Two seasons ago, the Lions were not only the worst team in the NFL, they at the very least had the worst record of all time, and thus might have been the worst team of all time. Last year a new regime came in and Detroit went 2-14. This is the second year of the rebuilding project. The question is, where will they be this season?
To try and get a sense of where the Lions might be this year, or perhaps where they should be, I figured I’d take a look at the recent history of the NFL. Here are the teams that in recent years finished with the worst record in the league, what they did the following year, and then, most importantly, they did the year after that.
The team that picked first the year before the Lions was the Miami Dolphins. They went 1-15, in 2007, but the next year went 11-5. That’s an anomaly to be sure. They added Bill Parcells to the brain trust, got a new coach, and quite frankly had more talent than a 1-15 as is. The following season, they went 7-9. So, two years removed from their 1-15 record they added six wins.
The worst team the year before that was the Oakland Raiders. They went from 2-14 to 4-12 and then to 5-11. That’s three wins in two years, with the burden of Al Davis and JaMarcus Russell on their back. While we don’t know what Matthew Stafford is going to be, I feel pretty safe in saying he’ll be better than Russell.
The Houston Texans went from 2-14 to 6-10 to 8-8, and that’s in a really tough division. After two years, they were six wins better.
The San Francisco 49ers went 2-14 and decided to go with Alex Smith. They went 4-12 the next season and 7-9 the season after that when, I believer, Norv Turner was the offensive coordinator. Hey, the Lions have a good offensive coordinator in Scott Linehan. That can’t hurt.
The season before that, the San Diego Chargers earned the first overall pick, but that was with a 4-12 record and it felt like sort of a fluke. Also, I think Drew Brees may have been injured that season. Anyway, then went 12-4 the next season and then 9-7 the year after that. Probably not the best comparison for the Lions, but two years removed from their 4-12 season they won five more games.
Cincinnati went from 2-14 to 8-8 and then 8-8 once again. Houston had the first overall pick the year before that, but they were an expansion team. 1-15 Carolina, however, improved to 7-9 and then 11-5. Before that, you had Atlanta trading up to first overall and the Cleveland Browns picking first the year after expansion, so I’ll just leave it there.
All in all, teams improved by an average of 5.86 wins, which I’ll call six wins for the sake of simplicity. Like I said, these teams all have different stories, and none of them went 0-16. However, if the Lions are going to improve at the average rate, they’ll be 6-10 this season. Honestly, that seems completely reasonable. I’ve pegged them for 5-6 wins at this point pre-training camps, so I’d be kind of disappointed if they didn’t win six.
The fact that the Lions have a different regime in charge than when they went 0-16 also helps. As such, I’m not saying expect a 6-10 season, but recent NFL history seems to be pointing that way. For a team that has had some awful seasons in recent memory, 6-10 wouldn’t be too shabby.