Q: What are we talking about here?
Football Outsiders brings you a series of brand new, in-depth statistics you can't find anywhere else. With these stats, we attempt to bring objective analysis to football that matches the revolution in baseball writing and analysis over the past 20 years. We have new methods for analyzing skill players, offensive and defensive lines, special teams, and total team efficiency. Right now these statistics are complete for the years 1986-2016, and they are updated each week during the 2017 season.
We don't just have reams of stats, though; we also write in-depth articles explaining these statistics as well as articles to answer specific questions and challenge conventional wisdom about the game. Some of our articles aren't necessarily based on statistics, but still give a more intelligent viewpoint on professional (and college) football, combining fan obsession with a bit of acerbic wit. Our lineup of regular columns is split between those articles which appear on Football Outsiders, and those which appear as part of our partnership with ESPN.com. Some of our writers (and former writers) also appear on other sites including SI.com, SB Nation, CBS Sports, and Bleacher Report.
Q: When does Football Outsiders publish new material?
A: Here is our schedule for the 2018 season. College football columns are in blue. Material that appears somewhere other than FootballOutsiders.com is in italics. All ESPN material is on ESPN+.
Audibles at the Line
One Foot Inbounds
Any Given Sunday
Scramble for the Ball
Seventh Day Adventure
ESPN: Upset Watch
ESPN: Rotating NFL Feature
Word of Muth
The Week in Quotes
Q: I'm new to your site and would like to know if there's any kind of "Football Outsiders Primer" of basic findings you've uncovered with research? It would help immensely in understanding what you do.
A: You will find a list of this research in our essay on Football Outsiders Basics.
Q: How on earth does DVOA work? (or DYAR, Adjusted Line Yards, etc.)
A: Most of the advanced statistics are explained on a different page called Methods To Our Madness. Some shortcuts:
If you have a question about another stat not explained on that page, check out the Football Outsiders Glossary.
Q: When are the stats updated on the website each week?
A: In general, the stats pages will be updated on Tuesday nights. It can occasionally be delayed because Aaron Schatz does this manually once the DVOA commentary is finished. The offensive line and defensive line pages are not necessarily updated each week. Jim Armstrong updates the drive stats separately, on his own schedule.
Q: Why does player X have a higher DVOA, but player Y has higher DYAR? What does each really mean, and which is more important when evaluating a player?
A: The easiest way to remember this is, DVOA is a rate stat, while DYAR is a cumulative stat. That is, DVOA aims to show how a player performs on a per play basis, while DYAR adds up the total contributions for a whole season (or game, drive, etc.). To compare to standard NFL stats: DVOA is similar to stats that measure per attempt (yards per carry, completion percentage), while DYAR is similar to total stats (yards, touchdowns, points).
A high DVOA signifies that when a player is involved in the play, the outcome is typically good, above league-average expectations. A high DYAR signifies that a player contributes to his team's success regularly, either through very good plays or a lot of mediocre ones (for example, giving 250 carries per year to a league-average running back is better than giving those same carries to someone off the practice squad). When players have a high DVOA but relatively low DYAR, it generally means they aren't "involved" in as many plays as their peers (e.g., No. 3 receivers, goal-line tight ends, Carson Palmer). When players have high DYAR but low DVOA, it generally means they are involved in a lot of plays, but haven't produced quite as much on each specific play.
As for which is more important, they really can't be played against each other like that. Both give insight into a player's contributions, and along with other stats (like RB Success Rate) can give a good picture of a player's performance. Remember also that these stats are all dependent on teammates (How is the line blocking? How good are the quarterback's receivers?), so we can't simply compare DVOA/DYAR to tell who is "better." These stats are a valuable tool to aid in comparisons, but do not completely replace observation.
Q: Does DVOA really work?
A: Yes. The goal of DVOA is to balance two things:
- The correlation of the opponent-adjusted statistics from year-to-year, representing the intrinsic quality of a team regardless of luck and random chance, and
- The correlation of the non-opponent-adjusted statistics to wins.
DVOA -- at least, the team version -- does these things better than any other statistic available. Here are some correlation coefficients to demonstrate:
|Correlation of various stats to wins in
same year, 2000-2014
(Off - Def)
|VOA (not adjusted for opponent)||.72||-.55||.86|
|Yards gained/allowed per play||.54||-.35||.72|
|Correlation of various stats from year to year, 2000-2014|
with wins Y+1
with same stat Y+1
|VOA (not adjusted for opponent)||.35||.44|
|Points scored - points allowed||.34||.39|
|Yards gained - yards allowed||.29||.47|
(For those unfamiliar with statistical terms, correlation coefficients are explained here.)
Q: I want to bet on this game. How does DVOA convert into expected score?
