Detroit Lions (1-0) at Arizona Cardinals (0-1)
The Lions won just 4 games last year despite outgaining opponents by the 2nd most yardage in the NFL, by over 1000 yards. This is largely because they surrendered a ridiculous 70 points on return touchdowns, without scoring once in that fashion. If you take that out of the equation, the Lions would have outscored their opponents on the season (they also were terrible in close games, something that should turn around in 2013). That alone should get them to 8 wins.
That return touchdown margin should even out for 2 reasons. The first is that their special teams, which were responsible for 4 of those return touchdowns allowed, should improve. That type of thing is inconsistent on a year to year basis largely because special teams personnel is inconsistent on a year-to-year basis. The Lions have changed their punter, kicker, and both of their return men. The rest of their special teams personnel should look largely different as well. I’m not worried about their special teams being as bad as they were last season and that won’t just help eliminate that 10 touchdown gap, but it’ll help give them better field position.
The second reason is that I think they’re unlikely to allow 6 return touchdowns on 33 turnovers again, a ridiculous 18.2% rate. Ordinarily, teams who turn the ball over 33 times allow an average of 2 return touchdowns off of them over the course of the season. They’re probably score at least once or twice on return touchdowns this season, something they didn’t do last season. Add in the fact that the Lions suffered the 9th most injuries in the NFL last season and recovered the 2nd lowest percentage of fumbles recovered on the ground and this is a team that will be much closer to the 10 wins they had in 2011 than the 4 wins they had in 2012.
They certainly looked the part week 1 against the Vikings, but now they are road favorites in Arizona, who I think is an underrated team. They’re an equal caliber team to St. Louis, who they played tight in a field goal loss last week. Carson Palmer is infinitely better than the John Skelton/Ryan Lindley/Brian Hoyer combination that played the last 10 games of last season, going 1-9 and throwing 18 interceptions to 3 touchdowns in the process. He has 3 talented receivers to throw to in Larry Fitzgerald, Michel Floyd, and Andre Roberts and Head Coach Bruce Arians’ system fits their personnel perfectly. Their defense remains a solid unit. They won’t be a pushover for the Lions. However, the Lions should be the right side.
Detroit Lions 27 Arizona Cardinals 20
Pick against spread: Detroit -1.5