Atlanta Falcons (12-2) Detroit Lions (4-10)
Normally I like going against huge line movements because I hate week to week overreactions. This line was Atlanta -1 last week and now it’s at -4.5, skipping over two key numbers of 3 and 4. At first glance, this appears warranted. The Lions got blown out by the crappy Cardinals in Arizona, losing 38-10, while the Falcons got a huge home win over the solid Giants, winning 34-0. However, it’s important to think about what those games really mean.
Atlanta definitely proved they can turn it on and not just compete with some of the better teams in the league, but win convincingly, something they hadn’t done all year. There were a lot of reasonable concerns about how their long list of less than convincing victories against mediocre teams would translate into games against tougher opponents, which they really hadn’t had a lot of (Denver way back in week 2 when Peyton Manning wasn’t Peyton Manning yet is the only projected playoff team they’ve played this year, besides the Giants).
However, that long list still exists. They beat Carolina by 2 and then lost the rematch in Carolina by 10 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score. They beat Tampa Bay by just 1, Oakland by just 3, Arizona by just 4, Dallas by just 6, and then lost in New Orleans. They won the rematch with the Saints by 10 in a game that was closer than the final score and before the Giants’ game, that was probably their most impressive win.
Just because the Falcons blew out the Giants, doesn’t mean they’ll stop playing down to the level of their competition against mediocre opponents, like these Lions. In fact, I think it makes it more likely. After their big Thursday Night win over the Saints, the Falcons had their worst game of the season the following week in Carolina.
For that reason, I like getting the 4.5 points with them. Detroit has a terrible record, but they’ve played a lot of good teams close. They’re like the anti-Falcons in a way. They always play superior teams close, but can’t get it done. Only 2 of their 10 losses have been by more than 8, including 4 losses by 4 or fewer points. I’m expecting more of the same when these two teams get together, a close game in which the Falcons find a way to win and the Lions find a way to lose.
As a result of the Lions’ long list of close wins and the ridiculous 10 return touchdowns that have gone against them this season, the Lions actually rank 15th in net points per drive at -0.02. The Falcons do rank 4th at 0.71 and if you take the difference between those, multiply by 11 (the average amount of drives per team per game), and add 2.5 points to Detroit’s side for home field, you get that Atlanta should be -5.5, so we’re still getting line value with the Falcons, in spite of the huge line movement, at least at first glance.
However, if we look at DVOA, which takes things like schedule into account, we see that Atlanta ranks 9th in regular and 12th in weighted, while the Lions rank 14th and 16th respectively. That defeats any line value that we might have been getting with the Falcons and I think we’re actually getting line value with the Lions thanks to that huge line movement.
Going back to the events of last week that caused that huge line movement, I think the Lions just completely overlooked the Cardinals, who were on a 9 game losing streak and had previously gotten blown out by 58-0. They still outgained the Cardinals 312-196, but lost because of 2 return touchdowns and a special teams fumble deep in their own territory. I think it was a bit of a fluke, because, as I mentioned, previously they had only lost 1 game by more than 8 all season, including none by more than 10.
That big loss actually makes it more likely they cover this week, as, like the Cardinals last week, they’re the ones coming off the embarrassing game. Dogs are 89-57 ATS off a 28+ point loss, including 29-13 ATS off an ATS loss of 31+. Teams tend to be overlooked, embarrassed, and undervalued in this spot. They’re certainly undervalued after that huge line movement with the public still all over the Falcons. I like to fade the public because they always lose money in the long run. I think the Lions will also be embarrassed, especially at home on national television, and they’ll probably be overlooked too.
I say probably because this is a nationally televised game, so the Falcons might be more focused than they otherwise would be, but then again, they barely beat Dallas on national television earlier this year. Still, that is the first reason why this isn’t a significant play. The 2nd is that the Lions are in a bad spot as home dogs before being home dogs when their opponent will next be home favorites. Teams are 25-55 ATS in this spot since 2002. However, the Lions should still be the right side as I’m expecting a close game.
Public lean: Atlanta (80% range)
Sharps lean: DET 13 ATL 10
Final thoughts: No change.
Atlanta Falcons 27 Detroit Lions 24
Pick against spread: Detroit +4.5 (-110) 2 units