What was the Detroit Lions’ true* record last year?
Yes, the Detroit Lions made the playoffs last year. But does that mean they were really a ‘playoff team’? Let’s review 2016.
The old adage has been said time and time again: “you are what your record says you are.” When it comes to the NFL though, and specifically last season’s Detroit Lions, I often disagree with that statement. End of season standings aren’t always the best indicators of how good (or bad) a team actually is. Unless you’re the New England Patriots.
What makes me says this?
- Much shorter season than other major sports. Small sample size can’t always be trusted, and there just aren’t enough games for all the breaks to even out in one season.
- Scheduling quirks–for example, cross-divisional games based on where you finished in last year’s standings.
- “Field goal range” is much longer than it used to be, with fewer weather conditions.
- Injuries–obviously a star going down can really change things. There’s also always some unexpected backup who randomly fills in and dominates. Can you really chalk that up to anything besides luck?
- The league also seems to operate under the “NBA Jam” phenomenon. No matter how good or bad things are going, most of the games will still be close enough heading into the fourth quarter for you to feed a few more quarters into the machine and keep it going.
Add all this together, and I will conclude: you aren’t always what your record says you are. So then was Detroit actually a decent team last year or not? As I see it, they may have gone 9-7, but they were certainly not a 9-7 team.
So then what should their record in 2016 really have been? The “Expected W-L” formula that Pro-football-reference uses says they ‘should have’ had 7.7 wins and 8.3 losses. That’s closer to the mark, but still a little too kind I think. Rather than advanced metrics and the play-by-play win probability tracker that I despise, I’m just going by the eye test here.
To get a finger on the pulse here, I separated the Lions’ regular season results into five categories based on how the game went. The easiest two categories to do are Legit Wins and Legit Losses. Those are games that are either separated by a touchdown or more, or if a team wins close but relatively convincing over a lesser team.
Then there are 50-50 games, close ones where a play or two at the very end decides the outcome. They really could go either way (with a few confounding variables that I’ll mention soon). The last two categories are Should have won, but didn’t and finally, Should have lost, but didn’t.
Again, I’m basing all of this on the eye test, so there will probably be some games with some disagreement on the proper category. Here are the Lions true* 2016 season results, and if you don’t happen to be a Lions fan, I still recommend doing this little exercise for your own team. (Pats fans wow, the Super Bowl was the Should of lost, but didn’t of the century, no?)
*not actually true