It took 13 weeks, but the New England Patriots finally rank #1 in Football Outsiders DVOA rankings. The rating system “breaks down every single play and compares a team's performance to the league average based on situation,” meaning that the Patriots are the most efficient team in the NFL.
Football Outsiders adds the note that the Patriots are the lowest ranked #1 team this late in the year since they started collecting data from 1989. In any other year, the Patriots squad would have ranked no better than 4th, and New England would have ranked outside the top five in 16 of the 27 years.
Why are the Patriots- and the 2016 season in general- so comparatively weak? Well, the Patriots receive a deduction because “they've played the easiest schedule in the league so far based on average DVOA of opponent,” according to Football Outsiders founder Aaron Schatz, “although Tennessee or Indianapolis will probably still end up with the easiest schedule for the full season.”
There also just aren’t any well rounded teams. There are three elite offenses (Cowboys, Falcons, Patriots) and four very good offenses (Raiders, Washington, Saints, Titans). Of these seven teams, the Patriots have the best defense, which ranks a mere 19th according to DVOA, which is below average. The other six teams are ranked together from 22nd to 28th.
There are no elite defenses and six very good defenses (Broncos, Ravens, Cardinals, Eagles, Vikings, Seahawks). The Seahawks have the best offense, which ranks 13th in the NFL. The other five offenses rank from 22nd to 27th.
So the Patriots and Seahawks are the most balanced of the teams with very good offenses and defenses. The Steelers and Chiefs join the Seahawks as the only teams with above average offenses and defenses, and they’re just fractionally above average.
If the Patriots take their 3rd ranked offense and have success against the 2nd ranked Ravens defense and 1st ranked Broncos defense over the next two weeks, then we’ll see the Patriots rocket up the rankings. The Patriots defense won’t face an above-average offense for the rest of the season.