Last week, these fallible fingers typed a little something regarding the 2017 Atlanta Falcons, the gist of which was that the owner of said fingers could find no great failing in the team through four games, the most recent being a sobering loss to Buffalo. Well, here’s where I point to something that, also regarding the 2017 Atlanta Falcons, slows my roll.
According to Football Outsiders’ DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) ratings, the Falcons are the NFL’s 13th-best team.
As mentioned a time or two, I put great stock in anything Football Outsiders offers, mostly because data has no eyeballs. These eyeballs have watched the Falcons play and have detected nothing egregiously wrong, but the same orbs have been fooled before. (And now, having invoked fingers and eyeballs, I end this Anatomy 101 lecture.)
We note that, data-wise, four games isn’t the biggest sample size. We also note that most of the human polls — the power rankings — have the Falcons comfortably among the league’s top five. (ESPN has them third, NFL.com fourth.) But the thing about data is that, cuing Belichick, is what it is. Numbers don’t carried away with how good the Falcons looked in the first half against Green Bay. Numbers simply are.
According to DVOA, the Falcons’ offense is the league’s seventh-best, which sounds a tad low when we note that the Falcons are third in yards per game. The defense is ranked 24th per DVOA, which isn’t what anybody in Flowery Branch had in mind. It’s also contrary to the total defense rankings, which likewise go by yards. The Falcons are 10th-best there. (DVOA has their special teams as fourth-best, so hooray for that.)
Writes Aaron Schatz, Football Outsiders’ founder and editor-in-chief: “Atlanta is 2-1 in games decided by less than a touchdown, and those games were actually closer than the even the close final scores would indicate. Detroit, of course, came within 1 yard of making the Falcons 2-2.”
Don’t misunderstand. I still don’t believe the Falcons are anywhere near terrible. (Though 13th in a 32-team league isn’t far from mediocre, and the defensive ranking is sobering.) All of the above does, however, make me think, which is why I like stat-based sites in any sport. I’m a fan of thinking. Not very good at it, but a fan all the same.