Forgive us if this sounds like déjà vu, but our friends at Football Outsiders have once again provided a beacon of hope for Detroit Lions fans.
Aaron Schatz, the head of Football Outsiders, penned an article over at ESPN ranking the eight teams that finished in last place in their division by their likelihood of going worst-to-first in 2020. The Lions placed No. 1 on his list, but that’s just the tip of this Honolulu Blue iceberg.
According to Football Outsiders’ prediction model, the Lions have a 27.5 percent chance of winning the NFC North this year—the highest percentage of any other team in the NFC North. Yes, the Lions have better odds to win the North than the Bears, Packers and Vikings.
Much like Bill Barnwell’s article from earlier in the week, Schatz sees opportunity for a big improvement in Detroit this year. A big reason for that is the health of Matthew Stafford, but Schatz takes it a step further, saying he expects the Lions defense to make a significant jump this year as well.
“Our projection system also likes the Detroit defense to improve after the unit ranked 28th in DVOA last season,” Schatz wrote. “The Lions added a good amount of free-agent talent, much of it from the No. 1 New England Patriots defense. They made up for trading away veteran cornerback Darius Slay by selecting the talented Jeff Okudah third overall in the draft. Combine the talent influx with a low turnover rate (something that strongly regresses towards the mean) and the Lions should be better on defense in 2020.”
Now, before you go buying your 2020 NFC North Champion t-shirts, there are a couple of very important caveats to this prediction model. First, Football Outsiders basically predicted this exact same outcome last year. Per their model, the Lions had a 25.5 percent chance to win the division (second-highest), putting them atop their worst-to-first list. We all know how that ended.
Additionally, although Schatz expects significant regression from the Packers, and admits the Vikings will likely be hurt by their significant losses on defense, each team in the North maintains a fairly high probability of winning the division. The Bears, Lions, Packers and Vikings all have between a 23 and 28 percent chance of earning the divisional crown, per their prediction model.
So while nothing is guaranteed at this point—hell, a 2020 season is far from guaranteed right now—it’s always nice to see someone in the Lions’ corner, especially when it’s backed by a statistical, unbiased model.
If you want to know more about Football Outsiders and their overview of the 2020 season, I highly recommend their Football Outsider Almanac.