Power rankings in the media are fun because a bunch of talking heads vote on them and it’s a completely subjective process. This makes them mostly pointless, but for the purpose of seeing which way the public may be leaning on certain teams it can be helpful to evaluate how the major outlets are power ranking teams.
To cross-reference the media power rankings with a subjective, advanced statistical model of how the teams are performing on the field, I went to Football Outsiders and their stat DVOA.
DVOA is Defensive-adjusted Value Over Average, which they explain as:
These are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through five 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.)
Football Outsiders DVOA considers offensive DVOA, defensive DVOA and special teams DVOA and creates one unifying stat. Zero is average so you’ll see the New York Jets sitting at #17 with a DVOA of 0.1 percent. Here are the DVOA ranks, with ESPN, CBS, NBC and Bleacher Report power rankings for comparison:
In the column next to the media power rankings is how much overrated, or underrated a team is when compared to the team’s DVOA rankings.
For example, the Chargers are ranked 5th by DVOA, but 14th at ESPN, 11th at CBS, 10th at NBC and 12th at BR. Taking the average difference between DVOA and the media outlets, 6.75, we can see that the Chargers are being undervalued if their DVOA is to be believed.
Obviously we can’t blindly follow the DVOA, but what it helps us see is how the teams have performed on the field taking out the wins and losses. As the Cleveland Browns know very well, NFL games are very often coin flip contests. One team gets the win and the praise, while the other team tries to lick it’s wounds in time to get back on the winning ledger the next week.
In the media, of course these power ratings are highly correlated with the team’s record on the field. One big exception to this rule so far is the Miami Dolphins. The Phins are ranked 7th by DVOA and sit at 3-2 but have the largest average difference between DVOA and the media at 10.5.
In the case of the Dolphins, with their pre-season expectations not agreeing with their current record, the media is still skeptical. To normalize their rankings, Football Outsiders has another stat called DAVE.
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 40 percent of DAVE for most teams (50 percent for teams with just four games played). – Football Outsiders
Here is the same graph but with DAVE instead of DVOA.
This looks more like a much more accurate set of power ratings than DVOA, and should be helpful for finding undervalued teams, as well as teams to fade.
The first team that stands out is the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team you’d think the media would still be giving a pass to. Instead, none of the media power ranks have the Steelers inside of the top 10, while DAVE has them at #5.
Looks like there may be some value on the Steelers on Sunday, especially considering their opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals, is one of the more overrated teams according to DAVE. They are in fact the second most overrated team, next to the Minnesota Vikings.
Here’s a breakdown of the most overrated and underrated teams in the NFL according to the data:
Overrated Teams According to DAVE
Underrated Teams According to DAVE
Overrated Teams According to DVOA
Underrated Teams According to DVOA
Each situation has to be looked at individually here. The Browns for example are likely not the third most overrated team in the NFL because their DAVE projection was very low coming into the year, and their DVOA is taking into account games that Tyrod Taylor played. This is a different team under Baker Mayfield and this defense is much better than it has been in years past.
The Vikings though are a team where you can see why they’d be overrated, and also why their metrics are down. After missing out on the Super Bowl by one game and seemingly improving in the offseason, the media very much wants to believe in the Vikings. Their metrics, however, are potentially unfairly being affected the Bills game. I don’t think you can just throw a game out the window though, and I don’t believe in the look-ahead narrative.
This is the NFL, every game is precious and none of these guys are out there taking anything for granted. If this Vikings team is one that is prone to not giving 100% or not being 100% prepared for their opponent, that’s a team I’m looking to fade.
These are just additional data points to give you something else to think about other than what the standings, or the talking heads in the media want to tell you.
Hopefully we can find a little value doing this exercise, like this weekend with the Steelers getting points vs the Bengals. That is definitely a game I want to bet now while I can still get 2.5.
Another more intriguing game after looking at these numbers is the seemingly overrated Eagles going to the underrated Giants. I’ll be taking the home dog in this one at +3. That game kicks off on Thursday (tonight as I’m typing this) and I’d take the 3-points while you can get them.