Yes, yes, I know. Projecting 2017 NFL standings before the draft even happens is a fool’s errand. However, the folks over at Football Outsiders aren’t just randomly guessing based on current rosters. Instead, they’re using their patented DVOA statistic from the past three years for each team, accounting for natural regression for teams and throwing in “a number of other variables that measure everything from turnover ratios to personnel and coaching changes on both sides of the ball.” After running all of the numbers, Football Outsiders came up with 2017 projections for the entire NFL (ESPN Insider required).
What they found was a Detroit Lions team that will regress a bit from last season. Football Outsiders calculated 7.4 mean wins for Detroit, ranking them second in the NFC North and 10th in the NFC. Here’s their reasoning for the Lions’ decline:
Close wins put the Lions into the playoffs last season, despite ranking just 27th in DVOA. With normal luck and without so many late comebacks, the 2017 Lions are probably going to have fewer wins, despite improvement on last season's last-place defense.
Last year, we talked a lot about Detroit’s low ranking in DVOA. Some believe DVOA didn’t properly account for the Lions’ perceived strategy of purposely dragging out possessions on both sides of the ball to keep games close. Still, Football Outsiders’ complicated analysis accounts for many game factors, including score, time remaining, down and distance, etc. In terms of statistical analysis, you won’t find anyone more thorough than Football Outsiders.
And their hard work often pays off. Despite many experts expecting a huge dropoff for the Lions last year—mostly due to the loss of Calvin Johnson—Football Outsiders still projected the Lions to go 9-7. The Lions went on to finish with that exact record.
Interestingly, Football Outsiders lists the Lions’ strength of schedule as the ninth-toughest in the NFL. Though we don’t know the specifics of the schedule yet, we do know the Lions’ home and away opponents for 2017. What makes Football Outsiders’ ranking notable is if calculated simply by 2016 win-loss records, the Lions actually have just the 21st-hardest schedule.
Around the rest of the NFC North, the Packers again lead the way with a 10-6 projected record. The Bears surprisingly come in at third with a 7-9 record (7.0 mean wins), while the Vikings fall to 6-10 due to a clear decrease in play in the final months of the 2016 season.