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Football Outsiders (FO) is a website started in July 2003 which focuses on advanced statistical analysis of the NFL. The site is run by a staff of regular writers, who produce a series of weekly columns using both the site's in-house statistics and their personal analyses of NFL games.
In 2005 and 2006, the site partnered with FOXSports.com to cross-publish many of the Outsiders' regular features, including power rankings based on a "weighted" version of the DVOA statistic. In 2007, Football Outsiders content appeared on FOXSports.com (in a reduced capacity) along with AOL Sports and ESPN.com. In 2008 and 2009 the site has partnered exclusively with ESPN and provides mostly ESPN Insider content.
Football Outsiders was launched in August 2003 by Aaron Schatz, with two regular columns, one of which was using an early version of the proprietary DVOA statistic. The original purpose of the site was to disprove a statement by Boston Globe reporter Ron Borges that the 2002 New England Patriots failed to make the postseason because they could not establish the run. Over the course of time, the site added more writers, even playing host to the popular Gregg Easterbrook for part of 2003.
Between 2004 and 2005, the site became much more frequently visited, and continued to expand, introducing new statistics such as Defense-adjusted Points Above Replacement (DPAR) and Adjusted Line Yards. In 2005, the site began to cross-publish many of its columns on FOXsports.com. In 2005, Football Outsiders also took over publication of Pro Football Prospectus, a book giving a preview of the upcoming NFL season. In 2009, the annual was renamed Football Outsiders Almanac (ISBN 1448648459).
Currently, the site has incorporated the entire 1993-2009 NFL seasons into their statistics. They have also begun a project with special college football statistics for 2005-2009.
The Football Outsiders statistics
Created by Aaron Schatz, the original Football Outsiders statistic is known as DVOA, which is an acronym for Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. The statistic measures the success of a given play compared to the league-average level of success for that play given the situation at the time (score, time remaining, down and distance to go, location on the field, caliber of opponent, and so on). The formula is calculated using every play of the season, and provides rankings for teams, individual units (offense, defense, special teams), and individual players. Schatz updates the formula every offseason, keeping only the changes that improve DVOA's predictive ability.
A DVOA rating of 0% is equivalent to league average performance. An above-zero number represents an above-average offensive performance, and a below-zero number represents an above average defensive performance. Since the baseline for "league average performance" is calculated over multiple seasons, the aggregate DVOA for the NFL will not necessarily equal 0% for any given season.
DPAR (Defense-adjusted Points Above Replacement) and DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) are statistics that measure a player's total contribution over the course of all plays in a game or season. The increment of DPAR is the number of additional points a player adds for his team. For example, if a player worth 3.0 DPAR in a given game had not played that week, and had been replaced in the lineup by a typical back-up player, his team would (ostensibly) have scored 3 fewer points. This increment is cumulative -- where DVOA for each play is averaged together, DPAR is compiled over time. In addition, a player is not compared to the league average, but to the expected performance of a replacement-level player, defined as being about 13.3% less valuable than the expected contribution of a league-average player (i.e. -13.3% DVOA).
Prior to the 2008 NFL season, FO decided to change from DPAR to DYAR, measuring value in yards rather than points. This is essentially a change in semantics, however, as the two stats essentially measure the same thing; Schatz stated that the change came about simply as an effort to make FO's stats more accessible to the average fan.
When used to judge the contributions of individual players, DVOA and DYAR are as yet unable to separate completely a player's value independent of his 10 teammates on the field with him. From FO's website: "That means that when we say, 'Larry Johnson has a DVOA of 27.6%,' what we are really saying is 'Larry Johnson, playing in the Kansas City offensive system with the Kansas City offensive line blocking for him and Trent Green selling the fake when necessary, has a DVOA of 27.6%.'" While this is a significant limitation, it should be noted that it is a limitation shared by virtually all individual football statistics.
KUBIAK is a proprietary fantasy football projection algorithm created for the 2005 season and introduced in Pro Football Prospectus 2005. The name is derived from the current head coach of the Houston Texans and former offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos, Gary Kubiak. The name is an homage to PECOTA, the player forecasting system developed by Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus. Kubiak's name was chosen because at the time he was a relatively obscure offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos, similar to the role played by MLB player Bill Pecota.
