All offseason, we’ve been spoonfed the line that the Detroit Lions are bound to regress in 2017. Their narrow margins of victory in 2016 are too improbable to be replicated this season, and therefore their end-of-game luck is much more likely to be worse.
Estimates of this regression have varied drastically. Some think the Lions could fall off the map and finish with 12 losses. Others think they’ll drop back to 7-9 or 8-8. Although there are some that think they can still compete for the division, the consensus is that Matthew Stafford won’t be able to repeat his magic that got the Lions to the postseason for the second time in three years.
As we pointed out back in July, the Lions’ 2016 record in close games was actually much closer to average than not. Detroit was 8-5 in one-score games, which put their win percentage in such games as 13th best. Teams like the Cowboys (7-2), Raiders (8-1) and Packers (5-3) all sported a better winning percentages in close games.
So are the Lions really due for regression? We asked Football Outsiders’ Scott Kacsmar to dig a little deeper into the numbers and come up with a conclusion.
Jeremy: A lot of analysts are predicting the Lions to “regress to the mean” after all of their improbable fourth-quarter comeback wins. Do you see it the same way?
Scott: Pretty much. Teams that win at least six games with fourth-quarter scores drop about 10 percentage points in win percentage the following season. They see even greater drops in their success in close games, going from winning 66.8 percent of game-winning drive opportunities the first year to 40.1 percent the next year. You just can’t count on 58-yard field goals or Sam Bradford interceptions in the final minute to repeat in 2017. The most likely outcome is for Detroit to finish 8-8, give or take a game, but that won’t be good enough for the playoffs this time.
Scott dug up more info on the Lions’ improbable victories from last season in the 2017 Football Outsiders Almanac. “Detroit only trailed to start the fourth quarter in one of its eight comeback wins,” Kacsmar wrote. “Five times, the Lions took a lead into the final quarter, lost it, and regained it at the end. None of Detroit’s comebacks were from a deficit of more than seven points, and six of them were from deficits of four points or less.” Eventually, Kacsmar concluded, “Maybe this team didn’t quite have as much luck as one might expect from a team with a record number of late comebacks.”
Still, there clearly is at least a small amount of regression expected, which is likely why Kacsmar only predicted the Lions to lose just a single game more this year.
For more in-depth information the Lions’ 2017 season, check out the Football Outsiders’ Almanac. It is absolutely worth the purchase.