Historical DVOA Estimates Revisited

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Six years ago, Football Outsiders ran a guest column by a reader named Andreas Shepard featuring a system for historical estimates of our DVOA metrics. Shepard used standard stats to estimate DVOA going all the way back to the NFL-AAFC merger in 1950 so that we could run cool tables with the best and worst teams in modern NFL history without being limited by the years for which we had collected play-by-play data.

Since that article first ran, we’ve added ten more years of play-by-play breakdowns to our DVOA database. Our historical collection of play-by-play now goes all the way back to 1985 but we’ve also added the last six years in the NFL, featuring some great regular-season teams and units including the 2019 Baltimore Ravens, the 2018 Kansas City Chiefs offense, and the 2015 Denver Broncos defense.

So with that in mind, it’s time to update those lists of historical estimated DVOA. Much of the commentary below is repeated from Andreas Shepard’s original article, although I’ve edited it to account for changes in this new version of the tables.

Before we get to the results, here’s a brief explanation of the method used. (If you aren’t interested in how the sausage was made, skip ahead to the next section.) Shepard only considered teams from 1950 to the present. That was the year of the AAFC-NFL merger, which marked a) the beginning of more reliable stat keeping and b) the end of the era where expansion teams would start up and then fold within a few seasons. For each year from 1950 on, he collected total box score statistics for each team on offense, defense, and special teams (yards, touchdowns, interceptions, fumbles, sacks, first downs, field goals, return yards, etc.). As DVOA is a per-play metric, he calculated each team’s per-play average for each of these stats. Then he normalized each stat against the league average for that season. To translate these normalized per play statistics to VOA, he ran a series of linear regressions using the data from 1989-2012 (one each for rushing, passing, FG/XP, kickoffs, kick returns, punts, and punt returns). After adding opponent adjustments, these ratings were combined into composite ratings for total offense, defense, special teams, and overall DVOA.

For 1989-2012, the correlation between estimated DVOA and actual DVOA was 0.958. The biggest differences seem to be the following:

  • The best teams in actual DVOA didn’t come out as strong in the estimated DVOA. The top three teams in actual DVOA (1991 Washington, 2007 New England, and 1985 Chicago) had estimated DVOA that was an average of 10.1% lower.
  • Run defenses seem to be shifted somewhat, with both the best and worst run defenses rating as stronger in recent years. In these new tables below, only one of the top 20 run defenses is a pre-1985 team with an estimated rating, but 19 of the bottom 20 run defenses are pre-1985 teams.

Of course, even with full play-by-play data, DVOA is only an imperfect approximation of a team’s true performance. So if you disagree with the results below, just remember that these numbers are a flawed estimate of a flawed estimate of true team quality. The other big difference between these numbers and how fans may remember teams of the past is that these numbers, like the usual DVOA tables on the FO stat pages, represent the regular season only. As discussed in the recent commentary on our 1985 ratings, how we weight the postseason can have a big impact on which team comes out ahead in these ratings.

A few additional notes before we get to the new tables:

  • Unlike in the original article, 1987 numbers do not include strikebreaker games.
  • 2019 numbers may be slightly different from what’s posted elsewhere on the site because of postseason fixes on play-by-play errors. (New tables will be going up shortly.)
  • The DVOA ratings below do not yet make any changes to consider quarterback scrambles as passes instead of runs. Those changes are likely coming but were not reflected in Shepard’s original formulas for estimating historical DVOA.

Actual DVOA ratings are published in standard type, with estimated DVOA for teams from 1950 through 1984 published in italics.

