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No team benefitted from opponent penalties less than the Detroit Lions

Detroit vs. Everybody or just a result of a lot of uncompetitive games?

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Lions fans and complaining about the officiating of NFL games. Can you name a more iconic pairing?

Detroit has certainly had their fair share of unfavorable memories when it comes to officiating blunders, though they are far from unique in their complaints about NFL referees. Ask any fanbase, and they’ll have a laundry list of offenses that “screwed” them out of a potential win.

But one statistical finding for the 2021 season suggests Lions fans have some bragging rights when it comes to officiating anger. Twitter account “accountable refs” went through all of the called penalties for the entire season, calculated the change in win probability for each infraction called, and ranked each team by the amount of win probability added based on their opponents’ penalties throughout the year. You probably know where this is going.

Yep, no other team benefitted less from opponents penalties than the Detroit Lions and it doesn’t appear all that close.

Now, before you get all up in arms and start sending Roger Goodell letters about a plain-and-obvious conspiracy against Detroit, there are some important caveats to this study. Most importantly, this is based on win probability. The Lions didn’t find themselves in a lot of favorable situations this year, meaning for many games, their win probability was already very low. In those instances, a penalty in their favor isn’t likely to shift the win probability that much.

If you look at the just the basic penalty statistics—courtesy of NFLPenalties.com—the Lions definitely didn’t benefit much from calls, but they weren’t by far the worst. Opponents were called for 87 penalties (third fewest) for 818 yards (11th).

On the other hand, penalties on the Lions also did not end up being all that game changing. Accountable Refs looked at the impact of penalties on the teams themselves, and Detroit’s penalties accounted for the third-lowest shift in win percentage.

Again, this supports the idea that many of Detroit’s games were so lopsided at times that penalties didn’t impact the result much. When it comes to raw penalties, the Lions were right in the middle of the league, committing 105 penalties (18th) for 824 yards (11th).

So is this evidence that the Lions are getting screwed by officials more than anyone else in the league? Hardly, but it is an interesting look at how much officiating impacts the game of football and which teams benefitted the most this year.