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ESPN: Detroit Lions 1 of 4 teams most likely to improve in 2020

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A look at the statistics from 2019 suggest the Lions could be a much better team in 2020.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn need this team to turn around and turn around quick. Their jobs could very well depend on it. After a 6-10 season followed by a 3-12-1 disaster, the leash is undoubtedly short with new owner Sheila Ford Hamp at the helm. Critics are torn on whether the Lions have truly done enough to compete for a division title this year, but at least one outlet believes the Lions are likely due for some significant improvement this year.

As he does every year, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell looked at a few statistical factors from the 2019 season, and based on those metrics picked out four teams he believes are most likely to improve this season. Unsurprisingly, the Lions were on that list.

The majority of Barnwell’s argument for the Lions surrounds their fourth-quarter collapses last year. He pointed out the well-known fact among Lions fans that they lost five games in which they held the lead in the fourth quarter last year—and that no other team had even three. Of course, that doesn’t even include Detroit’s blown 24-6 lead in the season opener that resulted in a tie against the Cardinals.

So why do blown fourth-quarter leads mean this team is due for improvement in 2020? Well, it signifies the Lions were probably a better team than their record suggested last year, and despite narratives of “clutch” teams and players, success in close games is mostly random on a year-to-year basis.

Barnwell looked at the teams with the worst single-season fourth quarter performances over the past 10 years (by win percentage added) and their records the following year. On average, those teams improved by 3.5 wins the next season. And while that would only put the Lions at 7-9 in 2020, that’s just if they have an average improvement. As noted by Barnwell, the 2016 Jaguars and the 2018 49ers both went on deep playoff runs after seasons marred by fourth quarter collapses.

There are other reasons Barnwell gives for a potential improvement this year, too: The health of Matthew Stafford, the fifth-easiest schedule and a potentially light division. Ultimately, he concludes:

“Their chances of competing for the NFC North title are better than you think, in part because of who and what we’ll talk about tomorrow.”

CLIFFHANGER!