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USA TODAY predicts the Lions to finish last in the NFC North

Let’s talk about this regression-to-the-mean argument for a second.

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NFL: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

As teams begin training camp this week, predictions for the 2017 NFL season are coming in hot. Before even a preseason snap is played, analysts, experts and prognosticators are throwing their hat into the prediction ring, and that means it’s time to feel disrespected all over again.

First to throw their opinion into the foray was USA TODAY, who posted their record predictions for all 32 teams on Monday morning. Detroit Lions fans, you may want to avert your eyes.

Okay, let’s pause the Lions stuff for a moment. Did USA TODAY really just predict a 16-0 season for the New England Patriots? Who does that?

Alright, back to the Lions. They predict Detroit to finish tied with the Chicago Bears at 5-11, tied for the sixth-worst record in the entire league. Like just about everyone before them, USA TODAY played the regression card with the Lions. “It just feels like they lived on the edge way too often in 2016,” USA TODAY’s Nate Davis wrote. “And smoke and mirrors may not be enough against this year's lineup.”

Obviously, regression is a huge talking point surrounding the Lions this offseason. With all of the Lions’ come-from-behind victories last year, many attribute their moderate 2016 success to luck, not inherent talent or skill. While there’s data to support the idea that a good record in close games is unsustainable over a long period of time, Detroit’s 2016 season wasn’t really that out of the ordinary.

The Lions’ record in close games (defined as a game in which the final score was within one possession) was 8-5. In terms of win percentage, that put Detroit at just 13th overall. The Raiders (8-1), Texans (8-2), Dolphins (8-2) and Cowboys (7-2) are much bigger outliers than the Lions were in 2016. Even the Packers (5-3) had a better win percentage in close games.

However, Detroit’s close wins were highly publicized due to the dramatic comebacks that seemed to happen on a weekly basis. And while there’s something to be said about the Lions having more one-score games than anyone else in the league, their “luck” in those games wasn’t particularly off-balanced, even if Matthew Stafford set the single-season record for fourth-quarter comeback wins.

Davis does hedge his bets with Detroit a bit, leaving some room for optimism. “However if DE Ziggy Ansah rebounds, and RB Ameer Abdullah finally gets going, cynicism could turn to optimism,” Davis wrote.

For what it’s worth, Davis predicted the Lions to place third in the NFC North last year and finish with a 7-9 record.

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