The Best Bad NFL Teams From 2013

Last year, our numbers pinpointed the Saints and Panthers as bounce-back teams. Who made the cut this season?

During the NFL season, there can be three types of bad teams. There are the bad teams that, on all accounts, are just bad - think of your Jaguars and Raiders of the world. There are bad teams that are bad in the current season, but show signs for immediate improvement. And then there are teams that really have no business being bad in the current season, but somehow find their way there.

Using the metrics at numberFire, we can get a sense of which teams fell under each of those categories during the 2013 season. Before the start of last season, we were able to use these metrics to suggest that both the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints were better than their 2012 records indicated. The two squads won 23 games combined, and were the number two and five seeds in the NFC a season ago.

Which teams do the numbers suggest were better than their 2013 record indicated?

Detroit Lions

At the start of the season, the Lions looked like a much improved team from 2012. Statistically that was to be expected, since Detroit was never truly as bad as their 4-12 2012 record, either.

The Lions’ point differential was that of a team expected to win 6.5 games, suggesting the team underperformed and would win more games the following season - more on this later. After a 40-10 Thanksgiving Day blowout of Green Bay last season, the Lions were 7-5 with games remaining against the Eagles, Ravens, Giants and Vikings. Detroit lost all four of those games, turning an easy division title into the opening scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark without getting past the giant boulder.

There are still plenty of signs around the 2013 Lions that suggest the team wasn’t as bad as their second half decline might suggest. While Detroit was merely mediocre by our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics last season - 18th on offense and 14th on defense - breaking those down a little further, the Lions had the 11th-best Adjusted Passing NEP (adjusted for strength of schedule), and were the second-best team stopping the run according to our Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP statistic. The adjusted portion

There are some reasons to believe the Lions could use these 2013 factors and improve this coming season, and those reasons, again, start with point differential. Even in the collapse at the end of the season, losing the final four games, Detroit lost their final three contests by a combined six points. Those close losses led to the point differential of an expected 8.5-win team, 1.5 more wins than the Lions actually had last season.

Over the past two seasons, the Lions have played 22 one-score games, which is tied with the Dallas Cowboys for the most in that span. Of those 22, they have only won seven, for a winning percentage of .318. In the same amount of one score games, Tony Romo and his garbage narrative have won 12. The Lions were 4-6 in games decided by eight points or less last season, which is an improvement from 2012, but still below the .500 record expected in those types of games.

The biggest glimmer of hope for the Lions in 2014 is not having Jim Schwartz as the head coach. Even though the new coach is the guy who led Joe Flacco to the third-worst Passing NEP among quarterbacks with at least 500 drop backs last season, also coaching the worst running game by Adjusted Rushing NEP, he should still be a step up.

The problem is, the Lions might have missed their window to be on top of the NFC North. Even if Detroit rebounds to how they should have been expected to play last season, both Green Bay and Chicago are stronger teams after the off-season, and Minnesota is setting themselves up for a good future as well. An improvement in Detroit might only be good enough for third-place in the division.

New York Giants

Everyone remembers the New York Giants for being a terrible offense last year, and they were, ranking second-to-last in terms of Adjusted Net Expected Points. Most of that was fueled by turnovers, as Eli Manning led the league with 27 interceptions. Most times, that allowed the opposing offense to have a short field on their next drive. What many didn’t realize during Turnoverpalooza '13, however, was that the Giants defense was really good despite the unfavorable circumstances.

The Giants ranked sixth in Adjusted Defensive NEP last season - 11th against the run and 6th against the pass - behind only the Seahawks, Bengals, Panthers, Chiefs and Cardinals in total team defense. They then went out and made significant additions to the defense, mostly in the secondary. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was signed from the Broncos, moving Price Amukamara to the number two corner spot, and Walter Thurmond was brought in from the Seahawks to play the slot.

Since the offense is shifting towards a West Coast style with Ben McAdoo leading the charge, the amount of turnovers will be reduced, giving the defense a longer field to defend. Last season, offenses had an average starting position of their own 31.7-yard line against New York, which was the second-best starting field position in the league. The defense only allowed 26.6 yards per drive, which was ninth in the league, but that allowed the opposing offense to cross midfield on an average drive. With a longer field to defend, the Giants should be able to keep offenses on their own side of the field, and give their offense better field position in return.

We think the Giants are capable of winning about eight games this year, with 31% playoff odds.