Detroit Lions (1-0) at San Francisco 49ers (1-0)
Both of these teams were in my overrated group heading into the season. The idea with the overrated/underrated teams was to bet the underrated teams and against the overrated teams until the odds makers caught up or I was proven wrong. Detroit didn’t prove me wrong as they barely eked out a come from behind win at home against the Rams, helping me nail my pick of the week, but the 49ers proved me wrong last week, pulling the upset victory in Green Bay. In fact, of all of my preseason predictions, that may be the one I end up being most wrong on. This doesn’t bother me too much, as I was 5-2 last week on games involved underrated or overrated teams, but it does force me to make adjustments.
I don’t think it’s really fair to say that the 49ers are on overrated team anymore, but it is fair to say that about the Lions. In order to improve on their win total, the Lions would have to improve their win total for the 4th straight season. In the up and down NFL, that rarely happens. Their running back depth chart is basically the same as their inactive list. They finished last season 5-7, including playoffs. They had a distraction filled offseason and they needed an NFL record 4 comebacks of 13 points or more to even win 10 games last year, because of how bad their defense is. It’s not any better this season and if the offense doesn’t bail them out at a record rate again, they could regress.
There’s no way they deserve to be just 7 point underdogs in San Francisco. That suggests that San Francisco is just 4 points better than the Lions, which I don’t think is true. The one thing that I acknowledged could completely derail my 49ers prediction would be Alex Smith improbably breaking out as a true franchise quarterback at age 28, with the addition of new weapons and a full offseason in Jim Harbaugh’s scheme. That’s because the premise behind calling the 49ers an overrated team was largely based on my observation that teams cannot consistently win in the NFL without a true franchise quarterback. You can have a good year, or even a great year, but it’s hard to be consistent on a year to year basis purely on running the football, playing good defense, and winning the turnover battle (See Baltimore pre-Flacco and Chicago pre-Cutler).
It’s still inconclusive whether or not Smith is a true franchise quarterback, but one thing is for sure, the Packers made him look like one, blowing coverages left and right, failing to stop the run, and only pressuring him on 7 of 33 drop backs. It’ll still be inconclusive whether or not Smith is a true franchise quarterback after this one because the Lions also have a terrible defense, ranking 23rd in scoring last year.
They were the league’s 28th ranked run defense in 2011, so despite a strong showing in run defense in the opener, I don’t expect them to be able to contain the 49ers’ two headed attack of Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter. This will make life very easy for Smith, who will also be facing a Lions’ pass defense that made Sam Bradford look pretty good in the opener (17 of 25 for 198 yards and a score).
They’ll probably be able to get more pressure on Smith than the Packers did, but their secondary is even worse, even with Chris Houston returning from injury. They’ll still be without Louis Delmas and now rookie Bill Bentley with injury, leaving Jacob Lacey, who struggled as a starter in Indianapolis last year, to start opposite Houston. Meanwhile, Drayton Florence, who was recently a final cut of the Broncos, will man the slot. With Delmas out, veteran journeyman Erik Coleman will start next to incumbent 2011 starter Amari Spievey, who really struggled last year. The 49ers should be able to move the ball.
Because of that and their ball control offense, they should be able to keep Matt Stafford and company on the sidelines for the majority of the game, like they did to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. The Lions are like a poor man’s version of the Packers, assuming the Packers’ defense doesn’t improve. The 49ers beat the Packers in Lambeau last week, so they should be able to beat the Lions at home. The 49ers won’t stop Stafford and this passing game, like they didn’t stop Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ passing game, but they’ll limit them and dominate the other areas of the game, much like last week. Also like last week, they should be able to put a complete halt on a Lions running game that isn’t very good to begin with, much like the Packers’.
I’m going with the 49ers here as 7 point favorites in a matchup of two of my preseason overrated teams. The 49ers looked much, much better than the Lions did last week and they match up very well with the one dimensional Lions. The reason this isn’t a big bet is twofold. For one, the 49ers don’t have the type of offense built to blow people out, while the Lions have the type of offense that can mount a late backdoor cover drive against a sizeable spread. The 2nd reason is “handshake gate.” Jim Schwartz is kind of crazy and took Harbaugh’s rough handshake very personally after these two teams met last year. If he can somehow use that as motivation for his team, they’ll have the motivation edge in this one.
Public lean: San Francisco (new thing I’m adding, siding with the odds makers on bets is not a bad thing to do since they make so much money, so I’m listing this here to allow readers to “fade” the public, if they so choose, in this example, the odds makers win if Detroit covers)
San Francisco 49ers 27 Detroit Lions 17
Pick against spread: San Francisco -7 (-110) 1 unit