DVOA favors 49ers in tight Final Four

DVOA favors 49ers in tight Final Four

NFL Division – The San Francisco 49ers lead the NFL in our weighted DVOA ratings after a win over Dallas that was bigger than the bottom line suggests. After accounting for the quality of the Cowboys, the 49ers ended with a 61% DVOA for the game, putting them close to the dominant victories of Philadelphia (74%) and Cincinnati (78%) earlier in the weekend.

This big Cincinnati win puts the Bengals up and the Bills down, making the next three teams after San Francisco very close. Kansas City and Cincinnati are now tied in the weighted DVOA before they meet in the AFC Conference Championship next Sunday.

This year’s NFL Final Four includes four of the top five teams in the regular season and four of the top five teams in the weighted DVOA, including the playoffs. The Buffalo Bills are the underdogs. This means there has never been a year in which the top four teams in the DVOA have all made it to the conference championships. That’s part of the fun of the NFL Playoffs! In fact, there has never been a year in which the top two teams from each conference finished in the two conference championship games, even if those teams didn’t make the top four teams overall.

It’s sad to see Buffalo go, as it’s been surprisingly rare in recent years for the No. 1 team to actually win the Super Bowl during the regular season. (That was last the case with the Patriots in 2016.) DVOA was criticized for this over the weekend, but not alone. Pretty much every advanced metric had the Bills as the No. 1 or No. 2 team going into the playoffs. They were the No. 1 regular-season DVOA, ESPN FPI and Pro Football Reference’s Simple Rating System prior to this weekend. They were tied with Kansas City at #1 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 taller than the Bengals on both offense and defense during the regular season. Sometimes you just get outplayed… and as we said on Monday’s live stream, outplayed too.

The bottom four teams are very evenly matched according to Vegas odds, with all four having around a 25% chance of winning it all. At BetMGM for example they have the Chiefs at +250, Bengals at +260, Eagles at +270 and 49ers at +280. Our playoff odds simulation favors the NFC teams, but also comes very close, with all four teams listed between 21.2% and 29.4%. I was asked on Twitter this morning if this is the most even Final Four we’ve seen from DVOA. The answer is no, but it’s a very balanced finale depending on which version of DVOA you choose to watch.

Based on regular-season DVOA, this is the most balanced Final Four in nearly 25 years. I went back and looked at the DVOA standard deviation for the last four teams in each season, all the way back to 1981. The most even year of all was 1997, when all four teams finished the regular season between 26% and 30%. in the 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 each year’s eventual Super Bowl champion in bold:

Closest Final Fours by regular-season DVOA, 1981-2022
YEAR STAFF DEV RK1 TM1 DVOA1 RK2 TM2 DVOA2 RK3 TM3 DVOA3 RK4 TM4 DVOA4
1997 1.5% 1 THE 29.9% 3 GB 29.1% 4 SF 27.5% 5 PIT 26.7%
1986 3.5% 4 NYG 19.9% 5 THE 19.0% 8th WAS 15.0% 9 CLE1 12.3%
1998 3.8% 1 THE 32.2% 2 NYJ 28.0% 3 MINIMUM 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 MINIMUM 22.8% 8th 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 the least tight, you might be wondering? The answer is 1991. Not only was Washington the best team ever measured by DVOA, but the other three teams were Buffalo (fourth), Denver (13th), and Detroit (15th).

We can also look at which Final Four were closest to the conference championships by looking at the weighted DVOA. These ratings include the first two rounds of the playoffs and preseason discount games. Of course, since they contain fewer games, they have more spread and a higher standard deviation. I don’t have these ratings as handy as the regular season DVOA, but I went back and looked at the last twelve years. With San Francisco carving out a huge lead in weighted DVOA with its fantastic late-season performance (not to mention having Week 1 scrapped from Formula), the 2022 season isn’t the closest Final Four by weighted DVOA, itself in just the last dozen years. Instead, 2018 was the closest Final Four in 12 years. The 2022 Final Four ranks third in this group.

All Final Fours by post-divisional weighted DVOA, 2011–2022
YEAR STAFF DEV RK1 TM1 DVOA1 RK2 TM2 DVOA2 RK3 TM3 DVOA3 RK4 TM4 DVOA4
2018 4.7% 1 KC 33.7% 4 NO 25.7% 5 NO 25.7% 6 LAR 22.8%
2015 7.1% 3 DARE 36.8% 5 THE 25.3% 6 NO 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 NO 46.5% 2 ATL 31.0% 3 PIT 27.4% 5 GB 24.9%
2011 10.4% 2 NO 34.9% 5 SF 22.4% 11 NYG 15.9% 13 BAL 10.9%
2017 10.9% 1 NO 39.0% 2 MINIMUM 39.0% 7 PHI 24.2% 9 JAX 17.3%
2013 11.2% 1 SEA 47.6% 3 THE 30.7% 5 NO 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 NO 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 NO 48.9% 4 SF 31.6% 9 BAL 14.7% 11 ATL 112.3%

As always, the following rules apply to post-season DVOA scoring:

  • All 32 teams are ranked regardless of whether they made the playoffs or not.
  • Teams are ranked in order of weighted DVOA, not overall season DVOA. Since the weighted DVOA is intended to reduce the strength of older games, these ratings do not include weeks 1-5, and weeks 6-13 are discounted somewhat.
  • The ratings listed do not include the adjustments used in the ratings for our playoff odds report. Right now, Philadelphia is being adjusted to account for Gardner Minshew’s two games and Kansas City is being adjusted to try to account for Patrick Mahomes’ injury.
  • Only weighted DVOA is listed for offense, defense and special teams. Overall DVOA is also listed, but adding 10 games to a sample of 271 games isn’t going to change things very much.
  • Teams are treated as if they had a bye week for any week they didn’t play. Since most teams haven’t played in two weeks, this means some of the ratings for non-playoff teams can get a little unreliable. Really, this is only to be used for playoff teams, the other teams are just there for ranking comparison.
  • DVOA, as always, takes a long-term view of an NFL team’s performance. That means the last two weeks’ games are just two games out of many, so teams may be listed among other teams they beat in the playoffs.

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To save people some time, we remind everyone to write their angry troll hatred in the official Zlionsfan angry troll hate mad libs form:

will be unique as classified because stands. is much better than that.

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

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

Click here for a look at the entire season’s DVOA with offense and defense splits.

Here’s a look at the single game DVOA ratings for the Divisional Round. Kansas City comes out essentially level with Jacksonville after applying adversary adjustments, but previously had the higher rating. However, the game between Kansas City and Jacksonville was much closer than the other three games this weekend. Yes, the San Francisco game against Dallas had a close final score, but DVOA doesn’t believe the game was close at all. The 49ers had more yards per game, a higher offensive win rate, better third-down efficiency, and fewer turnovers. The 49s landed at 98.5% in our post-game win expectation formula.


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