Mediocrity is a bar the Detroit Lions have consistently struggled to reach, but they actually had a very long run of just that once upon a time, according to Football Outsiders.
With their last championship in 1957, and one playoff win since, mediocrity looks like a bar the Detroit Lions might like to consistently reach.
Bryan Knowles of Football Outsiders did a deep dive into “mediocre dynasties.” I’ll let him explain it better.
On this, the most foolish of Aprils, we must complete the trifecta. We are gathered here to discover the most average era of football in NFL history. The teams that could not escape the gravitational pull of .500 football. The adequate, the forgettable, the occasionally regrettable. No trophies to honor, no top draft picks to whiff on. These teams dedicated themselves to neutrality and sufficiency in ways that are awe-inspiring to witness.
The Lions have bottomed out and had to rebuild more than any NFL franchise would like to, and peak bottom was probably after an 0-16 season in 2008.
With duration, vicinity to .500 and middle of the road DVOAs (since its Football Outsiders, after all) as part of the method, Knowles made a list of the top “Dynasties of Mediocrity.”
Detroit Lions had one of the most ‘mediocre dynasties’ ever
The Lions land on the list multiple times, including runs from 1994-2000 and 2013-2017. But the run they had from 1971-1985 came in No. 2.
No. 2: 1971-1985 Detroit Lions
Record: 97-118-4 (.452)
Average DVOA: -1.7%
Middle-Five DVOA: 0.3%
Nine single-digit DVOA seasons; Thirteen mediocre records
Head Coaches: Joe Schmidt, Don McCafferty, Rick Forzano, Tommy Hudspeth, Monte Clark, Darryl Rogers
Key Players: QB Greg Landry, RB Billy Sims, FB Dexter Bussey, TE Charlie Sanders, TE David Hill, T Rocky Freitas, C Ed Flanagan, DE Al Baker, DT Doug English, LB Charlie Weaver, CB Lem Barney
As noted, aside from 1979 (2-14) and 1984 (4-11-1), the Lions were within two games on either side of .500 in 13 seasons over that 15-year span, with six, seven or eight wins 10 times. That run was preceeded by a 10-4 record in 1970, capped by a playoff loss, and they wouldn’t make the playoffs again until the strike-shortened 1982 season.
No. 1 on the list, the 1949-1961 Pittsburgh Steelers, edged the 1971-1985 Lions in win percentage over their long stretches of mediocrity (.465 to .452). Since the pull toward .500 is the basis for the list, that made the difference. But those 1970’s-to-early 1980’s Lions can say they had the longest stretch of mediocrity on the list, as the only team with a 15-season qualifying run.