Best Offensive DVOA 1950-2019 (estimated 1950-1984)
  Total Offense x Pass Offense x Rush Offense
Rank Team DVOA Pass Rush x Team DVOA x Team DVOA
1 NE 2007 43.5% 72.7% 19.6%   CLE1 1953 75.0%   STL 2000 36.5%
2 NE 2010 42.2% 67.5% 24.2%   NE 2007 72.7%   CLE1 1966 32.2%
3 CLE1 1953 40.2% 75.0% 9.6%   GB 2011 67.6%   CAR 2011 32.1%
4 SD 1982 35.9% 49.3% 18.3%   IND 2004 67.6%   DEN 1998 31.4%
5 KC 2002 35.4% 47.0% 29.3%   NE 2010 67.5%   SD 1963 31.0%
6 LARM 1951 35.0% 50.0% 21.1%   WAS 1991 65.0%   SF 1993 30.5%
7 DEN 1998 34.5% 52.5% 31.4%   KC 2018 62.9%   SF 1954 30.0%
8 LARM 1954 34.4% 47.3% 24.2%   DEN 2013 60.3%   KC 2002 29.3%
9 KC 2018 34.2% 62.9% 11.0%   SD 2009 59.6%   DET 1990 29.2%
10 GB 2011 33.8% 67.6% 5.5%   MIA 1984 57.6%   SEA 2014 29.0%
11 DEN 2013 33.5% 60.3% 4.2%   HOIL 1961 56.3%   CLE1 1963 29.0%
12 MIA 1984 33.5% 57.6% 4.2%   IND 2006 55.4%   KC 2003 28.9%
13 KC 2003 33.4% 43.3% 28.9%   NE 2011 55.3%   CLE1 1960 28.3%
14 SF 1992 33.1% 51.8% 20.7%   TEN 2003 54.7%   SF 1998 27.8%
15 NO 2011 33.0% 50.1% 18.5%   NE 2012 53.9%   SD 2006 27.2%
16 CLE1 1966 32.5% 32.7% 32.2%   NE 2009 53.5%   DEN 2005 26.8%
17 HOIL 1961 32.4% 56.3% 5.3%   DEN 1998 52.5%   CLE1 1958 26.7%
18 NE 2011 31.9% 55.3% 12.6%   SF 1992 51.8%   PIT 2000 26.4%
19 IND 2004 31.8% 67.6% 5.2%   SF 1989 51.7%   CLE1 1952 26.2%
20 KC 2004 31.6% 45.1% 24.9%   MIN 1998 51.6%   SD 2003 26.1%

Two of Tom Brady’s MVP seasons came while leading the two best offenses since 1950, but neither of those teams had the best estimated passing DVOA. That honor goes to Otto Graham and the 1953 Browns. They led the league in yards per attempt, completion percentage, interception percentage, and first downs per pass. Their 8.5 net yards per attempt was over 3 yards better than the league average, the largest gap ever. On the rushing side, Marshall Faulk was really good, helping power the 2000 Rams to the best rushing performance on record. This may shock you, but Jim Brown was also really good. He played nine seasons, and the Browns finished in the top 25 in estimated rushing DVOA in five of them. Of course the rest of his team wasn’t too shabby either –- they managed to put together the second-best rushing DVOA ever the year after he retired, when running backs Leroy Kelly and Ernie Green both made the Pro Bowl.

Teams we’ve added to this list since the original article include the 2018 Chiefs and the 2014 Seahawks (for their running game, including Russell Wilson).

