It’s prediction week across the NFL, and that typically means doom and gloom for Detroit Lions fans. Aside from one odd analyst here and there, Detroit has typically seen the butt-end of NFL predictions in the past and for good reason.
While it certainly seems like things are off to a similar start—we’ve seen 3-13 predictions and power rankings with the Lions in the bottom six—there is one big source of optimism this year, and it comes from analytics website Football Outsiders.
On Wednesday, Football Outsiders released their 2019 NFL projections based on a variety of factors including trends from the past three seasons, quarterback projections and variables that could regress to the mean.
Based on their projections, the Detroit Lions enter the season as their 15th best team, but—wait for it—the predicted winner of the NFC North.
What’s odd about this prediction is that they actually have the Packers and Bears 13th and 14th in their rankings, but what pushes Detroit over the top is their schedule. Here’s what Football Outsiders’ Aaron Schatz had to say about the Lions being their projected NFC North winner.
“I’ve been trying to explain all preseason that Detroit is better than conventional wisdom but I did not expect to have to wave the flag of the Lions as division favorites and I’m not exactly happy about it. It seems like going a little bit too far, but that’s what the numbers spat out in what is by far the closest division in the NFL according to our projections. All four NFC North teams have projected DVOA between 1.0% and 2.8%, and all four teams have mean projected wins between 8.0 and 8.3. Detroit is not as good as Chicago or Green Bay, but it’s close, and they have the easiest schedule in the division. The Lions aren’t prohibitive favorites, but nuance doesn’t exactly work well on the Internet.”
It’s kind of a backhanded compliment from Schatz, but his point about the division being tighter than many believe rings true. No one is giving the Lions a chance at the division. Just look at the current Vegas odds to win the North, per Vegas Insider:
For what it’s worth, last year, Football Outsiders ranked Detroit 18th with a projected win total of 7.8.