All week long, we've been taking a look at the best NFL teams of the past 30 years based on Football Outsiders' advanced DVOA metric. We're going to finish up by looking at the top individual seasons since 1987.
We ranked teams this week with our DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) metric, which measures success on each play based on down and distance and then compares it with an NFL average baseline adjusted for situation and opponent. (You can read more of the details here.)
We use DVOA to measure players, too, but we also use an additional metric called DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement). DYAR takes DVOA and translates it to a measurement of total value instead of value per play. It also compares players with a "replacement-level" player at the position, instead of average, reflecting that there is some value in a player who can give a team average performance over a large volume of carries or pass targets. The rankings below use DVOA for quarterbacks, but DYAR for the other "skill positions." You can find player DYAR and DVOA stats for all 30 seasons on the stats pages at Football Outsiders.
Ratings each year are normalized, accounting for changes in the NFL's offensive environment over the last 30 years. While our previous articles on the top teams incorporated the postseason, the numbers below only include regular-season performance. It's also important to note that DVOA and DYAR do not fully separate a player from his teammates and scheme. A quarterback's numbers will somewhat be determined by his receivers, and a receiver's numbers by his quarterback, and everyone's numbers partially reflect coaching and offensive line play.
Note: Special thanks to Jeremy Snyder, who did most of the transcription work on the late 1980s and early '90s.
Quarterback numbers have been skewed by the rise of the short passing game in recent years. Although we can normalize each year so the average quarterback is at 0 percent DVOA, it's much harder to normalize the volume of passes being thrown. The top 25 quarterback seasons in passing DYAR have all taken place since 2000, with more than half of them coming in a five-year period from 2009 to 2013.
So instead, this ranking of the best seasons of the past 30 years uses DVOA, comparing quarterbacks by value per play instead of total value.
10. Mark Rypien, 1991 Redskins
41.9 percent DVOA
Both the offensive line and the quarterback play a role in avoiding sacks, so Rypien deserves some of the credit for going down only seven times all season. He also led the NFL with 14.3 yards per completion.
9. Vinny Testaverde, 1998 Jets
42.2 percent DVOA
No, seriously. The Jets were 12-4 in 1998, but three of those losses came in the three games started by backup Glenn Foley. Testaverde lost only one regular-season game as a starter, throwing 29 touchdowns with only seven interceptions, one of which came on a Hail Mary. It was a career year, even though the Jets faced the league's seventh-toughest schedule of defenses.