Worst Offensive DVOA 1950-2019 (estimated 1950-1984)
  Total Offense x Pass Offense x Rush Offense
Rank Team DVOA Pass Rush x Team DVOA x Team DVOA
1 HOU 2002 -43.3% -37.9% -27.4%   SEA 1992 -65.3%   IND 1991 -30.2%
2 SEA 1992 -41.3% -65.3% -6.6%   ATL 1974 -62.7%   PIT 1957 -29.2%
3 ARI 2018 -41.1% -46.9% -21.4%   TB 1977 -62.5%   ARI 2005 -29.1%
4 SF 2005 -40.4% -56.0% -12.2%   BUF 1968 -57.6%   TB 1983 -27.9%
5 TB 1977 -39.8% -62.5% -21.9%   PIT 1965 -57.0%   WAS 1962 -27.7%
6 PIT 1965 -39.5% -57.0% -21.6%   SF 2005 -56.0%   HOU 2002 -27.4%
7 LAR 2016 -37.8% -38.2% -26.6%   NYJ 1976 -54.9%   BAL 2013 -27.2%
8 OAK 2006 -37.0% -45.4% -12.8%   DET 1959 -50.9%   JAX 2013 -27.1%
9 CHI 2004 -36.5% -50.6% -8.5%   CHI 2004 -50.6%   MIA 2019 -26.8%
10 DEN 1966 -36.2% -44.8% -26.1%   BALC 1953 -50.3%   PHI 1954 -26.8%
11 CAR 2010 -35.8% -40.1% -20.7%   BOS 1968 -49.7%   LAR 2016 -26.6%
12 ARI 2010 -35.6% -46.1% -8.6%   GB 1950 -49.7%   NE 1986 -26.5%
13 NO 1997 -35.6% -41.4% -19.1%   NO 1975 -47.8%   WAS 1965 -26.3%
14 BOS 1968 -34.8% -49.7% -19.0%   SF 1978 -46.9%   DEN 1966 -26.1%
15 ATL 1974 -34.6% -62.7% -6.1%   ARI 2018 -46.9%   ARI 1995 -25.1%
16 TB 1976 -33.6% -45.6% -21.7%   ARI 2010 -46.1%   WAS 1973 -25.1%
17 BUF 1968 -33.4% -57.6% -6.5%   TB 1976 -45.6%   PIT 1966 -24.9%
18 IND 1991 -32.8% -29.0% -30.2%   JAX 2011 -45.4%   ARI 2017 -24.8%
19 SF 2007 -32.2% -42.1% -3.1%   OAK 2006 -45.4%   WAS 2015 -23.5%
20 NYG 1951 -32.0% -36.6% -22.3%   DEN 1966 -44.8%   NYG 1953 -23.5%

Taking a look at the worst ever offenses, some familiar names appear. You remember that David Carr set the sack record for the expansion Texans, but his teammate Jonathan Wells also set the record for worst rush DYAR ever measured. The Texans ranked last in the league that year in basically every offensive category. However, they did not rank last in all-time passing DVOA. That dubious honor goes to the 1992 Seahawks, best remembered as the team that went 2-14 despite having Defensive Player of the Year Cortez Kennedy. That will happen when your starting quarterbacks are Stan Gelbaugh, Kelly Stouffer, and Dan “is his brother available?” McGwire. The worst rushing offense title belongs to the 1991 Colts, who somehow managed to rush for only three touchdowns all season while averaging a mere 3.3 yards per carry. The 2018 Cardinals are our most prominent recent addition to these tables, although you’ll find the 2019 Dolphins running game here as well.

(In case you are wondering how the 2002 Texans could have an overall offensive DVOA worse than either their pass or run splits, this is because of a lot of penalties not counted as either pass or run plays.)

You may notice that a large number of the worst run offense DVOA ratings come in the last few years. Six of the worst 20 run offense ratings occurred since 2013, with the 2016 Minnesota Vikings just missing our table. Three different other 2016 teams almost made it as well, with Tampa Bay, Denver, and Jacksonville all below -22.5% in that season.

Best Defensive DVOA 1950-2019 (estimated 1950-1984)
  Total Defense x Pass Defense   Rush Defense
Rank Team DVOA Pass Rush x Team DVOA x Team DVOA
1 PHI 1991 -42.4% -48.6% -34.9%   TB 2002 -51.9%   BAL 2000 -36.6%
2 CHI 1986 -33.6% -40.8% -25.5%   PHI 1991 -48.6%   PHI 1991 -34.9%
3 CHI 1985 -33.6% -44.9% -18.5%   MIA 1982 -48.3%   NYJ 2015 -33.3%
4 MIN 1969 -32.9% -42.5% -19.9%   CHI 1985 -44.9%   SD 1998 -32.9%
5 TB 2002 -31.8% -51.9% -8.8%   MIN 1969 -42.5%   DET 2014 -31.4%
6 PIT 1976 -30.1% -35.7% -25.0%   CHI 1963 -42.4%   MIN 2006 -30.5%
7 PIT 2008 -29.0% -32.8% -24.2%   PIT 1973 -42.2%   TB 2019 -30.5%
8 PIT 1974 -28.9% -41.8% -18.3%   PIT 1974 -41.8%   KC 1995 -30.5%
9 BUF 2004 -28.5% -34.7% -21.9%   CHI 1986 -40.8%   NYG 1951 -30.2%
10 LARM 1968 -28.5% -35.2% -21.3%   NYG 1963 -40.2%   HOU 2018 -30.1%
11 PIT 1973 -27.9% -42.2% -16.5%   MIN 1988 -38.8%   PIT 2010 -29.0%
12 BAL 2008 -27.8% -27.1% -28.6%   MIN 1970 -38.5%   BAL 2008 -28.6%
13 CHI 2012 -26.7% -29.0% -23.1%   DET 1965 -38.2%   NYJ 2016 -28.1%
14 CHI 1963 -26.7% -42.4% -11.8%   NYJ 2009 -36.5%   TEN 2000 -27.4%
15 DET 1962 -26.1% -29.7% -21.7%   PIT 1976 -35.7%   CHI 2018 -27.3%
16 OAK 1967 -26.0% -34.5% -13.2%   NYG 1961 -35.6%   BAL 2007 -27.3%
17 CHI 2018 -26.0% -25.2% -27.3%   LARM 1968 -35.2%   SD 2000 -26.6%
18 MIN 1988 -25.9% -38.8% -12.2%   BUF 2004 -34.7%   CHI 2011 -26.5%
19 SEA 2013 -25.9% -34.2% -15.2%   OAK 1967 -34.5%   NYG 1987 -26.3%
20 DEN 2015 -25.8% -28.0% -22.8%   ATL 1977 -34.4%   SF 2011 -26.1%

