Why the Detroit Lions (probably) won’t go 0-17 in 2021

Thursday, 08 July 2021 14:49 EST

El Jefe is a Los Angeles Rams fan and has naturally been relishing the kickoff to the 2021 season since January 30th at about 7:01 pm Cabo time – not necessarily so much that the Rams have excellent chances at returning to the Super Bowl (a great value bet at 5/1 to 7/1 to win the NFC, too) but more that Jared Goff will be exposed for a fraud with the seemingly perpetually rebuilding Lions.

Seriously, he’s completely out of hand, geeked on potential schadenfreude. The smack he’s talking, you’d think the Lions had rehired as head coach Rod Marinelli. Or Matt Patricia. Or Marty Mornhinweg. Or Jim Schwartz. Or…

NFLbets is considering that maybe Bossman may have suffered PTGD – that’s Post-Traumatic Goff Disorder – as he’s going so far as to assert emphatically and often that the 2021 Detroit Lions will go 0-17. He threatened that, if I didn’t write a piece entitled something to the effect of “Why the Lions will go winless in 2021” or he’d go Clooney on my ass and quote shoot me in the face unquote.

Pretty sure he meant that metaphorically. Somewhat sure. The Boss, not George Clooney.

The problem is, try as NFLbets may, a solid argument for betting such a prop simply cannot be made via historical precedent.

The historical precedent: The NFL's longest (and most notable) losing streaks

NFLbets has covered elsewhere the reasons why taking the under on 5 wins for Detroit in the “Total Regular-Season Wins” proposition bet. On first inspection, one can easily imagine the Lions losing out over 17 games – but the truth is that such a level of incompetence isn’t easy. Having a go at an undefeated season requires a confluence of lucky breaks and external factors, so too does an winless year require a perfect storm (an imperfect storm?) of variables.

The following a few examples of the sort of losing required to approach a winless mark in this year’s unprecedented 17-game season. Only 11 NFL/AFL/AAFC teams have ever managed to dump 17 or more consecutive games, and just six since the 1976 NFL expansion.  

Betting on the Detroit Lions to go winless• 1976-77 Tampa Bay Buccaneers – lost 26 in a row, went 0-14 in 1976; had a 2-28 run from week 1 of ’76
The expansion Buccaneers rapidly became a punchline in the public consciousness and wore the “loveable losers” label into the 20th century, despite a few playoff runs after growing out of new-kid status.

• 1982-83 Houston Oilers – lost 17 in a row; had a 1-20 run from week 3 of ’82
Following back-to-back beatings by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game in 1979 and ’80, Bum Phillips was ousted and deconstruction of the team under Ed Bilas began. One may want to put an asterisk on the 17-game streak, as in the ‘’82 strike season, the Oilers managed a 1-8 mark, but little evidence suggests that Bilas would’ve done much better with a proper schedule.

• 1989-90 New England Patriots – lost 14 in a row in ’90; had a 1-18 run from week 18 of ’89
. The Patriots enjoyed a respectable run between 1976 and ’86, making five playoffs and one Super Bowl. But HC Raymond Berry stayed on too long, the old guard of John Hannah, Steve Grogan and Stanley Morgan retired. Longtime defensive coordinator Rod Rust was hired as head coach in 1989, getting the team to a 1-15 finish while leading the league in reprehensible scandals.

• 2000-02 Carolina Panthers – lost 15 in a row; had a 1-17 run from week 17 of ’00
What happens when you start a QB who just finished a graduate degree? You go 1-15.

• 2007-09 Detroit Lions – lost 19 in a row, went 0-16 in 2008; had a 3-39 run from week 10 of ’07
The long and egregious history of the Lions post-, likesay, 1959 hardly need be recounted here. However, we can note that this particular nadir came near the end of an awful 11-year run which saw seven head coaches and averaging just under 5 wins per season.

• 2008-09 St. Louis Rams – lost 17 in a row; had a 1-25 run from week 8 of ’08
Weird to think that while the Lions were going 0-15 and 2-14, the Rams were 2-14 and 1-15, respectively – but not as weird as how steadily and thoroughly the Greatest Show on Turf’s empire disintegrated….

• 2015-18 Cleveland Browns – twice lost 17 in a row, one 19-game winless streak, went 0-16 in 2017; 1-35-1 run from week 15 of ’15
Like the expansion Buccaneers topping the list, the Browns explored new levels of losing in their (extremely) lean years of the mid-10s – and just like Tampa Bay, Cleveland made an impressive playoff run just three years after bottoming out.

See what we mean about circumstances? With the exception of the Rod Rust Patriots, not one of these teams had been helmed by a first-year head coach (John McKay was a first-head NFL HC, but we’re counting those years at USC as relevant enough). Dan Campbell has interim-coached for the Miami Dolphins in ’15.

Of the listed teams, only the St. Louis Rams can be sad to have enjoyed any offensive continuity, as March Bulger somehow kept the starting QB spot for six seasons of .500-or-lower ball. No other aforementioned team could boast a no. 1 quarterback with as much experience as Goff, either.

The point the precedent appears to make is that degeneration to the realms of 1-15 or worse is typically the culmination of years of incompetence – akin to a reverse “Process.” While the Lions have suffered the ravages of three years of Matt Patricia and the team’s dead last-ranked defense hardly improved this offseason, they’ve hardly borne an apocalypse like most of the aforementioned franchises.

Which is not to say that the teams under discussion – maybe even the 2021 Lions as well – aren’t very, very bad. They are. But this only further accentuates the gist. Go ahead and take a look at past winless teams; consider the rosters, the schedule, the appropriate year’s champion and such. So how did, for example, the 2001 Panthers or ’16 Browns win any games at all? It seems impossible, but it happened. “Any given Sunday,” eh?

In fact, considering the aforementioned rogue’s gallery, the team for which at least 1-16 feels like a grim reality is the 2021 Houston Texans. (Sorry, Boss.)

Then again…

–written by Os Davis