Commentary

Should we doubt the Detroit Lions?

Power Rankings gives Lions credit, but do style points matter? Undervaluing Philly, Dallas

Originally Published: October 4, 2011
By Chris Sprow | ESPN Insider
StaffordTim Heitman/US PresswireMatthew Stafford is having a breakout season for the Detroit Lions this year.

Each week this season, Chris Sprow will consult with Vegas experts such as Jay Kornegay of the Vegas Hilton and use projection systems to dive into the numbers to point out which teams the human voters are overselling or underselling.

It was another good week in this space. We pegged the Bills and Jets as a bit overrated, and both fell. We pegged the Niners as the team getting the least respect among the underrated group, and they pulled off a big road win. But a couple of those games are creating what seems to be the storyline that makes these teams harder than ever to peg: an early epidemic of blown leads.

Seriously, if blowing leads is cool, the NFL in Week 4 is Miles Davis. Philly squandered a 23-3 lead, Buffalo built a 17-3 lead and lost, Minnesota predictably gave up a second-half lead (they're 4-for-4 this year!), Atlanta nearly lost after holding a 27-7 lead, and Dallas … well, let's spare their fans and just search-engine optimize: Romo. Jerry Jones. Megatron. Rob Ryan. Andy Rooney.

The problem we face with blown leads is that building leads is the mark of a good NFL team, as basic as that sounds. Go to halftime with a 17-point lead, like Dallas and Philly did in Week 4, and you win about 95 percent of your games. Do we drop those teams significantly because they blew it, or ask whether their coaches will, say, consider running the ball a little bit with a lead? Even with Michael Vick turning some passes into runs, Philly still finished with 46 throws and 20 carries in a game it led for over 50 minutes. Dallas finished with a 47-27 pass-to-run ratio in a game it also led for over 50 minutes. The instinct is to drop them, but the metrics often tell you otherwise. Judge them on the simple win or loss, or factor in things that could be correctable?

Is Dallas any worse a team this week than it was last week, when it had the Detroit Lions completely dead to rights and yet continued to aggressively throw the ball? Think about it.

Overrated

Detroit Lions

Power Rankings slot: 4
Win projection average: 9.8
Super Bowl odds: 10-1

The Lions are tough to gauge, even for their own fans. (Believe us, we know.) The instinct is to say they are overrated at No. 4 because they've been fortunate to win each of the last two weeks, when they've gone to halftime down a combined 40-3. But they've also done what the rest of the league hasn't -- they've won on the road. Detroit is 3-0 on the road; the rest of the league is a combined 21-40. They've relied on opposing teams' mistakes and a well-covered Calvin Johnson, but they've forced those mistakes and been smart enough to throw to a covered Johnson. So clearly we can't choose the wine in front of us! With good arguments on both sides, we can understand Vegas -- they have Detroit with Super Bowl odds now putting them in the top seven, and a win projection average (one we see as too low) also seventh. Essentially, the numbers are saying the Lions are in the upper echelon, a good step for Detroit, really, but a few suspicions remain. That's fair.


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