Minnesota Vikings (2-1) at Detroit Lions (1-2)
I’ve been saying it all along that the Lions are overrated. It’s one of the preseason predictions that I’m proud of. They sit at 1-2, coming off a loss to the Titans with only a comeback win by 3 at home against the Rams. Last year, they went 10-6 despite the league’s 23rd ranked defense because their passing offense was so good. Matt Stafford threw for over 5000 yards and 41 touchdowns and led an NFL record 4 comebacks of 13 or more. They also didn’t finish well, going 5-7 in their last 12, including playoffs, after a 5-0 start
They didn’t fix their defensive problems and they simply couldn’t count on their offense to bail them out at a record rate anymore, especially since Matt Stafford was still a one year wonder coming in this year and one with a history of injures. They also didn’t have a reliable running game to lean on. Stafford hasn’t been bad, but he hasn’t been the quarterback he was last year. Dating back to last year, this team is 6-9 in their last 15. Now Stafford is hurt. He returned to practice today and will play, but an injury, even a hip injury, is hardly a good thing for someone having a little bit of a regression already, especially for a team so reliant on the passing attack.
Defensively, they’ve gotten healthier in the secondary over the last couple of weeks as they now have #1 cornerback Chris Houston back from injury. He played well last week, but the Lions surrendered 378 yards and 2 touchdowns to Jake Locker on a 9.0 YPA clip. They rank 24th in the league in opponent’s YPA. Remember, even though they are healthier now, they weren’t a very good pass defense to start with and they lost starting cornerback Eric Wright this offseason. Louis Delmas is also still hurt, leaving Houston as the only capable starter in a secondary with 3rd round rookie Dwight Bentley, Jacob Lacey, a failed starter in Indianapolis last year, and two veteran journeymen John Wendling and Erik Coleman.
There’s also the issue of their pass rush. They actually rank just 26th in the league in pass rush efficiency, down from 8th in 2011. That was really the only reason their defense was even mediocre last year. It’s unclear if this is something that will continue into the future or if it’s just a fluke, but it’s definitely concerning. Cliff Avril, possibly dealing with the effects of a holdout this offseason, has just 6 pressures, with one sack, on 77 pass rush snaps, while soon to be 34 year old Kyle Vanden Bosch has just 3 with 1 sack on 82 pass rush snaps. He’s looking pretty done. Given how bad their secondary is, they won’t have any chance of stopping anyone if they keep letting quarterbacks sit in the pocket like that. All 3 quarterbacks they’ve played have moved the ball with ease against them, and it’s not a Pro Bowl group of guys either. They’ve faced Sam Bradford, Alex Smith, and Jake Locker.
Christian Ponder should be able to move the ball on these guys with ease as well. The Vikings’ win over the 49ers was no fluke. They rank 8th in the league in yards per play differential and they have a winning record despite no advantage in turnovers +0. The Vikings went 3-13 last year, but had a Pythagorean Expectation of 6 wins and averaged 22.9 points per game, which would have been 16th in the league, in the 9 games Christian Ponder led the team in passing attempts. Ponder has taken a major step forward in his 2nd year in the league, completing 70.1% of his passes for an average of 7.4 YPA, 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions, including 21 of 35 for 198 yards and 2 scores against the 49ers, probably the league’s best defense.
Percy Harvin has emerged not just a legitimate #1 receiver, but one of the best receivers in the league, ranking 3rd in the league in yards from scrimmage by a receiver, now that the coaching staff is utilizing him properly. Kyle Rudolph has emerged as a secondary option. The offensive line ranks 6th in the league in pass block efficiency thanks to some offseason changes and the defense is better as well now that they’re healthier. Every year a team goes from 5 wins or fewer to the playoffs. The Vikings are the favorites right now and by a good margin after other candidates St. Louis, Washington, and Tampa Bay all lost last week. Of the 7 candidates, only Minnesota is even in the top-24 in yards per play differential.
Ponder will also be helped by Adrian Peterson, who has made a miraculously recovery. Detroit actually ranks 13th in the league against the run, but considering they’ve faced Chris Johnson and a probably washed up Steven Jackson in 2 of their 3 games, I think that’s a bit of a fluke. Last year they ranked 30th against the run. Peterson should be able to be a reliable compliment for Christian Ponder and this improved passing game, which should be able to tear up the Lions’ awful pass defense.
Minnesota’s defense is much improved this season, thanks to the emergence of guys like Erin Henderson, who will return from injury this week, and Brian Robison, as well as the return for Antoine Winfield for injury and other factors. Detroit is by far the best passing offense they’ve faced (Jacksonville, Indianapolis, San Francisco) and they will move the chains with some ease, so this will be a shoot out, but I like Minnesota this week.
One trend works in Minnesota’s favor. They’re dogs after winning as dogs before being favorites (home for Tennessee next week). Teams are 35-18 ATS in this situation since 2008. Teams tend to feel disrespected coming off big upset wins if they are still not favored and tend to cover so long as their next game isn’t a hard one that they could possibly be caught losing ahead to. Both Arizona and Seattle covered in this situation last week. Minnesota will be extra motivated to win a statement game here as well because it’s a divisional opponent.
On top of that, I just feel like we’re getting more than 3 points with the better team on the road. Minnesota’s yards per play differential is .5 yards better than Detroit’s and an old handicapping formula says to divide to that by .15 and add 3 either way for home field advantage to determine the “real line.” That suggests that Minnesota should actually be favored by half a point.
It’s more accurate to use that a few more weeks into the season, but it’s worth noting and formula aside, I do think Minnesota is the better team right now and in a better situation, as an underrated team playing to be taken seriously even after a big upset. I’m putting 3 units on this for now and I might add an extra one if I see that the public starts pounding Detroit because I love to fade the public. However, this line was just posted, so I don’t know which way the public is leaning yet. There may be an update to this.
Public lean: ?
Sharps lean (sharps is defined as anyone with a 66.7% winning percentage or higher in Las Vegas Hilton): MIN 9 DET 4
Minnesota Vikings 31 Detroit Lions 27 Upset Pick +185
Pick against spread: Minnesota +4.5 (-110) 3 units