The Lions went 3-9 in games decided by 8 or fewer points last year, giving them the most losses and the worst winning percentage of all teams in one-possession games. While this might imply that the Lions lack the mental fortitude to win close games, you might recall that in 2011, the Minnesota Vikings (2-9) and the Indianapolis Colts (1-7) were the worst two teams in such situations and then made the playoffs last year.
Another way to convey similar information is to look at each team’s Pythagorean record, which is calculated based on a team’s points scored and points allowed and is a better predictor of future winning percentage than past winning percentage. The table below shows each team’s number of wins, points scored and allowed, and number of Pythagorean wins for 2012, using 2.57 as my exponent(which produced the best fit for recent years). The table is sorted by the difference between actual wins and Pythagorean wins:
As you can see, no team undershot their Pythagorean record quite like the Lions. Even with all the problems Detroit had last year, they still played like a 6.4-win team, and not a 4-win team. The Lions certainly have the talent to rebound in 2013 — Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford, Ndamukong Suh, and now Reggie Bush and Ziggy Ansah were top-five picks, while Brandon Pettigrew was the first tight end selected in 2009 and Riley Reiff (2012) and Nick Fairley (2011) were the second players drafted at their positions. But it’s not just raw talent and underachieving relative to their Pythagorean record that points to a rebound in 2013.
If we examine fumble recovery data, Detroit again looks like a team that suffered some seriously bad luck in 2012. I broke down fumble recovery data by fumble type last year, and if I had the time, I would do that for each individual team in 2012. But subject to that caveat, recovering fumbles isn’t really a skill (I haven’t researched whether forcing fumbles is a skill, either, although I’ll leave that question for another day). But over a small sample size, teams will have radically different fumble recovery rates.
Let me explain the table below. The Redskins had 26 fumbles in 2012, but lost only six of them. Based on the league average fumble recovery rate in 2012 of 48.5%, that means Washington recovered 6.6 more Redskins fumbles than we would expect (subject to the caveat above). Meanwhile, Washington opponents fumbled 17 times and lost ten of them to the Redskins. Based on that 48.5% rate, this means Washington recovered 1.8 more of their opponent’s fumbles than we would expect, giving them a total of 8.4 more fumbles recovered relative to expectation. The final column means of the 43 total fumbles in Redskins games, Washington recovered 69.8% of them.
The Lions recovered just 32.6% of the fumbles that occurred in Detroit games, and 7.6 fewer fumbles than we would expect based on random chance. Give the Lions 8 fewer fumbles, and that 3-9 record in close games probably turns around very quickly. Detroit may have had the 5th pick in the 2013 Draft, but Vegas views them as the 17th best team in 2013. That seems much more in line with my view of the Lions after writing this post.
Previous “Random Perspective On” Articles:
AFC East: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC South: Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans
AFC West: Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers
NFC East: Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins
NFC North: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
NFC West: Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams