I thought long and hard on what I could call today’s article. Do I call it, “2013 Detroit Lions Stat Predictions”? How about “Where I see the Lions in 2013″? When it came down to it, I remembered that I don’t normally do predictions because they always come with the assumption that they are based on actual evidence and understanding of the game. When it comes to the NFL, no such understanding will actually help you predict the record of any teams on a consistent basis. Injuries, sudden breakout stars, and fluke bad or good days make it impossible to predict a team’s record. Even harder to predict are individual stats. Sure, you can give a ballpark figure based on where a player has performed in the past and using my favorite tool, trend analysis, predict where they may end up this season. But even then, sudden emergence of one player can drastically affect the career arc of an aging player. Just look at Carolina’s Steve Smith or Indianapolis’ Reggie Wayne. After looking at what this article was going to be about, I finally settled on a name that clearly reflects what it is. While I always use as much evidence and fact to back up my articles as I can, as mentioned that doesn’t mean a whole lot when trying to make an actual “prediction”. So here are the mostly baseless predictions and guesswork I could come up with for the Detroit Lions’ 2013 Season!
We’ve all complained about Matthew Stafford’s notably terrible mechanics. When you reduce it to its base form, however, the only reason his mechanics deserve a mention (While someone who ALSO throws sidearm on a regular like Colin Kaepernick does not) is because of the win/loss columns. Winning tends to make people overlook poor form. The Lions face a brutal schedule, but with a defense that looks improved and an offense whose individual parts look promising, the team ought to look like an improved version of the 2011 squad. Stafford, of course, is included. Much was made of Calvin Johnson being downed inside the 5 near the goal line, but the Lions receivers as a whole were plagued with this issue, being tackled within the 5 a league-high 23 times! That trend is likely an anomaly, and should reverse leading to more TDs and an improved Stafford. With the addition of Bush, the Lions will have a larger number of high percentage passes, leading to an uptick in completion percentage as well.
This one should be pretty apparent based on how he was utilized in the preseason. The Lions plan on using Bush to make teams pay for their coverage of Calvin Johnson. If Patrick Edwards breaks out like the team thinks he will, he’ll stretch the field even further back. While on most teams, that would mean an increase in rushing yards, yada yada, with the Lions’ Oline being as poor of run blockers as they’ve shown we are likely looking at an increase in screens and dump offs. In 2012, those dump passes would go to Brandon Pettigrew for a short gain, or to Joique Bell for about 10 yards a pop. Bush brings speed, however, so those 5-10 yard dumps now have the potential to break the game. Pettigrew often made his catches in traffic with a defender already draped on him, while Bell simply lacked the speed to break long runs even when he broke tackles. Bush may not break as many tackles as Bell, but he can make teams PAY when he does, something this team has been lacking.
I’m assuming in this instance that Matthew Stafford and Patrick Edwards gel with the quickness. Edwards showed in several games this preseason that he has the speed to break defenses apart. If Stafford and Edwards can get on the same page, it will lead to a lot of designed plays where he will be targeted downfield. He hasn’t shown us much, yet, and it’s possible he won’t at all this year. But the catches he DOES make will likely be long catches, leading to the highest YPC on the team. Even with Calvin Johnson getting a majority of targets, the team likes to use Johnson in the slot enough that his YPC will come down.
Edwards YPC: 18.3
Johnson YPC: 17.7
The Lions have the best Defensive Tackle tandem in the NFL. If we assume health, it’s likely the pair of newly voted Team Captain Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley will make life hell for every QB the Lions face. On the outside? Not so much. The career high for all Lions DEs is 8 (Israel Idonije). Three of the Lions’ remaining DEs (Ansah, Taylor, Young) combine for less than that in their careers. Jason Jones, the declared starter at LDE, has never played a 16 game season, and has a career high of only 5 sacks. Most of the sacks he DID get were while rushing from the DT position, not DE. Needless to say, this group gets a lot more hype than it has shown itself worthy of. Rookie DE Ziggy Ansah made some strides in the preseason, but his most promising skill is that of run defender, not pass rusher. Yes, a DE’s job is easier when there are disruptive DTs on the interior. That doesn’t make the DEs magically gain the ability to beat Offensive Tackles when matched up one on one, and that is an area all five of the Lions DEs can improve upon.