DVOA does not particularly convert into a specific score projection. However, we do now offer weekly picks against the spread (and straight up) in our Premium section, based on a formula which considers DVOA, injuries, and weather.
Q: Why doesn't Football Outsiders do more work to improve DVOA (or ALY, or DYAR, or KUBIAK, or any of our metrics and projection systems)?
When it comes to deciding which of our methods and systems to work on improving, it comes down to a question of time/money. It's as much a decision about resources as it is about knowledge. Sometimes we have to make the decision between spending a lot of time to make incremental changes on a stat that we think is fairly accurate already, or spending time on something new. Not always, but often, we'll pick the something new.
Q: Why is Football Outsiders biased in favor of the New England Patriots (or Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks, etc.)?
A: We're not biased against your favorite team; we're actually biased against you personally, as well as your race, religion, city of origin, sexual activities, and your promiscuous mother. No, no, that's a joke. But since you must know, the statistical rankings here are based entirely on the NFL's play-by-play data, and are not adjusted to reflect bias for or against any particular team. Whenever formulas are adjusted, it is to improve their performance for over 25 years of data and over 750 team seasons, and changes are not geared toward screwing over any one team.
On the other hand, all of the writers here are fans first, and it has always been the policy of Football Outsiders to be very upfront about which teams we root for. Here is a list, just in case readers want to go looking for hints of bias:
- Dave Bernreuther: Indianapolis Colts / Syracuse Orange
- Zachary O. Binney: Miami Dolphins / Jacksonville Jaguars
- Ian Boyd: Texas Longhorns
- Cale Clinton: New England Patriots
- Bill Connelly: Missouri Tigers
- Brian Fremeau: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
- Tom Gower: Tennessee Titans
- Derrik Klassen: No team in particular
- Bryan Knowles: San Francisco 49ers
- Rivers McCown: Houston Texans
- Ben Muth: Arizona Cardinals / Stanford Cardinal
- Chad Peltier: Georgia Bulldogs / Ohio State Buckeyes
- Andrew Potter: New Orleans Saints / Jacksonville Jaguars
- Aaron Schatz: New England Patriots
- Vincent Verhei: Seattle Seahawks
- Robert Weintraub: Cincinnati Bengals / Syracuse Orange
- Carl Yedor: Seattle Seahawks / Washington Huskies
The most common bias complaint is that we are pro-Patriots, but this is easy to explain. Aaron Schatz, the editor-in-chief, is a Patriots fan and the most visible writer on the site. Most of the media attention during the first year of Football Outsiders came from Boston Sports Media Watch, Boston sports radio, and the Boston Globe. We've done polls, and more Patriots fans read FO than fans of any other team (Eagles and Steelers are second and third) which means there's lots of Pats talk in the discussion threads. Plus, the Patriots happen to have won the Super Bowl in the first two years of our existence, so we couldn't exactly say nasty things about them.
Q: What's the deal with all the mentions of Brown University (or James Develin and Zak DeOssie)?
A: The initial founders of Football Outsiders, for the most part, were brothers at Zeta Delta Xi at Brown University (creator Aaron Schatz, designer Benjy Rose, cartoonist Jason Beattie, and original Scramble for the Ball writers Ian Dembsky and Al Bogdan). James Develin and Zak DeOssie are the only two Brown alumni currently on NFL rosters. Brown doesn't send a lot of people to the pros, so we end up talking about these obscure players a lot.
Q: Why do you do a single open game discussion thread each week instead of offering separate threads for each game?
A: We do a single thread rather than separate threads for each game based on reader feedback: Despite the huge number of comments in each thread, people like being able to follow other games thanks to the comments of their fellow readers. You can find the weekly open discussion threads here.
Q: Are there any rules for the discussion threads? Do you guys moderate at all? Are any topics off-limits?
A: We generally just ask that you keep the discussions civil and relatively family-friendly. Personal attacks are discouraged, comment spam is not well-received, and comments that are racist or otherwise blatantly offensive will be removed. Repeated offenses can result in a banning, although we hope to avoid that whenever possible. The comment filter picks up most swears, so try not to use them. It also picks up a lot of references to gambling and specific drugs, words popular with spammers. Please limit political commentary as much as possible, as it tends to dominate any thread in which it's started.
We do pride ourselves on having some of the most intelligent, humorous, and thoughtful readers on the Internet, and our discussions cover a wide variety of topics. In general, we frown on thread hijacking, except of course for the weekly game discussion threads where you can discuss pretty much anything. Our readers do a very good job of self-policing, and we encourage you to help keep things under control and nicely warn people who may be getting out of hand.
One good guideline: If you feel the need to describe any NFL player as "the black ___," don't.
Q: Why don't you have open discussion boards where people can start their own threads?
A: We had to retire these due to spam issues.