Allow me a slightly lengthy preface here.

Here at NYGMen, I’ve long relied upon the unique stats created by the smart guys at FootballOutsiders.com, especially their DVOA stat, which breaks down each play and determines its success based on situation and opponent.

DVOA is a better gauge of how good a team is than raw yardage stats, which are often skewed by situation – think about when a team piles on chunks of yards while getting blown out – and opponent – maybe a 90-yard rushing performance against the ’85 Bears is more impressive than a 100-yard game against the 2008 Seahawks.

It is also a better gauge of how good a team is than wins and losses, which are subject to simple luck: what if the tipped pass is caught by a wide receiver, or even falls incomplete, and doesn’t get intercepted and returned for a touchdown?  Looking at teams on a play-by-play basis puts in their proper place these random elements of luck that have a disproportionate impact on the outcome of games.

The value of a stat can be judged by how predictive it is going forward.  As it turns out, DVOA is more predictive of win-loss record going forward than both win-loss record itself and yardage stats.  In other words, a team with a good DVOA but a mediocre win-loss record can generally be expected to have a good win-loss record going forward.  Conversely, a team with a mediocre DVOA but a good win-loss record can expected to be mediocre in the future.

So there you have it: DVOA, the best gauge I know of how good a team will be from a given point forward.  The stat is expressed in terms of a percentage relative to the league average: to give a general benchmark, a team with a 30% DVOA is Super Bowl worthy, a team with a DVOA of 0 is average, and a team with a DVOA of -30% is first-pick-of-the-draft worthy.

Ok, anyway…

This is all prologue to a discussion of how ridiculously good the Giants have been this year.  Their DVOA of 56.7% is by far the best in the league, significantly better than the second-best Ravens (I know, it seems weird, but bear with me on DVOA, please), who stand at 42.5%.

Their offense has been truly phenomenal, sporting a DVOA of 41.1%, more than 10 points better than the second-best Broncos.  Their running game has been the best in the league by far, with a 38.6% DVOA that ranks much better than the second-place Falcons at 26.2%.  Their passing game ranks a very narrow second to Washington’s – of all teams! – by a margin of 43.7% to 43.6%.

The defense has been merely excellent: their DVOA of -12.4%, (which was brought down by getting sliced up by Carson Palmer) ranks 7th in the league.  They have been excellent against both run (-10.2%, which ranks 9th) as well as the pass (-14.0%, which ranks 7th).

And thanks to John Carney and some good returns by Hixon and even R.W. on Sunday, the G-Men are even very good on special teams, boasting a DVOA of 3.2%, which ranks 10th.

The upshot here is that the G-Men have been absurdly good on a play-by-play basis, probably better than you would have thought.  Detractors might point to our soft schedule thus far, but the beauty of DVOA is that it accounts for opponent.  (Although at this point in the season, the strength of opponents is hard to pin down.  Also, the G-Men get a lot of credit in this system for beating the Redskins, but it seemed pretty clear that the Redskins of Week 1 weren’t the same team as they are now.  But I digress…)

How good has this Giants start been?  It is the 7th best start since 1996, the point at which FootballOutsiders has enough data to calculate DVOA.  The top team on this list?  None other than the 2007 New England Patriots, with an absurd 72.4%.

Their offense has been nearly as good from a recent historical perspective: It ranks 8th best through four games.  Strangely, the 1999 Redskins top this list.

I’ll let Aaron Schatz, the genius behind FootballOutsiders, take this one home:

“Yes, that’s right – so far, the Giants have been that good.  They have a better pass defense than they had a year ago, and a much, much better passing game on offense.  Many NFL observers felt Eli Manning would continue to play at the high level he showed in last year’s postseason, with improved confidence moving him into the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks.  Pro Football Prospectus 2008 said Manning would put up better fantasy numbers this year because of the “third down rebound effect.”  [A FootballOutsiders tenet that says that guys who are significantly worse on third down than they were on first and second – which Eli was last year – will bounce back as their third down performance gets more in line with their early down performance.]  It looks like both of these things have happened.  He’s the clear leader of the team and as we learned this week, he can even play well without Plaxico Burress on the field.  Meanwhile, the Giants offense leads the league on first down and second down and is fifith in third down.  Last year, the Giants offense ranked 12, 17, and 23 on those downs, respectively.”