The Lions Have Not Been Unlucky

Dave Berri has another post this week on how unlucky the Lions are after they had another defeat this weekend, this time at the hand of the Buffalo Bills.  Just as he did last time, he refers to the Lions’ point differential and SRS score from pro-football-reference.com, which I talked about and generally dismissed here.  I generally think that point differential is a good measure of team quality, but it isn’t as useful in the NFL because of the limited number of games.  One outlier, like beating the Rams by 38, has serious effects on the whole season because it makes up a large part of the entire data set (1/9 right now, or 11%).  In basketball, if the Clippers beat the Heat by 20 one game, it isn’t as big a deal because there are 81 other games to remind us that the Clippers aren’t really that good.  Instead we are better served by looking at how a team plays to see if they do what winning teams usually do.  In the case of the Lions, they only get 5.66 yards passing per drop-back, 3.43 yards per rush, they turn the ball over about once every 30 plays, and they get a penalty about once every seven.  Their opponents have both run and passed better than they have, and the Lions don’t force enough turnovers to make up for it.  In short, they don’t play like a good team.  As such, my model had Buffalo as a slight favorite in the game this past weekend even though Buffalo is horrible (they were at home, however).  This weekend, Detroit will be an underdog again on the road against Dallas.  As a native Detroiter, I would love for the Lions to be the team that Prof. Berri says they are, but they are not.  To take a look at other teams who may or may not be who we thought they were, here are the power rankings going into week 11:

Another way that we can look at the Lions’ luck is to incorporate their schedule into things.  I do that by looking at the probability of each team winning all of their games (past and future) given what we know about them now.  You can see the Lions down near the bottom, predicted to win about six games this season.  Of the nine they’ve played so far, they ‘should’ have won 3, so they have indeed been unlucky, but only by one game.  They should win another three games over the rest of the season, although they are only the favorite in two (and ever so slight favorites in those games).  The three game prediction comes from the fact that the Lions aren’t expected to be blown out in any game, so they have a chance to win each of the next seven weeks.  The unluckiest team appears to be Carolina, who has won a single game but should have won three by this point.  Cincinnati and Houston are also about two games behind where they should be.  New England and Baltimore have been fortunate and won more than a game more than expected, but the Jets take the cake at a whopping 2.6 games more than expected.  The Colts are also surprisingly high on this measure; we take it for granted as the patented Peyton Manning magic, but the Colts should probably be 4-5 instead of 6-3.

Here’s the playoff update: The NFC East is up for grabs between the Giants and Eagles, both expected to win 10 games.  The NFC North should go to Green Bay at 10 wins with the Bears coming in at 9.  The NFC South should go to Atlanta with 11 wins while the Saints come in around 10.  The NFC West may cause that riot that Bill Simmons predicted, as the Seahawks and Rams fight it out to get to 8 wins max (preference to the Seahawks).  That would leave the wild cards to the Saints and the loser of Giants/Eagles, and a 9 or 10 win team is likely to stay home.  In the other conference, the AFC East is a toss-up between the Pats and Jets at 11 wins.  If the Jets could win and get home field through the playoffs, that would be a huge boost for an overachieving team.  The AFC North is a toss-up between Pittsburgh and Baltimore at 10 or 11 wins each.  The AFC South is edging towards the Colts at just under 10 wins, but Tennessee isn’t too far behind at about 9.  Finally, the AFC West is KC’s to lose with 9 or 10 wins (Oakland and San Diego should make runs to 8 wins to keep it interesting).  So the wild cards will likely go to the losers of Pats/Jets and Steelers/Ravens.  It looks like the league’s move to make all week 17 games be divisional games should be a good one with all the close races that might be decided by division record.  A couple key games: Saint Louis at Seattle to potentially decide who gets in the playoffs, Oakland at Kansas City in the close AFC West, Tennessee at Indianapolis, and Chicago at Green Bay.  Atlanta and New Orleans also play in week 16, Green Bay-Giants may determine playoff seeding, as will Pittsburgh-Jets and Giants-Philly in week 15.  Looks like the end of the season should be pretty exciting this year; unless the unusual happens, I don’t think anyone will be resting their starters this time.

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