It hasn’t been a great month for ESPN’s analytics department, specifically when it comes to their predictive models. For some reason, they proudly declared that their model only gave Will Levis a 0.1% chance to fall out of the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft after he did, indeed, fall out of the first round. Then before the NBA Eastern Conference Finals started, their model gave the Miami Heat just a 3% chance of winning the series over the Boston Celtics. Miami promptly jumped to a 3-0 series lead, and although the Celtics are on the board with a win now, the Heat are still in the driver’s seat.
That is all to say that if you choose to ignore or dismiss this entire post, you’d have a good rationale for that decision.
But this week, they unveiled their initial predictive models for the 2023 NFL season, and it is quite favorable to the Detroit Lions. Before we get into it, it’s important to suss out exactly how this model works. ESPN offers a basic description of how their model works at this point in the year:
In the preseason, the model’s predictive ratings are based substantially on win totals from Caesars Sportsbook and strength of schedule, along with factors such as past team performance and returning starters. We use team ratings to simulate the season thousands of times, creating our projections, which update every day during the season. Game predictions are also informed by factors such as travel, rest differential and changes at starting quarterback.
The Lions are 11th in ESPN’s model, but because they’re in what is perceived to be a weak conference and division, there are some very interesting odds churned out by the predictive machine. There are only three NFC teams above the Lions in their ranking (Eagles, 49ers, Cowboys) and the next highest-ranked NFC North team is the Vikings (15th), Bears (24th), and Packers (25th).
Therefore, the model gives the Lions a 43.2 percent chance to win the division, a 65.4 percent chance to make the playoffs, and a 9.9 percent chance to make the Super Bowl. Let me repeat that last one: ESPN is giving the Lions essentially a 10% chance to make the freakin’ Super Bowl this year. Only six teams have a higher chance of making the playoffs or making the Super Bowl.
Of course, none of these predictions or analytics really matter. The games have to be played, and no matter how informed an opinion or analytical model is in May, it’s just a feeble attempt to predict. Still, between this and Louis Riddick’s fantastic five-minute rant on the legitimacy of the Lions, it’s jarring to see so much respect for the Lions coming out of ESPN.