The system has been criticized for struggling to accurately predict a breakout season before it happens, though the system is recognized for being quite good at predicting the declines of highly regarded players.
Most KUBIAK users find the system extremely useful when combined with their own non-statistical based scouting. For example, before the 2009 season KUBIAK projected Torry Holt of the Jacksonville Jaguars to catch 81 passes for 1,119 yards and 7 touchdowns. This was because Holt was expected to be the Jaguar's #1 wide receiver, and he was entered into the system as such. Though Holt finished the year with only 51 catches for 722 yards and no touchdowns, the KUBIAK projection can't be considered a failure, because then-unknown wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker emerged as the teams #1 receiver, recording 63 catches for 869 yards and 7 touchdowns, numbers quite similar to KUBIAK's projection for Holt. Sims-Walker's preseason projection as the #2 receiver was for 39 catches for 503 yards and 2 touchdowns, numbers that look quite similar to Holt's actual totals. When taken with a grain of salt, KUBIAK's projections are often more accurate than any other projection system.
Adjusted Line Yards
Adjusted Line Yards (ALY) is a statistic that attempts to measure an offensive line's contribution to the running game, separating the blocking from the runner himself. Each of a team's running plays are included, with yards gained weighted by category -- losses, where a runner is tackled in the backfield, are weighted heavily against an offensive line, while long gains, where a runner is far beyond his initial blocks, are reduced and eventually eliminated. The plays are adjusted for game circumstances, and the result is normalized so that the league-average ALY is the same as the league-average yards per carry.
Published in the 2010 Football Outsiders Almanac, Sackseer is a proprietary statistic developed by Nate Forster. Its goal is to predict the performance of collegiate edge rushers entering the NFL.
SackSEER is expressed as the number of sacks a player will accrue through his first five professional seasons, which is the average length of an NFL rookie contract. It has an R-squared of .42, which makes it relatively correlative with actual results, considering the capricious nature of NFL prospects. SackSEER has historically been more accurate predicting NFL busts than NFL superstars, but considering that the overall ratio of busts to eventual superstars is extremely high, that should not be totally surprising.
The site has a number of regular columns and articles, as well as guest contributions.
Audibles at the Line, published on Mondays, consists of the email messages exchanged by the site's writers during the previous day's games. The messages usually include commentary on the games themselves as they occur and instant analysis informed by Football Outsiders research.
One Foot Inbounds is a regular column published by Rob Weintraub on Mondays that provides non-statistical based analysis of the previous weekend's college football games.
Any Given Sunday analyzes the biggest upset of the weekend using Football Outsiders stats. It is written by Vince Verhei and now runs on Tuesdays exclusively on ESPN Insider.
DVOA Rankings and Analysis is Tuesday's in-season regular column. The column is written around the DVOA rankings, with these providing a basis. The rankings are combined with commentary and analysis, based around the various teams' DVOA.
Cover-3 is published on Wednesdays by Doug Farrar. This column gives film analysis of three specific players or matchups. Common themes are individual matchups between players, the performance of a particular unit or group of players, or plays frequently run by a particular team.
Scramble for the Ball, is another non-statistical based piece, published on Wednesdays. The column includes analysis of the past weeks' games, opinions about future matchups, and fantasy football tips and advice. Past writers include Al Bogdan, Ian Dembsky, Bill Barnwell, and Vivek Ramgopal. The current writers are Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz. Scramble for the Ball features a weekly comic, topical to the NFL, often featuring Gil Thorp. It is drawn by Jason Beattie.
Walkthrough is Mike Tanier's regular Thursday column, which combines his humorous takes on current events around the game with breakdowns and diagrams of interesting or representative plays from the previous week.
Seventh Day Adventure is the other regular Thursday column, which consisted of Russell Levine and Vinny Gauri's discussion of the next weekend's NCAA games through 2006. In 2007, the column became a podcast featuring Levine with a different guest each week. In 2009, it was taken over by current college football statisticians Brian Fremeau and Bill Connelly.
The Week in Quotes collects the best of that week's chatter in a format similar to that of the Baseball Prospectus edition.
Extra Points provides links to various football news reports and featuring discussion threads that allow fans to discuss the latest developments in football. A specific subsection of Extra Points links to posts by the Football Outsiders that are hosted by other websites as part of business partnerships.
