Do you remember what you were doing 21 years ago today? Do you remember what the Detroit Lions did 21 years ago today? They beat the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
Who would have guessed that 21 years later it would still be the last time the Lions won a game in the state of Wisconsin? Throw in the playoff loss during the 1994 season and the streak stands at 22 straight losses.
It’s a pathetic enough fact on the surface. Digging into the dubious feat from a strictly probability standpoint is even more depressing.
Let’s pretend for a minute that each game played between the Lions and Packers in the state of Wisconsin was a coin flip. The probability of the “coin” landing on the Packers’ side 22 times in a row is a shade under 0.000024%.
But we know that the Lions were hardly ever the Packers’ equal over the last 21 years. Surely the streak becomes at least partly understandable given that fact, right?
The Massey Ratings, a component of the BCS computer rankings, compiles statistical data and provides rankings and predictions for a wide range of sports and leagues. It just so happens that Michigan State has an upcoming men’s basketball game against Bowling Green. For that game, Massey pegs the Spartans’ win probability at 85%.
Let’s say that over the last 21 years the Green Bay Packers have been like Michigan State’s 2012 basketball team and the Detroit Lions have been like Bowling Green’s 2012 basketball team. Even with a win probability of just 15% in each game, the probability of the Lions losing 22 in a row is just 2.8%.
Massey currently rates the New England Patriots as the best team in the NFL and gives them a win probability of 97% over the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 16. Using that as our basis for examining the streak (giving the Packers the 97% win probability, of course), the likelihood of the Lions losing 22 in a row is barely over 50%.
We’re talking about some bad stuff of an epic proportion. Too bad probability never says the coin is due to land on the other side.