line of scrimmage) per drive from the offensive point of view. Drive stats are given for offense and defense, with NET representing simply offense minus defense."[7]

Pythagorean projection[edit]

Another metric Football Outsiders uses is Pythagorean projection, which estimates wins in a season by a formula originally conceived by baseball analyst Bill James, that takes the square of team points, and divides it by the sum of the squares of team points scored and allowed.

The 2011 edition of Football Outsiders Almanac[8] states, "From 1988 through 2004, 11 of 16 Super Bowls were won by the team that led the NFL in Pythagorean wins, while only seven were won by the team with the most actual victories. Super Bowl champions that led the league in Pythagorean wins but not actual wins include the 2004 Patriots, 2000 Ravens, 1999 Rams and 1997 Broncos."

Although Football Outsiders Almanac acknowledges that the formula had been less-successful in picking Super Bowl participants from 2005-2008, it reasserted itself in 2009 and 2010.

Furthermore, "[t]he Pythagorean projection is also still a valuable predictor of year-to-year improvement. Teams that win a minimum of one full game more than their Pythagorean projection tend to regress the following year; teams that win a minimum of one full game less than their Pythagoerean projection tend to improve the following year, particularly if they were at or above .500 despite their underachieving. For example, the 2008 New Orleans Saints went 8-8 despite 9.5 Pythagorean wins, hinting at the improvement that came with the next year's championship season."

DVOA Results[edit]

Each year, Football Outsiders calculates the best and worst teams, per play, with the DVOA metric (see above). Below is a list of the highest- and lowest-rated teams in the league in each year from 1992-2011.

= Team Won Super Bowl
= Team Awarded First Overall Draft Pick in following year's draft
Season Best DVOA rating DVOA Worst DVOA rating DVOA Notes
2013 Seattle Seahawks 40.1% Jacksonville Jaguars -38.20% Houston Texans received #1 overall pick in 2014 draft.[9]
2012 Seattle Seahawks 38.3% Kansas City Chiefs -40.4% Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl.[10]
2011 Green Bay Packers 28.3% St. Louis Rams -35.5% New York Giants won Super Bowl, Indianapolis Colts got #1 pick.[11]
2010 New England Patriots 45.4% Arizona Cardinals -36.3% Green Bay won Super Bowl, Carolina Panthers got #1 overall pick[12]
2009 Baltimore Ravens 30.5% Detroit Lions -50.7% New Orleans Saints won Super Bowl, St. Louis Rams got #1 overall pick[13]
2008 Philadelphia Eagles 33.5% Detroit Lions -48.4 Pittsburgh Steelers won Super Bowl [14]
2007 New England Patriots 53.1% St. Louis Rams -34.9% New York Giants won Super Bowl, Miami Dolphins got #1 pick[15]
2006 San Diego Chargers 29.1% Oakland Raiders -31.4% Indianapolis Colts won Super Bowl [16]
2005 Indianapolis Colts 33.6% San Francisco 49ers -56.4% Pittsburgh Steelers won Super Bowl, Houston Texans got #1 pick[17]
2004 Pittsburgh Steelers 38.1% San Francisco 49ers -42.5% New England Patriots won Super Bowl[18]
2003 Kansas City Chiefs 30.3% Arizona Cardinals -42.9% New England Patriots won Super Bowl, San Diego Chargers got #1 pick[19]
2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 33.4% Houston Texans -41.6% Cincinnati Bengals got #1 overall pick[20]
2001 St. Louis Rams 28.9% Minnesota Vikings -26.1% N.E. Patriots won Super Bowl, Carolina Panthers had #2 pick (to expansion Houston)[21]
2000 Tennessee Titans 33.2% Cleveland Browns -39.1% Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl, San Diego Chargers got #1 pick[22]
1999 St. Louis Rams 34.3% Cleveland Browns -40.1% Last season where DVOA matched Super Bowl winner & worst record[23]
1998 Denver Broncos 31.2% Philadelphia Eagles -35.1% Philadelphia had worst record, got #2 pick after expansion Cleveland Browns[24]
1997 Green Bay Packers 30.1% San Diego Chargers -30.7% Denver Broncos won Super Bowl, Indianapolis Colts got #1 pick [25]
1996 Green Bay Packers 41.3% New York Jets -29.0% [26]
1995 San Francisco 49ers 43.3% Arizona Cardinals -26.2% Dallas Cowboys won Super Bowl, New York Jets got #1 pick[27]
1994 Dallas Cowboys 33.7% Houston Oilers -30.8% S.F. 49ers won Super Bowl, Oilers picked #3 behind expansion Carolina/Jacksonville.[27]
1993 San Francisco 49ers 25.6% Indianapolis Colts -36.5% Dallas Cowboys won Super Bowl, Cincinnati Bengals got #1 pick[28]
1992 Dallas Cowboys 35.4% New England Patriots -39.9% [29]
1991 Washington Redskins 56.9% Indianapolis Colts -40.1% [30]
1990 New York Giants 30.8% New England Patriots -38.0% [31]
1989 San Francisco 49ers 36.0% Dallas Cowboys -36.2% Dallas had the league's worst record, but forfeited their first round pick [32]

Pro Football Prospectus and Football Outsiders Almanac[edit]

From 2005 through 2008, Football Outsiders published the Pro Football Prospectus book each year before the football season began. It included an essay for each team analyzing the previous season, evaluating off-season moves, and projecting future performance.

In 2009, Football Outsiders did not publish a Pro Football Prospectus volume, but instead produced the self-published Football Outsiders Almanac 2009. The reason for this is explained in the book:

So why the name change, and why aren’t we in bookstores?

For those who don’t know, our first four books were published through an agreement with Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, the company that owns Baseball Prospectus (as well as the expansion projects Basketball Prospectus and Puck Prospectus). It was PEV that had the publishing contract (first with Workman, then Plume). This year, for various reasons, Plume decided they no longer wanted to publish books related to other sports besides baseball. Other publishers were interested in doing our book, but by the time Plume made their decision, it was too late to get on the publication schedule for 2009.[33]

Each Football Outsiders Almanac begins with a "Pregame Show,"[34] which "gives a basic look at some of the most important precepts that have emerged during seven years of Football Outsiders research." These observations are trends which have developed over time, and sometimes defy conventional wisdom. Some observations Football Outsiders have noted are:

  • You run when you win, not win when you run.
  • A great defense against the run is nothing without a good pass defense.
  • Running on third-and-short is more likely to convert than passing on third-and-short.
  • Shotgun formations are generally more efficient than formations with the quarterback under center.
  • A running back with 370 or more carries during the regular season will usually suffer either a major injury or a loss of effectiveness the following year, unless he is named Eric Dickerson.
  • Championship teams are generally defined by their ability to dominate inferior opponents, not their ability to win close games.

The full list is posted on the Football Outsiders website.

Management[edit]

Editor-in-Chief: Aaron Schatz
Assistant Editors: Rivers McCown, Scott Kacsmar
Technical Director: Steven Steinman

Books[edit]

General references[edit]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Citations[edit]