Some of you may have just read the title of this piece and are rushing to the comment section to tell me I’m out of my mind or to tone back the exaggeration and clickbait. Before I even get started here, I am going to tell you this is not an opinion piece. By the time you’re done reading this, I hope not to convince you that the Detroit Lions are playing like a top-five team right now. I am going to prove it to you with cold, hard facts.
Let’s start with one of my favorite measures of team value: DVOA. If you’re not aware of Football Outsiders’ efficiency metric, quite simply, it’s a statistic that measures the value of every single play, taking into account things like down, distance, time left in a game, score, and strength of opponent. Using all of these factors they measure each team’s performance on a play-by-play basis compared to how an “average” team would perform.
Since Week 9—the start of the Lions’ current 6-1 stretch—here is where the Lions rank in DVOA:
Offense: 7th (5th passing offense, 16th rushing offense)
Defense: 10th (10th passing defense, 8th rushing defense)
Special teams: 4th
Four of the five Lions’ units have ranked in the top 10 over the past seven weeks. And it’s time to call a spade a spade: this is no longer a trivial sample size—this is quite literally half of the Lions season.
But maybe you’re not a DVOA fan. Maybe you like Expected Points Added. Here’s where the Lions rank in EPA per play since Week 9 in each unit:
Pass offense: 1st — Yes, you read that right
Run offense: 22nd
Pass defense: 15th
Run defense: 19th
While those stats are far from as impressive as DVOA, when you stack those together and put them into tiers, the Lions are just right up against the top-five teams in the NFL.
(Graph via https://rbsdm.com/)
Note: if you just do EPA since Week 10, the Lions firmly jump into the top five.
Maybe you’re into more traditional statistics. Okay, how about just points? Since Week 9, the Lions are:
- Third in points scored (196)
- 15th in points allowed (139)
- Fifth in point differential (+57)
Or let’s just go as simple as overall record! Since Week 9:
- 49ers: 6-0
- Bengals: 6-0
- Lions: 6-1
- Eagles: 6-1
- Chiefs: 6-1
And here’s the crazy thing, if you take out the first couple games of the Lions’ hot streak—when Detroit was still growing into this machine—and focus on how they’ve played over just the past month, they’re arguably getting even better.
Here are their numbers since Week 11:
- 2nd overall
- 3rd offense (5th passing, 12th rushing)
- 15th defense (17th passing, 10th rushing)
- 2nd special teams
Pass offense: 1st
Run offense: 20th
Pass defense: 19th
Run defense: 11th
And the chart:
The people who write weekly power rankings may not be hip to it yet, but the Detroit Lions are playing like a top-five team right now, and with the youth on this roster, people better start getting used it.