Shifting to the other side of the ball, the 1991 Eagles are still the best defense ever measured by DVOA and it’s not even close. No. 2, the 1986 Bears, are closer to No. 20 than to No. 1. The Steel Curtain makes three appearances in the top 11 in a four-year span (and they won the Super Bowl in the fourth year). Having four Hall of Famers on one defense is a good thing.

New FO readers are always surprised when our numbers show the 1991 Eagles so far ahead of everyone else. They are generally in the conversation when people talk about all-time great defenses, but not the clear frontrunner. This is partially an issue of a difficult schedule -– their VOA without opponent adjustments is “only” -38.2% -– but that still leaves them comfortably ahead of the pack. The other major reason is their teammates. While the Eagles had an average special teams unit in 1991, that offense was terrible. Their offensive DVOA of -24.6% is the worst by far of any of the other teams with top defensive DVOAs. This set them up in more unfavorable situations than many of the other all-time great defenses. In contrast, Buddy Ryan’s other all-time great defense, the 1985 Bears, shared a locker room with the year’s No. 4 offense. The fact that the 1991 Eagles were still able to end up in the conversation despite their albatross of an offense is perhaps their most impressive accomplishment. Historically, the 1991 Eagles are the No. 2 defense against both the pass and the run. Only the 2002 Bucs and 2000 Ravens, respectively, managed to top them.

I wrote above that most of the best run defenses are teams from the “actual” DVOA era, i.e. since 1985. So there are a number of recent teams added to the list of best run defenses, most prominently the New York Jets of 2015 and 2016. We also add the 2015 Broncos and 2018 Bears to the best overall defenses. But those additions aren’t as big as the 1986 Bears, who did not come in anywhere near this good when we were using estimated ratings for 1986 but come out as the No. 2 defense of all-time once we do the actual play-by-play breakdown.

