I Used Math to Find a Replacement for My Ever-Disappointing Lions

Not long ago, I read a great article by Blythe Terrell on Five Thirty Eight. She talked about the tremendous loss she felt when her Rams relocated to Los Angeles, and was faced with a few options for her continuing NFL fandom: follow the team, default to her husband’s favorite team, be “that guy” who roots for fantasy players only, or use stats to find a team that fits her best. As a statistician, the answer was clear.

After Wild Card weekend, I was left with a feeling that’s become all-too-familiar as a lifelong Lions fan. Questioning why I even watch football anymore, why I continue to spend money on this team, and whether or not I want to continue putting up with the futility every year. It’s almost as if we can expect the same result, regardless of how the games end. The Lions will either under-perform with a surprising amount of talent (miss you Calvin Johnson, Barry Sanders, Jason Hanson, etc.), or they will over-perform and then fall apart embarrassingly in the playoffs (2011, 2014, 2016, etc.).

Imagine rooting for a team that doesn’t really care what happens on the field, that continues to string you along with the promise of “we’re almost there!” That’s the Lions. More accurately, though, the tagline should be “maybe next year.” Being a Lions fan is easily summed up in GIFs:

So, I decided that 60 years was enough time to give a team to get its crap together. Since everyone else aside from the Texans, Jaguars, and Browns have been to the Super Bowl at least once (mind you, the other 3 franchises are all right around 20 years old at this point)... being a Lions fan rarely pays dividends, unless of course you enjoy the pain and suffering that comes with it. In that case, good on ya. But that got me wondering, what if I actually had fun rooting for an NFL team? 

I used the same process as the aforementioned Blythe Terrell for this. You want to start with measurable statistics that you can rank teams by. I came up with 25 because I have a flair for overdoing it. They were:

  1. 2016 Finish - How the team finished this year

  2. Bandwagon Factor - Are the team's next 5 years likely to be better than their previous 5?

  3. Bang for the Buck - Wins per fan dollars spent

  4. Behavior - Suspensions by players on team since 2007, with extra weight to transgressions vs. women

  5. Branding & Design - Branding & design efforts by the team, based on Instagram posts

  6. Coaching - Strength of on-field leadership

  7. Consistency - How steady the team's past 5 years have been (Ultimate Standings on ESPN)

  8. Fan Equity - how likely fans are to support the team based on performance

  9. Fan Relations - Courtesy by players, coaches and front offices toward fans, and how well a team uses technology to reach them

  10. Future Wins - Projected wins over next 5 seasons

  11. Loyalty Factor - how attendance is affected by winning

  12. Me Factor - the X-factor: do I just like the team or not?

  13. Ownership - Honesty; loyalty to core players and the community

  14. Past Decade - The team's overall performance over the past 10 years

  15. Player Futures - Future power rankings from ESPN

  16. Players - Effort on the field, likability off it

  17. Playoff Appearances Last 10 Years - Postseason appearances in the past decade

  18. Playoff WIns All Time - All time success in the postseason

  19. Road Equity - how well the team travels/has a nationwide preference

  20. Social Equity - social media presence of the team

  21. Stadium Experience - Quality of venue; fan-friendliness of environment; frequency of game-day promotions

  22. Tradition - Championships/division titles/wins in team's entire history

  23. Ultimate Standings - ESPN's annual franchise rankings

  24. Uniform - According to my own opinions

  25. Visitability - rank of the city the team plays in

Then, it was time to determine what was most important. There’s a great social survey site that will help you determine weight of importance called All Our Ideas (allourideas.org). I put all 25 factors into the database, then started answering questions. This process asks you two questions and requires you to pick the more important option to you. Each time you answer, it determines a score for each option (based on the number of times you have chosen that option vs. over other options).

My top 10 criteria and their associated scores were:

  1. 95 - Consistency

  2. 90 - Coaching

  3. 89 - Player Futures

  4. 88 - Players 

  5. 76 - Fan Relations

  6. 76 - Ultimate Standings

  7. 74 - Playoff Appearances Last 10 Years

  8. 67 - Me Factor

  9. 67 - Branding & Design 

  10. 65 - Past Decade Performance

I laughed, because the Lions rank pretty low in most of these categories.

Which brings me to an important point: I know I will get crap for this. But remove the emotion from fandom, and it’s essentially no different than a business transaction. You align yourself with and spend your time/money on brands that match your needs and wants. If you value size and utility over fuel economy, you’ll probably hate your Toyota Prius. If I were to draw a parallel to typical fandom here, you’d keep driving that Prius and complain about all the things that are wrong with it for the rest of your life. And if you ever switched to that truck that matches your wants and needs, you’re not a “true fan.” Meh. We shouldn’t put so much pressure on ourselves to endure the frustration year over year. I’m not saying you should switch teams every year, but 27 years of futility and disappointment is long enough to make an informed decision, in my opinion.

My time and money is valuable, so if I’m going to continue to be an NFL fan, I’m going to at least entertain the idea of enjoying football on Sundays while occasionally getting the joy of postseason wins and pride in coaching/ownership that cares.

So, with that in mind, I pulled ranks of every NFL team in each category, from a bevy of different sources (links below). I then assigned a 0-100 score based on the team’s ranks. 100 to the highest, 0 to the lowest.

For the total team scores, I weighted each rank by the scores we derived earlier, then added them together. To make things a little cleaner, I divided all totals by the max, so our clear winner would be 1.00.

When the dust settled, here’s my top 5:

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers - 1.00

  2. New England Patriots - 0.97

  3. Green Bay Packers - 0.96

  4. Seattle Seahawks - 0.88

  5. Indianapolis Colts - 0.79

The Lions finished 22nd.

The final scores for all 32 NFL teams (click to expand)

So, how does it feel to find out that math says I should be a Steelers fan? I honestly kinda like it already. I’ve never actually been to the city, but there are a lot of things that remind me of home (Detroit). Though not technically a Midwest town (I understand this is somewhat hotly contested based on who you ask), it definitely has the cultural chops to fit right in as one. A loyal fan base, likable stars, and beautiful uniforms match the things I like about the Lions. But they also offer great coaching, consistency, success in the past 10 years, and something worth watching in the postseason.

Le’Veon Bell is one of my favorite players of all time (Go Green! Go White!), and Antonio Brown is one of the most likable guys in the NFL. Ben Roethlisberger is a model of consistency, and the defense seems to be making a comeback. I can dig it.

You also have to love the guy that brought us this GIF

You also have to love the guy that brought us this GIF

So, for 2017, I’m all in on the Steelers. The cynic in me says this is the year the Lions go 14-2 and win a Super Bowl. But for now, let’s see how right this formula was!