Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Why am I doing this?

If you don't know much about the NFL, but are starting to get more familiar with it, you might eventually come across an article that suggests that the Matt Millen era in Detroit has been, shall we say, less than spectacular. And these articles would be correct: the Lions' record under Millen is 21-59, a winning percentage of .263 (you bet we are rounding up).

Then you might ask yourself the following question: just how bad is that? Well, you might not, but I did. Actually, I asked myself that question last year, looking at his first four years in Detroit.

As of now, that five-year stretch (2001-2005) is 46th among the 1448 five-year stretches in NFL history. (I wrote the code to generate these numbers, so it could be wrong, but just play along for now.) Pretty bad, the bottom three percent, but let's remember a couple of things.

One is that the wartime Chicago Cardinals were the worst team in NFL history, hands down - a seven-year stretch where they won exactly 10 games. Even with an 11-game schedule, that's awful. So we know the Lions aren't the worst ever.

Another is that we're comparing teams across eras, which is always a dangerous thing. So let's narrow it down a bit: we'll start our search in 1978, when the NFL went to a 16-game schedule. Now the Lions are 10th-worst on the list:

TeamRecordPct.
1983-87 Tampa Bay16-63-0.203
1982-86 Houston16-57-0.219
*1985-89 Tampa Bay18-61-0.228
*1982-86 Tampa Bay17-56-0.233
1989-93 New England19-61-0.238
1998-2002 Cincinnati19-61-0.238
*1984-88 Tampa Bay19-60-0.241
*1981-85 Houston18-55-0.247
1981-85 Baltimore/Indianapolis18-54-1.253
2001-05 Detroit21-59-0.263
1991-95 Cincinnati21-59-0.263


*Tampa Bay and Houston are listed multiple times because they stunk for more than five years, creating multiple five-year streaks.

Tenth out of 689, not so good. But wait, it gets worse. The 1982 season was shortened to nine games due to piggishness, and the 1987 season was shortened to fifteen games and included three weeks of games with replacement players. Definitely not apples to oranges, so let's remove those streaks.

TeamRecordPct.
1989-93 New England19-61-0.238
1998-2002 Cincinnati19-61-0.238
2001-05 Detroit21-59-0.263
1991-95 Cincinnati21-59-0.263


So ... we now have only two worse streaks and one equal streak. One was from a franchise that has since won three Super Bowls, and the other two were from a franchise that won its division last year and can be considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

What does this mean? Of the three franchises that sunk to this level, two of them cleaned house, righted the ship, and are reaping the rewards.

Matt Millen is employed through 2010.

William Clay Ford still owns the franchise.

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