Worst Defensive DVOA 1950-2019 (estimated 1950-1984)
  Total Defense x Pass Defense x Rush Defense
Rank Team DVOA Pass Rush x Team DVOA x Team DVOA
1 WAS 1954 34.2% 43.4% 24.9%   NO 2015 48.1%   BAL1 1950 29.5%
2 BAL1 1950 30.2% 24.9% 29.5%   BALC 1981 46.8%   NYY 1950 29.0%
3 SEA 1976 29.5% 41.3% 21.9%   MIA 1976 45.6%   WAS 1959 26.8%
4 BALC 1981 28.0% 46.8% 12.3%   WAS 1954 43.4%   DLTX 1952 25.9%
5 WAS 1951 26.9% 28.1% 18.3%   BAL 1996 42.0%   NYG 1968 25.8%
6 MIA 1968 26.2% 29.5% 23.5%   SF 1999 41.7%   HOIL 1965 25.3%
7 TB 1986 26.1% 32.6% 21.2%   MIA 2019 41.3%   WAS 1954 24.9%
8 NO 2015 26.1% 48.1% -2.4%   SEA 1976 41.3%   SD 1971 24.6%
9 MIN 2000 26.0% 35.2% 13.8%   NYG 1966 40.9%   KC 1976 23.5%
10 ATL 1966 25.8% 33.3% 18.9%   STLC 1969 40.9%   MIA 1968 23.5%
11 NYG 1966 25.5% 40.9% 13.2%   BALC 1973 40.5%   OAK 1961 23.1%
12 NE 1972 25.2% 37.6% 17.4%   SD 1967 39.4%   WAS 1969 22.9%
13 NYY 1951 24.9% 25.7% 18.0%   ATL 1967 38.4%   DAL 1961 22.5%
14 PHI 1973 24.8% 29.8% 21.1%   NYJ 1975 38.3%   SEA 1976 21.9%
15 NO 1977 24.5% 35.2% 19.0%   ATL 1996 38.0%   TB 1986 21.2%
16 MIA 1987 24.4% 33.5% 16.5%   ATL 1968 37.8%   PHI 1973 21.1%
17 DET 2008 24.3% 32.8% 17.1%   NE 1972 37.6%   SD 1966 20.5%
18 SD 1974 24.3% 36.4% 15.1%   MIN 1984 37.0%   CLE1 1965 20.5%
19 MIN 1984 23.4% 37.0% 10.5%   NO 1969 36.7%   CLE1 1969 20.2%
20 WAS 1959 23.1% 18.6% 26.8%   DET 2009 36.5%   NO 1979 20.1%

The teams that show up on the list of worst defenses are a real sorry bunch. Washington makes multiple appearances during the 1950s, when they were the last holdouts against racial integration. Not coincidentally, this period came in the middle of a 25-year playoff drought. The 1950 “original” Baltimore Colts went belly-up after the season (the current version of the Colts franchise started in 1953) while the New York Yanks dissolved a year later after a 1-9-2 season in 1951. The 1976 Seahawks were an expansion team that played like one. The 0-16 Lions make an appearance, as do the 1977 Saints that allowed the expansion Buccaneers their first win in 27 tries. For the full story of the extraordinarily dysfunctional 1981 Colts, who set records for most points, yards, touchdowns, and first downs allowed, see Mike Tanier’s article from a few years back. And for an even more messed up franchise, check out the Wikipedia article on the 1952 Dallas Texans, who were playing “home” games in Akron, Ohio and Hershey, Pennsylvania by the end of the season due to poor attendance and financial woes. They folded after the season, becoming the last team in NFL history that isn’t still around in some form today. (The AFL Dallas Texans, who eventually became today’s Kansas City Chiefs, are a separate franchise that started in 1960.)

Best and Worst Special Teams DVOA 1950-2019 (estimated 1950-1984)
Rank Team Best DVOA x Team Worst DVOA
1 NYG 1951 12.2%   BUF 2000 -15.4%
2 NO 2002 12.2%   NYG 1984 -13.3%
3 LARM 1985 11.5%   CHI 1952 -12.8%
4 CHI 1967 11.2%   WAS 2013 -12.0%
5 CHI 2007 11.2%   SEA 1997 -11.1%
6 CHIC 1959 11.0%   BOS 1960 -10.7%
7 CLE1 1994 10.1%   CLE1 1976 -10.3%
8 KC 1968 10.0%   SD 2010 -10.2%
9 NYJ 1986 9.9%   BUF 1976 -10.0%
10 LARM 1984 9.8%   CIN 2002 -9.4%
11 CAR 1996 9.8%   OAK 1998 -9.3%
12 CLE 2009 9.7%   CHI 1997 -9.2%
13 DEN 1966 9.4%   TB 1992 -9.2%
14 NO 1986 9.3%   TB 1983 -9.2%
15 BAL 2017 9.2%   CIN 1980 -9.1%
16 OAK 1975 9.2%   STL 2004 -9.0%
17 DAL 1998 9.2%   CHI 1954 -8.6%
18 KC 1980 9.1%   STLC 1985 -8.6%
19 BAL 2012 9.0%   MIN 1977 -8.5%
20 PHI 2001 8.9%   BAL 1977 -8.5%

In the original article, the estimated special teams DVOA for the 1985 Rams made them the top special teams unit ever measured. Doing the actual breakdown for 1985 moved the Rams down a little bit, so we now have the 1951 Giants and 2002 Saints tied at the top. At the other end of the spectrum, the 2000 Bills hold on to their title of worst special teams ever. We covered this extensively in the original DVOA commentary for the 2000 season, but suffice to say that Buffalo was horrendous in pretty much every way it is possible to be horrendous on special teams.

