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2021 Detroit Lions suffered 3rd-highest injury impact in NFL

The Lions had some horrible, horrible injury luck last season.

Detroit Lions v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Football Outsiders is one of my favorite sites to go to for hard, objective advanced statistics. I often cite their DVOA metric, which measures a team’s efficiency on a down-by-down basis, adjusting for the strength of the opponent, much like I do with my On Paper previews.

Another favorite statistic they invented is “Adjusted Games Lost.” Football Outsiders uses this metric to try and quantify the injury impact that a team dealt with throughout an entire season. Rather than just adding up the games lost due to injury for an entire team, they have a more complicated process that weighs the impact of injured starters more and also factors in players who played, but weren’t at 100 percent (taking into account injury reports).

At the end of each season, Football Outsiders throws all the injury data into their formula and spits out a number. On Wednesday, they released their results from the 2021 season, and it is probably no surprise that the Detroit Lions had the third-most games lost in the NFL with 122.4.

As if the Lions’ roster wasn’t impacted enough by general manager Brad Holmes stripping it down to its parts and replacing many old pieces with a lot of young, raw players, the Lions lost some key players they were intending on relying upon heavily. Taylor Decker, Tyrell Williams, Quintez Cephus, Frank Ragnow, Romeo Okwara, Jeff Okudah, and Ifeatu Melifonwu were all lost for a significant amount of time in the first month of the season.

It didn’t get much better in the second half of the season. Trey Flowers played in just three games after Halloween, T.J. Hockenson missed the final five games, D’Andre Swift was out for all of December, Jared Goff was sidelined for three games down the stretch, and a trio of Lions cornerbacks—Jerry Jacobs, AJ Parker and Amani Oruwariye—missed a combined 11 games in the final seven weeks.

While injuries aren’t alone to blame for the Lions’ lack of success in 2021, it’s impossible to ignore just how much of an impact injuries can have on a team’s season. Of the 10 teams with the highest Adjusted Games Lost (most injuries), only two (Raiders, 49ers) made the postseason. Those 10 teams combined for a record of 71-98-1.

Meanwhile, of the top-10 healthiest teams by Adjusted Games Lost, six made the playoffs. Those 10 teams combined for a 101-69 record, with every single team winning at least seven games.

In general, season-to-season injury impact is random for every team. There are a few exceptions, but normally, teams regress to the mean over time. That could mean the Lions are in for good fortune after an unusually unlucky season.