Most Sacks, in order: Fairley, Suh, Ansah, Jones, Idonije, Young, Taylor, Mosley, Bannan
Lions Turn around their Toxic Differential, Turn around their Record
For those unfamiliar with Toxic Differential, it is a statistic that has fairly accurately reflected team record for several years now. At its most basic, it is essentially: (big plays for minus big plays against) plus (takeaways minus giveaways). A good explanation with data is here. It’s a simple stat, but it is now considered a good method of taking a lot of the guesswork out of team records. Sadly, there’s no way to predict toxic differential with only a historical note that the teams that lead in turnovers (Less than half of toxic differential) are often tilted towards the other end of the scale the following season. The Lions had an ugly, ugly -37 Toxic Differential in 2012. The 8 they received in 2011 is hardly world-beating, but a drop-off of 45 like the Lions saw over those two years is not common. Is it possible to turn over Toxic Differential that quickly, though? Absolutely. Look no further than the Washington Redskins, who were near the bottom of the league in 2011 but 2nd in 2012. Granted, the Lions don’t have a read option run by RGIII to make big plays, but they still have Calvin Johnson and added Reggie Bush. Throw in an improved secondary and the likelihood that the Lions mount a turnaround looks pretty good right about now.
2011 Toxic Differential: 8 good for a winning record2012 Toxic Differential: -36 good for the 5th overall pick
2013 Toxic Differential: 20, good for a winning record?
If the offense works how it is supposed to, I would expect a similar season from Scheffler to what we saw back in 2011, though I doubt he gets as many TDs. With the relative health of the team (And I’m assuming health for this exercise), Scheffler should see his targets go back to the 40 range, when he was his most productive. What’s interesting is how I think the Lions will use Fauria. In camp, they rarely used him as a Hback, with Michael Williams getting that role. That role, in turn, was inherited from Will Heller. Heller hardly set the world on fire, but he wasn’t used as an Hback until after the Lions abandoned the FB position in 2010. Prior to that, Heller was used traditionally and managed a respectable 29 catches on 50 targets for 3 TDs. Yes, he was the #2 that year, but the Lions also weren’t throwing the ball 700 times a season. Fauria still isn’t a traditional FB, and I doubt he gets looks only in that role. As it is, I feel he and Scheffler will move around a lot, and we will see them both get some interesting looks in an offense that likes to spread the ball around. Both should get close to Heller’s 2009 stats, which I feel would be a win for the team.
2013 Guess at Stats for Fauria and Scheffler: 25 receptions on 45 targets for 3 TDs each.
My First and Likely Only Season Prediction for 2013
Wo, wo, wo, wo, wo, wo, wo, you say. I thought you don’t make record predictions! You scoff, snarkily. Yes, it’s true I don’t make record predictions. As I said in the first paragraph, there are simply too many variables to make an accurate prediction on a season’s success. As someone who goes where the evidence and trends takes me, I understand that there is too much fluctuation in the NFL, the teams get better or tank suddenly, so predicting a record is a futile affair. However, if I make a few assumptions, I can put it within a range. I don’t mean my normal 8-8 +/-8 prediction, either. Like an actual, normal person range. So here goes. There’s some math involved (Sorry, I’m still me). If we look at the Lions’ 4-12 record and compare it to the teams finishing in the bottom 5 of the past, say five seasons(2007-2011), then we look at their sustained record over the following season, we get some basic trends. Teams average a gain of +3.56 wins the season after a 4-12 or less season, and that is including the teams that actually got worse. The range is pretty wide (-2 to +9), though, so the Lions are looking at anywhere between a 2 and 13 win season using that trend. It puts the Lions at 8-8, but also leaves a lot of room. Going back to Toxic Differential, I’m sticking to my +20 prediction, which when compared to previous years (2008-2012) and giving a +/-4, we end up with an average of 9.46 wins. Okay, so we’ve got an 8-8 based on W/L trend, and a 9-7 based on my Toxic Differential prediction and record vs. TD. How about the QB? Well, if Stafford stays true to the prediction I gave him earlier, let’s look at average record for QBs with 4,000+ yards and 30+ TDs. We end up with an average of 10.9 wins. Rounded up to 11, our three methods of predicting with trend nets us 8, 9, and 11 wins. Averaging it out, it’s somewhere just above 9 wins, so I’m going to go with that. Yes, I’m making a season prediction, utilizing solely trend, and it’s a 9-7 season for the Detroit Lions!