Detroit Lions (1-1) at Tennessee Titans (0-2)
Before the season, I identified 5 overrated and 5 underrated teams, with the idea of betting on them (or against them) until they proved me wrong or the odds makers caught up. This served me well as I’m 10-4 this year on games involving those 10 teams (and one of those losses is because I abandoned shipped on the Bills after week 1 and picked the Chiefs last week). However, two weeks into the season, I’ve had to adapt that a little. The one thing that’s remained constant is that the Lions are overrated. They needed a late comeback at home to beat the Rams week 1 and then they weren’t really competitive in San Francisco last week before a late garbage time touchdown.
The reason I thought Detroit was overrated was because of how one dimensional they are. They had a great passing offense, but they didn’t have much talent at the running back position and they couldn’t stop anyone defensively. Last year, they won just 5 of their final 12 games, including playoffs, and needed 4 comebacks of 13 points or more, an NFL record, to even win 10 games. Their defense ranked 23rd in scoring and I didn’t think they could keep relying on the offense to bail the defense out at a historic rate.
Besides, their strength, their passing offense, was very reliant on Matt Stafford, who coming into this season was just a one year wonder. For the record, he’s completing 63.8% of his passes for 7.3 YPA, 2 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions in 2 games. Except for the completion percentage, which has remained steady, those are all down from last year. He’s not bad or anything, but he doesn’t nearly have the help he needs for this to be an elite team, specifically defensively.
Defensively, they’ve been awful through 2 games, particularly through the air, ranking 22nd in YPA, allowing 37 of 56 for 374 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions. That might not sound awful, but neither of the quarterbacks they’ve faced, Alex Smith or Sam Bradford, are really that great. Jake Locker isn’t that great either, completing 61.3% of his passes for 6.5 YPA, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions, but this is by far his easiest match up.
The Lions are expected to be healthier in the secondary this week, returning Chris Houston and Bill Bentley from injury. However, they’re still not at 100% and it’s not like they were a good pass defense before injuries. Houston is decent, but Bentley is a 3rd round rookie. Those 2 will work with Jacob Lacey, a mediocre talent, at cornerback, while their safeties will be Erik Coleman and either Amari Spievey or John Wendling. None of those guys are any good. Locker should be able to move the ball on this group and in his 3rd start in the NFL, he could be more comfortable, especially now that Kenny Britt is expected to play a larger role. Remember, Britt, not yet 24 years old, has caught 56 passes for 1146 yards and 12 touchdowns in his full last 13 games.
One other thing that will help Locker out is that Chris Johnson should finally break through this week. CJ21 has been hilariously awful through the first 2 games of the season, rushing for 21 yards on 19 carries. However, the competition he’s faced has been stiff. I’m not saying he’s blameless; in fact he’s far from it, but last year he struggled against stiff competition and tore up bad run defenses. In 4 games against teams ranked 21st or worse in YPC, Johnson rushed for over 100 yards 4 times, over 130 yards 3 times and over 153 yards 2 times. The Lions ranked 30th against the run last year. They’ve been a little bit better this year, ranking 16th, but it’s only been 2 games and they didn’t make a single change in their defensive front 7 from last year to this year, so that decent ranking is probably a fluke. Chris Johnson should finally have a good game this week. That will take the pressure off of Locker.
So the Lions can’t stop the run and they can’t stop the pass. What can they do? Well, they can get to the quarterback, or at least they used to be able to. They rank 17th in pass rush efficiency this year, a stat they ranked 8th in last year. Like their improved run defense, this is probably also a fluke. I can’t think of any good reason why their pass rush would decline, other than possibly Kyle Vanden Bosch’s age (1 sack and 1 quarterback hurry on 43 pass rush snaps in his age 34 season). They should considering giving talented young backup Willie Young more snaps.
However, don’t expect the Lions to be able to get to Locker with ease this week. Tennessee’s offensive front can’t run block, but they are great in pass protection. They were the 2nd ranked offensive line in pass block efficiency last year. Locker will be under some pressure, like he has been in their first 2 games against tough competition (he’s been the 10th most pressured quarterback in the league), because the Lions have a tough pass rush too, but he should have enough time to have a solid game against a secondary that couldn’t stop Sam Bradford or Alex Smith.
So the Titans should be able to move the ball, but what about the Lions? They should be able to as well. Matt Stafford leads an above average passing game and they get Mikel Leshoure back from suspension this week, though it’s unclear how much he’ll play or how much he’ll help the running game. Besides, the Titans have surrendered 34 and 38 points in their first 2 games.
However, Matt Stafford is not on the level of Philip Rivers and Tom Brady, the Titans’ opponents in their first 2 games. Rivers in particular played an amazing game against them. Down his top receiver Antonio Gates, he completed 24 of 32 for 284 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception despite being pressured on 20 of 37 drop backs. On top 20 pressured drop backs, he took just 3 sacks, scrambled twice and completed 10 of 16.
The Titans can get after the quarterback this year thanks to maturation of some of their young defensive linemen and the addition of Kamerion Wimbley. They rank 2nd in the league in pass rush efficiency, which helps make up for the loss of Cortland Finnegan in the secondary. Remember, they were the league’s 8th rated scoring defense last year and this year, in spite of all the points they’ve given up, they’re pretty middle of the pack in yards per play allowed. That’s 23rd in the league this year, but it’s actually right in the middle of the best (4.1) and the worst (7.2). They rank 27th in yards per play differential because of their offense (4.9 yards per play, which is 29th) more so than their defense, so the Lions won’t have a field day or anything on the Titans defense. And the Titans’ offense, as I mentioned, seems due for a better game this week, for several reasons.
I don’t think the Titans are better than the Lions or anything, but this line implies that the Lions are 7 points better on a neutral field. That doesn’t make any sense to me and it wouldn’t have made any sense to the odds makers last week, who had the advance spread on this game at Tennessee -1 last week. Something like an even or Detroit -1 would have made more sense in this game, so we’re getting a ton of line value with the Titans. In spite of that, the public is predictably pounding the Lions this week. I love betting against the public at every chance I get, especially when the public is leaning one way heavily. The odds makers are rich for a reason and the public is getting slaughtered this year on big leans.
On top of the line value, I also think the Lions could be pretty flat this week. They’re coming off an emotional loss to a very talented team and might not get up for a non-conference 0-2 team, especially with a divisional test looming on the horizon next week. Road favorites in non-conference battles are 9-16 ATS since 1989 coming off a loss as a dog before playing a divisional opponent. I know it’s a really specific trend, which is why I had to go all the way back to 1989 to get statistically significant data, but it makes sense that the Lions would be flat this week, especially as a young team prone to penalties (they were the 3rd most penalized teams in the league last.
Meanwhile, the Titans are coming off back to back losses of 20+, which historically means they’re undervalued. Teams are 32-16 ATS in this situation since 2002. The Titans are especially undervalued here because people are looking past exactly how tough their opening two games were, especially with a 1st time starting quarterback. As long as Detroit doesn’t have field goal protection, I’m taking the Titans in this one.
Public lean: Detroit (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 Tennessee covers)
Tennessee Titans 24 Detroit Lions 23 Upset Pick +165
Pick against spread: Tennessee Titans +4 (-110) 3 units