Louis Delmas makes an Interesting Prediction
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No one really thinks the Detroit Lions are bound for the playoffs this year. This conclusion has been drawn through a discussion with many types around the game, pundits, coaches, etc., as well as some plain old common sense. In 2008, the Lions won no games. In 2009, they managed to go largely unimproved from that horrendous season. The Lions have remained impressively bad under Jim Schwartz in his first year, and noticeable turnarounds simply don’t happen in the NFL to teams that can’t do anything right.
Everyone expects the Lions to be improved, probably by a significant margin. Pundits seem to have a good feel for this team: lots of potential on an offense that returns a lot of talent and adds a lot more, and a few good defensive players (S Louis Delmas and DT Ndamakong Suh) offer the requisite hope for some big things, but yeah, this is going to be a pretty bad defensive unit for a third straight year. With it, the Lions don’t seem like a team that is going to challenge for third place, much less the postseason.
Which is why I was intrigued by a quote from the aforementioned Delmas. It’s a quote that rings as both accepting of reality and strangely realistic:
“We know what we can do. We just slipped up last year. I know that we lost a lot of games on last drives last year. It’s no surprise if we come out and get eight wins — I won’t be surprised at all. We know we can do it.
“If we get eight wins and we don’t make it to the playoffs, I’ll be pissed. So that’s what we’re shooting for.”
To reiterate: the Lions aren’t very likely to challenge for eight wins. But they’re almost certain to double — and possibly triple — their win total from 2009. There’s too much talent to not steal a game from a playoff team at least once over the course of the season, and there will be teams on the Detroit schedule (St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Buffalo) who aren’t sending out comparable talent to the Lions. So, yeah, we’re looking at a team who probably should be disappointed with a 4-12 season, and once we establish that, 8 wins isn’t but a standard deviation away from what’s expected of the Lions. When you consider that the Packers (sustained offense w/o big plays), Vikings (pass defense), and Bears (also pass defense) all have units that could potentially ruin their seasons, Delmas’ prediction is very oracle like: by virtue of who they play, an 8-win Lions team probably is a playoff team.
The logic for that is along the lines of that they can’t get to 8 wins unless they do 3-3 or better in the division, and if they do 3-3 or better in the NFC North, they aren’t feeding wins to the teams at the top of the division as they have in the past, and without games against the Lions, the division has been highly suspect over the past five years. The Vikings won 10 games and the Packers won 9 games and the Bears won 5 games in their 14 games against non-Lions opponents. The Packers and Vikings are basically certain to regress on their win totals from last year, which means that the Lions could really make some noise by going 3-1 or better against top teams in their division from last year.
As for Delmas’ point that the Lions lost a lot of games on the last drive last year, well, yes and no. One of their two wins was a come-from-behind win against a bad Browns team on an untimed down that extended regulation by rule. They lost games on the last drive to: Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Seattle, Arizona, and Chicago. It should be said that in the 6 games the Lions had decided on the last drive, or what could have potentially become the decisive drive, they were not favored to win any of them according to win probability at Advanced NFL Stats. We can estimate the Lions expected wins over this 1-5 stretch by adding up all of their win probabilities (most likely — 43% against Seattle down 25-20, least likely — 13% trailing Pittsburgh 28-20).
The Lions totaled 1.6 expected wins based on the probabilities, so they certainly weren’t unfortunate to have gone only 1-5 in games decided late. They simply weren’t the better team on the field in any of those games through 55+ minutes. Only once were they the best team on the field after that.
Delmas’ claim isn’t inching the Lions any closer to eight wins than they were last year, but the front office is doing his work for him. The Lions will be an eight win organization sooner rather than later. The conflict — as correctly pointed out — is that there are huge potential bonus to being a .500 team THIS season. The Lions can hope for such a result, but I’m guessing that January football will be elusive — at least for one more season.