Many Detroit Lions fans looked at the 2018 schedule and got a little nervous. On the surface, it looks like a pretty tough schedule. Only five of the teams they’re playing made the playoffs last year, but several of the teams that missed out last year have, generally, been a pretty good franchise as of late (Cowboys, Packers, Seahawks).
And the stats seem to back up the idea that this is a very difficult schedule. Based on last year’s records, the Lions have the second-toughest schedule in the entire NFL, only trailing the Green Bay Packers.
However, this is an incredibly crude way to measure strength of schedule. The year-to-year change in teams is massive, and studies have shown that strength of schedule based on last year’s results is not predictive of a team’s success.
So how can we look at strength of schedule while taking into account the progression and regression of each team? Thankfully, Ty Schalter of FiveThirtyEight and Lions Wire did a deep dive into the statistics.
Remember last season when advanced statistics predicted that the Lions would regress due to factors like record in close games, turnover margin and, most importantly, point differential? Well, Ty Schalter used that method to figure out which teams are likely to regress to the mean in 2018, then adjust every team’s strength of schedule based on that predictive model.
Using “expected wins,” which focuses on a team’s points for vs. points against from the previous season, it turns out the Lions’ 2018 opponents are due to regress more than any other team’s opponents in the league.
“Straight opponent win percentage gives the Packers the hardest projected 2018 schedule, and the Detroit Lions are tied for second-hardest,” Schalter wrote. “But using expected wins, they drop to seventh and 15th, respectively.”
That may be hard for some fans to believe, given that Detroit will have to go on the road late in the year in Buffalo and Green Bay, and their out-of-division games include the Patriots, Seahawks, Panthers and Rams. However, teams like the Panthers, Bills, and even the Caridnals outperformed in 2017, based on the expected wins model. They’re all due to regress in 2018.
So rest easy, Lions fans. They may have the second-hardest schedule based on old, outdated models, but that is almost certainly not going to be the case when all is said and done with the 2018 season.