Dec 072012
 

Detroit Lions (4-8) at Green Bay Packers (8-4)

This is a really interesting game. Earlier this week, I wrote about some of the parity related things that happen every single year and how those could be used to help predict games the rest of the way. The Lions are by far the likeliest candidate to be this year’s team that goes from in the playoffs to 5 wins or fewer. Only the Saints and Lions are 2011 playoff teams with 5 or wins right now and the Saints would have to lose out to finish 5-11, highly unlikely. The Lions, however, stand at 4-8 and will only be favored in one more game the rest of the way so chalk gets them to 5-11 and fulfills the requirement.

The Packers, meanwhile, are the most likely candidate to be this year’s team that goes from a first round bye to out of the playoffs. Keep in mind, that’s happened every year in at least the same decade, while the trend mentioned in the first paragraph has happened in every season except one in at least the last decade. The Packers are the only team who had a first round bye last year with 4 or more losses currently. The Packers also need to miss the playoffs for this to be the 18th straight year with 5 new playoff teams because there’s essentially 7 returning playoff teams already locked into playoff spots.

They will need to go 2-2 or worse over their final 4 games to miss the playoffs and a team like Tampa Bay, Dallas, or Minnesota will need to win out. Tampa Bay looks by far the most likely to do so as that would require just winning in New Orleans, not as daunting as it once was, and winning in Atlanta week 17, when they will likely be resting starters. The Packers will be dogs in just one of their final 4 games, at Chicago next week, so they’ll have to lose once as favorites if they are going to miss the playoffs.

All that being said, we can’t really use much of that to predict any outcome here, based off just that. If Detroit wins here, it would go a long way towards knocking Green Bay out of the playoffs, but that would mean they’d also have to lose in Arizona next week if they’re going to finish with 5 wins or fewer, which I guess could happen if they’re flat off a huge win in essentially their Super Bowl, but the Cardinals really, really suck.

Technically, I guess we can say that if we throw out the assumption that a 2011 playoff team will win 5 or fewer games this season, Detroit seems like the logical choice. That would be only the 2nd time in over a decade that’s happened, but history says it’s more likely that something like that happens than all 4 teams who had first round byes last year returning to the playoffs this year.

Green Bay could also easily lose week 17 in Minnesota anyway, so they don’t necessarily have to lose here to fulfill that requirement. Besides, if they did, it would make it much more likely they’d pull an upset next week as Rodgers is deadly as dogs off a loss. Besides, Detroit is having major issues closing games, so I don’t know I trust them to win anyway, especially in Green Bay.

This team has lost a ridiculous 4 of their 8 losses by 4 or fewer points and they are 3-6 in games decided by a touchdown or less. That could even out in the long run, as it typically does. Teams that lose a game by a touchdown or less win the following game 48% of the time if it’s decided by a touchdown or less. A perfect example is that Matt Stafford and the Lions were actually 5-3 in games decided by a touchdown or less last year. I just don’t know if I trust them to straight up win here.

However, that doesn’t mean they can’t cover this 6.5 point spread though, in fact, it makes it more likely that they will. They haven’t really been blown out by anyone. None of their losses have come by more than 10 points and only 1 has come by more than 8 points. Because of this, their -15 points differential is much better than their 4-8 record. I don’t know if I trust them to win a huge game like this on the road, but they could definitely keep it close once again, much like they did the last time these two teams met.

Going off that points differential, the Lions actually rank 14th in net points per drive, actually only one spot lower than Green Bay. If we use net points per drive to compute real line, we get a line of Green Bay -3. Even though Green Bay ranks much better in DVOA (which is net points per drive based, but takes other things into account like strength of schedule) than net points per drive, ranking 5th, I still feel like this line is too high.

Green Bay is an overrated team right now. The odds makers know they can inflate the line on them based on reputation and people will still bet them. It should come as no surprise that the Packers are getting pounded by the public. I love to fade the public, especially on heavy public leans, when it feels appropriate and this is one of those weeks.

