All week, ESPN has been listing the “Top 30” units in the past 30 years, whether it be offense, defense or special teams. The list uses Football Outsiders’ DVOA data to list the best units since 1987, which is as far back as their data goes.
Unsurprisingly the Detroit Lions were barely mentioned at all during the lists. The Lions’ 2002 team—which only went 3-13—did mention to crack No. 23 on ESPN’s top special teams units (Insider required).
However, in the middle of these lists, ESPN also listed the worst units during this span. While Lions offenses managed to avoid the bottom five list, Detroit’s defense wasn’t as lucky. In the fateful 0-16 season, the Lions managed to record the fourth-worst defense in 30 years. “Detroit allowed 6.4 yards per play and somehow had only four interceptions,” Aaron Schatz wrote.
Sadly, that’s not the worst of it. On Thursday, ESPN published the 30 best teams in the past 30 years, while also detailing the bottom five. Not only were the Lions shut out of the top 30 list. Not only did they make it on the bottom five list. But of the five worst teams in the past 30 years, two were Detroit Lions teams.
It’s no surprise that the 2008 winless Lions made the list as the third-worst team in DVOA history. However, the 2009 team actually graded out worse. Schatz explains:
DVOA says the Lions were worse the season after their 0-16 season. The defense was a little better but remained the worst in the league, while the offense and special teams both fell to 31st. Detroit won two games by a combined six points over two other teams with losing records.
The 2009 Lions came in as the second-worst team on the list, topped only by the 2005 San Francisco 49ers, who oddly went 4-12.
Of course, none of this comes as news to Lions fans. The team is just now pulling itself out of the crater that Matt Millen left the franchise in during his eight-year reign as the team’s general manager. In fact, the Lions only have one player remaining from that era: long snapper Don Muhlbach.
Though Detroit is still a far ways away from donning any one of these lists as a top-30 team from the past 30 years, they’re just as far away from making a bottom-five list. That’s at least some progress.