Football Outsiders
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ESPN: Most Likely Worst-to-First Teams

Here's our annual piece for ESPN+ on which of last year's eight last-place NFL teams is most likely to go worst-to-first. Our Detroit Lions projection was probably the most surprising one in this year's Football Outsiders Almanac.

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5 comments, Last at 16 Aug 2019, 9:50am

1 The Detroit projection is…

The Detroit projection is interesting. Defensive improvement makes sense for the usual regression-related reasons plus the fact that they added some good personnel and will be in their second year in the scheme. FOA, however, isn't really projecting the Lions to be very good on defense - just 21st in the league. Their write-up spends a lot of time on the offensive overhaul, featuring... new coordinator Darrell Bevell and additions like Danny Amendola, Jermaine Kearse, and two tight ends? Hockenson is super-talented but rookie TEs very, very rarely make big contributions in the passing game. Otherwise they're breaking in a new scheme with a receiving group that appears to be a lot less exciting than what they had as recently as 2017.

Of course, FOA is really just predicting the Lions as a middle-of-the-road team: 15th in overall DVOA and offensive DVOA. It's more the competitive division and 4th place schedule that are fueling their decent playoff odds.

2 4th place schedule is really…

4th place schedule is really only 2 games and it's never a guarantee those other 4th place teams will be poor teams again. I will agree though that the NFCN is likely the most competitive division from top to bottom. Maybe the AFCS too, but those teams are weaker as a whole.

I could see the NFCN champ as a 11 or even 10 win team and the 4th place team being as good as 8-8.

3 You're right that a 4th…

You're right that a 4th place schedule doesn't inherently mean there will be a major difference. I should have been more specific in pointing out that FOA projects the Lions to have the 9th-easiest schedule in the league. Compare to Chicago, who is projected to have the 5th-most difficult. Vikings and Packers are at 12th- and 16th-most difficult, respectively.

At the top and bottom of the division, those uncommon opponents are the Rams and Saints for the Bears (two of the top 4 projected teams), and the Cardinals and Buccaneers for the Lions (two of the bottom 5) - those splits appear to be large enough to make a pretty decent impact on their win projections and playoff odds.

5 Same here. We'll see what…

Same here. We'll see what happens but I'm happy at least that between the head coach and his new offensive scheme and the major overhaul on defense that they're trying something new after spinning their wheels the last couple of years.