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The 5 O’Clock Club: Is Washington’s defense destined to regress to the mean in 2021?

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

The 5 o’clock club is published from time to time during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

Football Outsiders 2021 Almanac had this to say about Washington’s #3 finish (as measured by DVOA) in 2020:

Can this type of defensive production continue for the 2021 season? The Plexiglass Principle is certainly in play here, where teams that significantly improve on one side of the ball tend to see that unit decline the following season. Washington’s defensive improvement was the eighth-biggest year-to-year jump in the DVOA database, which now goes back to 1983. Of the seven defenses with bigger year-to-year jumps, only two stayed in the top 10 the following season and three dropped to 26th or worse (Table 1).

Note: For defense negative DVOA indicates better performance than a positive value

On a more positive note, the seven teams immediately behind Washington on Table 1 all finished in the top six the following season. The Washington defense could be more aligned with that group of teams than the ones above them.

The bottom of Table 1 presents three case studies over the past two seasons, two of which offer optimism for Washington’s 2021 defense. Each of the 49ers, Buccaneers, and Patriots made big leaps from the 2018 to 2019 seasons. In their leap years, the 49ers (second-youngest) and Buccaneers (ninth-youngest) were two of the youngest defenses in the league by snap-weighted age. Both were top-six defenses by DVOA in 2020 as they added some experience and fell toward league average in snap-weighted age on that side of the ball.

The Patriots, on the other hand, had the league’s oldest defense in their leap year and stayed among the oldest while they dropped back to 26th in DVOA this past season.

Washington profiles more like the San Francisco and Tampa Bay defenses. Washington had the fifth-youngest defense in the league last season, and the youth comes at the unit’s best positions. The defensive line was the youngest in the league (24.3) and the defensive backs were the fourth-youngest (24.9). We currently have Washington projected to have a top-10 defense again in 2021.


In 2020, Football Outsiders ranked Washington’s defense 3rd overall based on DVOA. Where will the WFT defense end up being ranked by Football Outsiders in 2021?

This poll is closed

  • 53%
    Higher than 2020 (so, 1st or 2nd)
    (328 votes)
  • 25%
    Lower than 2020 (so, 4th or lower)
    (157 votes)
  • 20%
    Exactly the same (so, 3rd overall)
    (127 votes)
612 votes total Vote Now