Over at Grantland.com, Bill Barnwell recently used advanced statistical analysis to name 10 NFL teams that could bounce back from disappointing 2012 seasons. The team most likely to do so? Your Detroit Lions.
I'll refer you to a pair of stories Barnwell authored, an explainer on the "subtle indicators" of NFL performance and then the rankings story itself. In the Lions' case, I'll generalize a few points for you.
First, analysts like Barnwell use a version of Bill James's Pythagorean expectation formula, which in essence determines what a team's record should be based on the difference between the points it scored and the points it allowed. Last season, the Lions were outscored by an average of 4 points per game, a number more in line with a 6.5-win team than a 4-12 team.
Based on recent history, teams that underperform their expected wins based on this formula tend to bounce back the following season. Consider it the law of averages.
Second, the Lions were 3-8 last year in games decided by one score, the third-lowest winning percentage in such games during the 2012 season. Again, the law of averages has proven to be of some value here. Barnwell: "They won't necessarily catch all of those breaks next year, but chances are that they won't lose every one of their super-close games like that again, either."
A third indicator: The Lions played the toughest schedule in the NFL last season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Their opponents were 144-110-2 last season for a .566 winning percentage.
Losing eight games by one score against the toughest schedule in the league puts last season's 4-12 in statistical context. Some would argue the law of averages came back to grab the Lions after their charmed 2011 season. But the chances of that many close games going against them in 2013? Barnwell doesn't see it happening.