More than Optimism Says Detroit Lions Will be Better in 2013


Dec 30, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) in a huddle with his teammates during the game against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

It is the time of year when every NFL fans wants to believe their team has good things in store for the season ahead. That is particularly true of Detroit Lions fans who had to endure a terribly disappointing 4-12 season following a ten-win season and a playoff appearance.

The Lions have done a good job adding talent at critical areas but there is more than good old fashioned optimism that says the Lions are primed for a bounce-back year. In fact, there are two metrics that say the 2012 Lions’ 4-12 season was an artificially low result.

Statistical Underachievers

The net difference between points scored and points allowed has been shown to be the best predictor of team success. If you want to know the particulars you can read up on Pro-Football-Reference but the basic premise is that an expected win value can be calculated based on how many points a team gives up and how many they score based on historical data.

Cold Hard Football Facts tracks correlation between winning percentage and five different independent variables. After all the wheel turning CHFF lists the Lions as the second biggest underachiever checking in with 2.08 wins less than expected. In other words, while the Lions won just four games, they performed like a team expected to win six games.

That doesn’t make the 2012 any less painful, but it does suggest their foundation heading into 2013 isn’t as bad as it might look according to the standings.

Offensive Mix

In yesterday’s ‘Scanning the Savanna’ I linked to a good article by The National Football Post’s Joe Fortenbaugh in which he recounted his experience working under current Cleveland Browns general manager Mike Lombardi. One of the things he learned from Lombardi was the target of 50 combined completions and rushing attempts. He notes the link between hitting (or getting close to) that magic number and team success.

Fortenbaugh did the work of compiling the data for the 2012 season and the Lions were one of just seven teams to meet or exceed 50 combined completions and rushing attempts. Fortenbaugh took a look at the top ten for combined completions and rushing attempts per game and that group’s winning percentage checks in at .631. Conversely, the bottom ten teams for combined completions and rushing attempts had a combined winning percentage of just .387.

The Lions find themselves in the “right” group but their 4-12 record makes them a severe outlier. Outliers have a tendency to not hang around so we have to ask ourselves what is more likely to change, the Lions’ record or their combined number of completions and rushing attempts?

If you belive the Lions are going to mostly do what they have done in the past offensively, you’re left with the record changing for the better.

Is all this a guarantee of success in 2013? Of course not, but don’t sleep on this team just because the win total took a steep step back last season.