So what happens when we add it all up? This table gives the best teams in either actual or estimated DVOA. Teams that won the Super Bowl or pre-1967 NFL Championship are listed with asterisks.

Best Total DVOA 1950-2019 (estimated 1950-1984)
Rank Team Total DVOA Offense Defense ST
1 WAS 1991* 56.9% 27.2% -21.1% 8.6%
2 NE 2007 52.9% 43.5% -5.8% 3.6%
3 CHI 1985* 52.5% 15.1% -33.6% 3.8%
4 GB 1962* 47.9% 21.4% -20.7% 5.8%
5 SF 1987 47.0% 23.3% -22.4% 1.3%
6 GB 1961* 46.0% 27.6% -11.6% 6.8%
7 NE 2010 44.6% 42.2% 2.3% 4.7%
8 OAK 1967 44.3% 11.6% -26.0% 6.8%
9 PIT 1976 42.7% 10.4% -30.1% 2.1%
10 GB 1996* 41.9% 15.2% -19.3% 7.4%
11 BAL 2019 41.8% 27.7% -12.7% 1.5%
12 BALC 1968 40.9% 13.0% -21.0% 6.8%
13 SF 1995 40.1% 18.6% -23.7% -2.2%
14 SEA 2013* 40.0% 9.4% -25.9% 4.7%
15 DAL 1968 39.5% 17.1% -15.7% 6.7%
16 CLE1 1953 39.2% 40.2% 5.6% 4.7%
17 KC 1968 38.8% 15.6% -13.2% 10.0%
18 SEA 2012 38.7% 18.5% -14.5% 5.7%
19 MIA 1973* 38.4% 19.5% -15.6% 3.3%
20 SEA 2015 38.1% 18.7% -15.2% 4.2%

Of the 1,830 teams since 1950, the best regular season performance belongs to the team that played in our nation’s capital in 1991. They had incredible balance, with the offense, defense, and special teams each ranking in the top 50 all time. The 2007 Patriots are still the best team that didn’t win the title, but the 1987 49ers pass the 2010 Patriots as the best team to never win a playoff game. The 1985 Bears also move up a couple of slots now that we have actual play-by-play for that season. The best team among the estimated DVOA teams prior to 1985 maintained its performance for two seasons: the 1961-62 Green Bay Packers. Their two-year run is easily the best of any team ever.

What was in the water in 1968? Three teams from that year make the top 20 and none of them won Super Bowl III.

You’ve probably noticed that a few of the other usual suspects are absent from the list. Now that we’ve added six more years to our data, the undefeated 1972 Dolphins don’t even rank among the top 40 teams since 1950. They were an excellent team, ranking No. 1 in both offense and defense that season, but were not dominant in any category. They are also held back by a weak schedule. Without opponent adjustments, they would jump up to ninth. The 1999 Rams are also outside the top 40, but they shoot up to sixth if you ignore opponent adjustments.  Several of the most dominant dynasties had consistently high DVOAs, but generally just missed the cutoff for the top 20. The 1992-95 Cowboys averaged a DVOA of 31.4% and had three teams make the top 50. The 1974-79 Steelers had four teams in the top 100 and averaged a DVOA of 30.5%. And most impressively, the 49ers rank in the top five for every single season from 1983 to 1998 except for 1990, when they were seventh.

