Detroit lions winless, Detroit lions 0-16
Paul Sancya/AP
Detroit Lions quarterback Drew Stanton, left, and tight end John Owens react near the
end of the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on
November 9.

Can the Detroit Lions Go 0-16?

November 27, 2008 10:58 AM
by Denis Cummings
The Lions head into their traditional Thanksgiving Day game winless in 11 tries, just five losses away from becoming the first team in NFL history to go 0-16.

Lions Close In On 0-16

The Detroit Lions, long one of the NFL’s worst teams, finished the preseason 4-0. Those four wins may be the only four the team wins this season, as they have just five games remaining to avoid going 0-16.

The Lions have battled injuries all year, including the loss of starting quarterback John Kitna and his back-up Dan Orlovsky. They have been forced to sign quarterback Daunte Culpepper out of retirement, and even signed a safety who had been living in his father’s basement.

They briefly looked like they would win their first game this Sunday, jumping out to a 17-0 lead over the Bucs before allowing the next 35 points and losing 38-20. Their schedule doesn’t get any easier, as their five opponents—the Titans (10-1), Vikings (6-5), Colts (7-4), Saints (6-5) and Packers (5-6)—have combined for a record of 34-21.

“We better be something to avoid it,” said kicker Jason Hanson to The Associated Press. “The sooner the better. The pressure is on us.”
The Lions’ elusive win is unlikely to come today, as they face the 10-1 Titans. The magnitude of the mismatch is summed up in satirical newspaper The Onion’s “Keys to the Matchup,” which tells the Titans, “Don’t get too cocky: wait until the second quarter to put in the fourth-string.”

Other teams have had similarly bad starts; the 1980 Saints started 0-14, and last year’s Dolphins lost their first 13 games. The Lions themselves started the 2001 season 0-12 before beating the Vikings. “Former Lions receiver Johnnie Morton heaved his helmet in the air like it was a graduation cap after the win and lashed out at Jay Leno, who made the NFL’s laughingstock the butt of his jokes,” writes the AP’s Larry Lage.

Just one team, the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has lost every game in a season, going 0-14 in 1976. John Romano, a columnist for the St. Petersburg Times, called that team the “most wretched—and ultimately endearing—bunch of losers the NFL has ever known.”

The Lions season has been so bad that there was almost a local blackout for today’s game, as the team needed an extension to sell all of their tickets for the game. Lions fans have been unable to see their historically bad team play at home since Oct. 5.

Background: The Detroit Lions

The Lions are one of the least successful franchises in NFL history. Between 1934, when they began playing in Detroit, and 1957, the Lions won four NFL championships. Since then, however, they have won just one playoff game and have never appeared in a Super Bowl.

The team began playing on Thanksgiving in 1934, and, except for a six-year gap from 1939–1944 because of World War II, they have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since. Though some have called for the NFL to put a better team into the coveted Thanksgiving Day spot, the NFL has shown little inclination to change the tradition.

After a relatively successful decade in the 1990s, the Lions hired former linebacker and broadcaster Matt Millen as team president. Over the next sevens years, Millen would make a series of disastrous moves, turning the Lions into a perennial laughingstock. This September, after years of anti-Millen chants, protests and Web sites, the team finally fired the man that called the “worst general manager in professional sports history.”

Opinion & Analysis: Will the Lions go winless?

Chris Morgan, blogger for the Detroit Lions Examiner, analyzes the Lions’ remaining games, determining that the team’s best chance is against the Vikings and Saints. “At least they get three games at home, including the two games I feel are most winnable,” he writes. “Still, there is no game left on the docket in which the Lions can be considered a reasonable pick to win the game.”

ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski is sure that the Lions will go 0-16, guaranteeing a winless season when they were still just 0-9. “Lions fans hope for a miracle. Or a win. Same thing,” he wrote.

The Detroit Free Press’ Michael Rosenberg believes the Lions have what it takes to go 0-16. “Forget the naysayers,” he says. “Over at the Lions’ complex in Allen Park (‘where every day is Turkey Day’), the team is absolutely rolling on the Road to XVI. The Lions put a scare into fans Sunday when they took a 17-0 lead on Tampa Bay, but apparently it was just a fire drill—they wanted to make sure they can quickly blow a big lead in case they accidentally get one again.”

Football Outsiders take a more mathematical look at the Lions’ chances. “If you assume there’s a 90 percent chance the Lions will lose each game for the next five games, then basic probability puts their odds of going 0-16 at 59 percent,” it says. “Give them an 80 percent chance of losing and their odds of going winless drop to 32.8 percent. No matter how you calculate them, the odds are pretty bad. Or good, if you like top draft picks and dubious achievements.”

Related Topic: Undefeated seasons

Just two NFL teams have ever finished the regular season undefeated: the 1972 Dolphins and last year’s Patriots. The Dolphins went 14-0 in the regular season, won their two AFC playoff games, and then defeated the Redskins 14-7 in the Super Bowl.

The Patriots became the first team to finish the regular season 16-0. They reached the Super Bowl against the Giants, where they were heavy favorites. With the team already copyrighting “19-0” and a “Path to Perfection” available on Amazon, the Patriots were shocked by a last-minute touchdown and fell 17-14.

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