Word of Muth is published on Thursdays. Written by former all PAC-10 first-team offensive lineman Ben Muth, the column's goal is to take an in-depth look at various offensive line strategies used by different NFL teams. In 2010 he is focusing on the line play of the Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys, and Washington Redskins. His first article was published on Sept. 7, 2010.
Pro Football Prospectus
From 2005 through 2008, Football Outsiders published the Pro Football Prospectus book each year before the football season began. It included an essay for each team analyzing the previous season, evaluating off-season moves, and projecting future performance. The projections in these volumes echo FO's statistical roots — they come not as a single predicted record, but as a list of percentages for how likely the team is to win given numbers of games. The projection is generated from many thousand simulations of the coming season. Each chapter also analyzes the team by unit, including breakdowns of the team's strategic tendencies and individual defensive statistics garnered from the site's extensive game-charting project. The book also includes many secondary essays on specific areas of interest as well as KUBIAK fantasy projections for most players at the offensive skill positions.
Football Outsiders Almanac 2009
In 2009, Football Outsiders did not publish a Pro Football Prospectus volume, but instead produced the self-published Football Outsiders Almanac 2009. The reason for this is explained in the book:
So why the name change, and why aren’t we in bookstores?
For those who don’t know, our first four books were published through an agreement with Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, the company that owns Baseball Prospectus (as well as the expansion projects Basketball Prospectus and Puck Prospectus). It was PEV that had the publishing contract (first with Workman, then Plume). This year, for various reasons, Plume decided they no longer wanted to publish books related to other sports besides baseball. Other publishers were interested in doing our book, but by the time Plume made their decision, it was too late to get on the publication schedule for 2009.
ROBO-PUNTER is a term used to describe a theoretical robot (or possibly cyborg) punter whose punts -- through a combination of power, precision, and exaggerated hangtime - are downed at the opposing team's one-yard line every time.
The term came to prominence at Football Outsiders where it had its genesis during an off-season draft-related discussion. It was proposed that no punter, not even one as skilled as the one described above, could ever be worth the first pick in the draft or the multi-million-dollar salary such a pick would command. The theoretical player was quickly seized upon by other posters, with various contributors assigning the moniker of ROBO-PUNTER, further describing its abilities, and speculating on the potential salary-cap structure and overall strategy of a team with ROBO-PUNTER on its roster.
FOMBC (Football Outsiders Message Board Curse)
When DVOA ranks a specific team significantly lower than conventional wisdom does, fans of that team often log on to the website's comments section in droves to express their dislike of the numbers. However, by doing this, they ostensibly risk incurring the wrath of the FOMBC. As with the Madden Curse, affected teams generally falter, sometimes spectacularly, not long after the curse in incurred.
The first example of the FOMBC was in 2005. Halfway through the season, the Atlanta Falcons had a record of 6-2 and were popularly considered one of the best teams in the NFL, though their DVOA was unspectacular, placing them in the bottom half of the league. Dozens of Falcon fans flooded the FO message boards with comments deriding DVOA and questioning the wisdom behind an obviously flawed system. However, the Falcons finished the season winning only two more games for a final record of 8-8, thus validating the predictive value of DVOA, or validating the FOMBC, depending on how one looks at it.
- Pro Football Forecast 2004 (ISBN 1574886584)
- Pro Football Prospectus 2005 (ISBN 0761140190)
- Pro Football Prospectus 2006 (ISBN 0761142177)
- Pro Football Prospectus 2007 (ISBN 0452288479)
- Pro Football Prospectus 2008 (ISBN 0452289734)
- Football Outsiders Almanac 2009 (ISBN 1448648459)
- Bob Glauber, "Glauber's NFL Hot Reads," Newsday.com (September 1, 2009).
- "Football Outsider: Football Statistics from Outside the Box—An Interview with Aaron Schatz," SportsTechNow.com (January 25, 2008).
- Will Leitch, "A Conversation with Football Outsiders EIC Aaron Schatz," Deadspin, August 26, 2009.
- "Q.&A. with Mike Tanier of Football Outsiders," in The Fifth Down, New York Times N.F.L. Blog, New York Times, September 21, 2009.