Worst Total DVOA 1950-2019 (estimated 1950-1984)
Rank Team Total DVOA Offense Defense ST
1 SF 2005 -55.5% -40.4% 16.6% 1.5%
2 DET 2009 -51.6% -28.4% 17.9% -5.3%
3 WAS 1954 -51.0% -16.0% 34.2% -0.8%
4 TB 1976 -50.6% -33.6% 14.4% -2.6%
5 PIT 1965 -50.0% -39.5% 8.8% -1.7%
6 DET 2008 -48.4% -25.3% 24.3% 1.3%
7 IND 1991 -47.7% -32.8% 13.5% -1.5%
8 STL 2008 -47.1% -28.2% 18.3% -0.6%
9 ATL 1987 -45.8% -27.8% 17.6% -0.4%
10 STL 2009 -45.1% -29.5% 17.2% 1.7%
11 ATL 1987 -44.0% -21.5% 19.1% -3.5%
12 TB 1986 -43.8% -12.7% 26.1% -5.0%
13 BOS 1970 -43.4% -25.7% 12.5% -5.1%
14 DEN 1967 -42.7% -25.7% 16.1% -0.8%
15 ARI 2003 -42.0% -21.5% 18.3% -2.2%
16 BUF 1984 -42.0% -24.2% 11.4% -6.4%
17 HOU 2002 -41.9% -43.3% 2.3% 3.8%
18 SF 2004 -41.8% -21.2% 19.4% -1.2%
19 NYG 1966 -41.5% -13.6% 25.5% -2.4%
20 BAL1 1950 -41.5% -10.1% 30.2% -1.2%

Alas, all good things must come to an end. Only eight seasons later, the 49ers had become the worst team since 1950. On the surface, their 4-12 record doesn’t seem too bad, but their wins came by a combined 15 points. In second place we have the 2009 Lions, who somehow got worse by DVOA the year after going 0-16. Coming in third is Washington in 1954, who we saw at the top of the worst defense table. They had losses of 41-7, 37-7, 51-21, and 49-21 … in the first four weeks of the season. And none of those were even their worst defeat of the year: That would come in a 62-3 demolition by the Browns in Week 7. One of the other two teams with a DVOA below -50% is, appropriately enough, the winless expansion Buccaneers, who since 1976 have allowed fans of other expansion teams to say “well, it could be worse.”

No team since 2014 was bad enough to make this list but we do have a new team that didn’t appear in the original article: the 1987 Falcons, whose horrible play in the 12 regular games was somewhat hidden in total-season stats because their strikebreakers had a couple of close games.

Now, some of you out there may be grumbling about the top 20 list including a number of teams who didn’t win, or even play for, the championship. You have a point! The whole purpose of being the best team in a given year is so your team can take home the trophy. So, as a bonus, here is every NFL champion since 1950, ranked by regular-season DVOA. Let me add that I fully expect that the 1984 49ers will rank higher than this when we finally have the opportunity to break down 1983-1984 play-by-play. That will hopefully be done by next offseason.

