With the rise of analytics in the NFL, it seems like a new metric is introduced every week with the promise of revolutionizing how we view and evaluate team and positional performance. It can be challenging to determine which of these metrics helps handicap a game given the ongoing influx of them.
It is crucial to use and refer to multiple metrics in your process because no single metric is flawless and comprehensive. One such metric is DVOA, which is Defense Adjusted Value Over Average. It’s a mouthful and it can be tricky to understand. We’ll break it down and see how it can be used as part of the handicapping process.
What Is DVOA?
DVOA analyzes the “success” of each play. A team, unit, or player’s value as measured by DVOA is expressed as a positive or negative percentage. For instance, a DVOA of -15% indicates that a player or team is 15% below league average.
DVOA also takes into account the context of each play. It includes the down and distance, the field position, the score at the time of the play, and much more. An 18-yard pass completion on first-down-and-10 with a team trailing by 14 points is a lot different than the same play that occurs in the final minute of a game with a team needing a field goal to win. DVOA accounts for those differences.
Why Use DVOA as a Sports Bettor
NFL teams all play different schedules with a wide range of difficulty. DVOA is arguably the best way to quickly assess how good a team actually is. DVOA is great at explaining historical performance and making future success predictions.
This metric can be used by bettors to predict how a game will unfold and whether a team with a lead will maintain it or blow it. DVOA can also be used during live betting situations. There are indicators that DVOA takes into account to determine a team’s ability to maintain or extend a lead.
These factors include a strong running game, an opponent’s weak run defense, a strong pass defense, and more. The reverse of these factors can also be used to determine whether or not a team is likely to lose a lead or overcome a deficit. Teams with strong passing attacks on offense playing against a team with a lower opponent DVOA against the pass could be identified as teams more likely to recover from a deficit.
The Drawbacks of DVOA
When the sample size is smaller at the beginning of a season, there is a high variance in results. These results can cause DVOA to be inaccurate early in a given season. Remember, the metric depends upon contextualizing for opponents. The more opponents a team has faced, the more likely the DVOA is accurate.
In the early season, DVOA attempts to adjust for the smaller sample sizes by including preseason projections along with the early season performances. The reliability of DVOA also increases with the size of the evaluated unit. Drilling any lower than the level of offensive and defensive passing and rushing units, however, can present problems with sample size and/or data reliability.
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