The Packers are really not healthy right now. If they can get healthy by the playoffs, I admit they’ll be a very scary team, but right now, they’re just not the team they once were. Injuries to Cedric Benson and now James Starks have left the mediocre Alex Green as the feature back, running behind an offensive line that struggles both to run block and pass protect. Bryan Bulaga is out for the season and TJ Lang, who moved from guard to right tackle in his absence, might miss this one too. Undrafted free agent Don Barclay, who sucked last week in his absence, might get this start.

On the defensive side of the ball, Clay Matthews is expected out once again, leaving the Packers without their top pass rusher and with only one of the 4 starting linebackers they entered into Training Camp with. Nick Perry and Desmond Bishop are on IR, while DJ Smith, who replaced Bishop, is also on IR. Matthews’ injury is the killer as they don’t have another pass rusher with him and Perry out. Charles Woodson could return this week, but if he does, he’s expected to be limited in his first game back after missing over a month.

The Packers were so good in 2010 despite injuries because they still had key defensive players healthy. Clay Matthews, Desmond Bishop, Cullen Jenkins, BJ Raji, Tramon Williams, Charles Woodson, and Nick Collins were all huge for them on the league’s 2nd ranked scoring defense. Matthews and Bishop are out and Woodson will again be limited at best. Jenkins left as a free agent and Raji hasn’t been the same since 2010. Nick Collins had to retire because of injury, leaving Williams as the only one of those 7 currently healthy and playing near his 2010 level. They’ve added some nice young players in the meantime, like Casey Hayward, but it’s not enough for them to be considered as good currently as they once were.

Last year, they were so good despite a rough defense because they dominated the turnover battle and scored 35.0 points per game. This year, thanks to injuries and the pure unsustainability of that 35.0 points per game figure, they are averaging just 24.7 points per game. That’s good, but a far cry from last season. They didn’t come into this season with the goal of being the league’s #12 scoring offense. Meanwhile, their turnover differential is down from +24 to +6. All of this has combined to expose a vulnerable and now injury riddled defense.

Look at the Packers’ last 6 games and I’ll show you what I mean. Their only win by more than 10 in that stretch was before their bye and this is despite playing Arizona, Jacksonville, St. Louis, Minnesota, and these Lions, who lost by just 4 a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, the only real team they played during that stretch, the Giants, absolutely blew them out. Even more embarrassing, that blowout win for the Giants was sandwiched in between straight up losses as road dogs to the Bengals and Redskins. That’s why I say the Packers are overrated right now and why I think they have a good chance to miss the playoffs. They can definitely win here, but it will probably be another close game.

The trends are not in Green Bay’s favor either. Detroit is also dogs before and after being favorites coming off a loss, a situation teams are 52-22 ATS in since 2008. Teams tend to be extra focused for a tough opponent coming off an upset loss, knowing that there’s an easy game on the horizon. Teams are 102-57 ATS as dogs before being favorites since 2011, including 114-57 ATS since 2008 when opponent will next be dogs. Detroit is dogs here and will be favorites in Arizona next week, while Green Bay is favorites and will next be dogs in Chicago.

Going off of that, road dogs are 14-7 ATS before being road favorites since 2011, 16-8 ATS since 2008 when opponent will next be dogs. Finally, teams are 15-47 ATS as divisional home favorite before being divisional road dogs, 4-26 ATS when their opponent will next be favorites. All of this is very, very hard to ignore. I won’t pick Detroit to pull the upset, but I’m very confident this will be a close game.

Public lean: Green Bay (70% range)

Sharps lean: DET 11 GB 7

Final thoughts: I’m taking the money line too. I don’t know exactly which team will win, but I love the value with the money line in a game I think will be a real tossup. All the trends say Detroit and who knows, maybe they’ll actually close out a close game this week. Even if they don’t, I love their chances of keeping it close.

Detroit Lions 30 Green Bay Packers 27 Upset Pick +250

Pick against spread: Detroit +6.5 (-110) 4 units

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