DVOA of Champions 1950-2019 (estimated 1950-1984)
Rank Team Total DVOA Offense Defense Sp Tms
1 WAS 1991 56.9% 27.2% -21.1% 8.6%
2 CHI 1985 52.5% 15.1% -33.6% 3.8%
3 GB 1962 47.9% 21.4% -20.7% 5.8%
4 GB 1961 46.0% 27.6% -11.6% 6.8%
5 GB 1996 41.9% 15.2% -19.3% 7.4%
6 SEA 2013 40.0% 9.4% -25.9% 4.7%
7 MIA 1973 38.4% 19.5% -15.6% 3.3%
8 KC 1969 37.6% 7.3% -25.6% 4.6%
9 CLE1 1950 37.5% 14.9% -14.9% 7.7%
10 DAL 1971 36.3% 23.3% -11.3% 1.7%
11 SF 1989 36.0% 26.2% -11.5% -1.7%
12 DAL 1977 35.1% 24.8% -9.6% 0.7%
13 DAL 1992 35.0% 23.6% -9.5% 1.9%
14 PIT 1975 35.0% 13.5% -14.4% 7.2%
15 GB 1966 34.9% 20.1% -16.2% -1.4%
16 MIA 1972 34.5% 18.5% -14.8% 1.2%
17 NE 2004 34.2% 23.3% -10.7% 0.2%
18 STL 1999 34.0% 17.7% -13.5% 2.8%
19 PIT 1979 33.4% 13.9% -20.2% -0.7%
20 DAL 1995 32.7% 29.6% 0.9% 4.0%
21 BALC 1958 32.6% 19.0% -12.8% 0.9%
22 DEN 1998 32.5% 34.5% 4.3% 2.3%
23 SF 1984 32.5% 28.6% 0.5% 4.3%
24 CLE1 1954 31.9% 15.1% -15.2% 1.7%
25 TB 2002 31.6% -3.8% -31.8% 3.6%
26 NYG 1990 30.8% 10.5% -14.4% 5.9%
27 KC 2019 30.2% 22.8% -3.4% 4.1%
28 GB 1967 30.1% 8.8% -12.9% 8.4%
29 PIT 1974 30.1% -3.4% -28.9% 4.6%
30 LARM 1951 29.9% 35.0% -2.3% -7.4%
31 DEN 1997 29.6% 19.4% -5.9% 4.3%
32 NYJ 1968 29.3% 16.8% -15.6% -3.2%
33 SF 1994 27.6% 18.9% -7.5% 1.2%
34 PIT 2005 27.1% 12.0% -13.5% 1.6%
35 CHI 1963 26.4% 1.9% -26.7% -2.2%
36 SF 1988 26.1% 12.9% -11.2% 2.0%
37 PIT 2008 26.0% -1.5% -29.0% -1.5%
38 DET 1952 25.7% 9.6% -9.1% 7.0%
39 NE 2016 24.9% 20.8% -1.8% 2.3%
40 DAL 1993 24.8% 21.8% 0.8% 3.8%
41 BAL 2000 24.1% -8.1% -23.8% 8.4%
42 PHI 2017 23.5% 10.0% -12.6% 0.9%
43 GB 2010 23.0% 11.5% -13.9% -2.4%
44 NE 2014 22.1% 13.5% -3.0% 5.7%
45 NO 2009 21.3% 24.3% -0.4% -3.4%
46 NE 2003 20.7% 1.2% -18.7% 0.8%
47 NYG 1986 20.4% 4.6% -14.7% 1.2%
48 CLE1 1955 20.4% 17.2% -5.8% -2.6%
49 OAK 1976 18.8% 24.8% 9.4% 3.4%
50 WAS 1982 17.8% 5.7% -7.3% 4.8%
51 DEN 2015 17.7% -8.7% -25.8% 0.7%
52 IND 2006 16.4% 28.5% 8.5% -3.6%
53 PIT 1978 16.2% 2.7% -12.4% 1.1%
54 NE 2018 14.2% 14.5% 0.4% 0.1%
55 GB 1965 13.8% -2.1% -15.2% 0.7%
56 DET 1953 13.5% 5.8% -6.4% 1.3%
57 SF 1981 13.3% 11.0% -5.8% -3.5%
58 LARD 1983 12.5% 0.1% -9.0% 3.4%
59 BALC 1959 11.6% 12.5% 1.0% 0.0%
60 NYG 1956 11.3% 10.5% -4.2% -3.4%
61 PHI 1960 10.8% 10.2% 2.6% 3.2%
62 BAL 2012 9.8% 3.0% 2.2% 9.0%
63 CLE1 1964 8.8% 23.0% 19.8% 5.6%
64 NYG 2011 8.4% 10.5% 2.4% 0.3%
65 NE 2001 8.0% 3.4% -1.5% 3.1%
66 WAS 1987 6.8% 7.6% -0.6% -1.4%
67 DET 1957 6.1% 0.8% -5.0% 0.3%
68 NYG 2007 1.8% -1.1% -3.8% -0.9%
69 OAK 1980 0.0% -7.7% -7.6% 0.1%
70 BALC 1970 -3.3% -1.1% 3.9% 1.6%

A note on the 1970 Baltimore Colts, who come in as the only team to win the Super Bowl with negative DVOA. On the surface, they seem like a strong team, with an 11-2-1 record. However, they had the point differential of a team that would be expected to win only 9.5 games. Furthermore, they faced a weak schedule: their VOA of 5% is 8% higher than their DVOA of -3%. Add those together, and Baltimore was significantly weaker than its record.

Source: footballoutsiders.com

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