Detroit Lions (7-8) at Minnesota Vikings (4-10-1)
The Lions are such a frustrating team. They have the talent to be 11-4 right now, but they’re 7-8. The things that are plaguing them, close losses (3-5 record in games decided by a touchdown or less), turnovers (-14), and recovering fumbles (40.00%) are things that usually are inconsistent in the long run, but they seem to consistently plague this team. I make my picks with the assumption that those things tend to be inconsistent (which they do), but it’s not going to work perfectly every time for every team in every situation. I’m hitting about 60% of my picks against the spread on the season, which is almost impossible, but even then I’m wrong about 40% of the time. It’s the nature of against the spread picking.
Their problems might not be fixed until they fire Jim Schwartz and get a more disciplined head coach in this off-season. If they do that, they have the potential to be a very, very good football team in 2014 because, at their best, they’re as good as anyone in the NFL. They might be one of my sleepers as I think forward to 2014. Depending on what happens this off-season, I could see them doing something like what Carolina did this season. They are on the verge of going 12-4, winning the NFC South, and getting the 2nd seed, which is exactly what I had them doing at the beginning of the season. As for this week though, it could be tough to back the Lions again, but there are reasons why they could be a smart bet.
In terms of rate of moving the chains differential, which nullifies the effect of inconsistent things like close losses, fumble recovery, and turnovers, they do rank 5th. They move the chains at a 74.46% rate, as opposed to 68.24% for their opponents, a differential of 6.22%. They have 65 more first downs than their opponents (only New Orleans and Denver are better), 13 fewer punts than their opponents (again only New Orleans and Denver are better), and have scored 43 touchdowns to 22 field goal attempts, as opposed to 32 touchdowns and 40 field goal attempts for their opponents. They are +11 in touchdown margin, which is 6th in the NFL, and -18 in field goal attempt margin, which is best in the NFL. Turnovers are their only problem.
The Vikings, meanwhile, rank much lower, coming in at 30th in rate of moving the chains differential, which shouldn’t surprise anyone given their 4-10-1 record. They move the chains at a 70.45% rate, as opposed to 76.52% for their opponents, a differential of -6.07%. That suggests that this line, instead of being Minnesota -3, should be Detroit -9. That’s too much to ignore, no matter how bad the Lions have been failing to live up to expectations of late. I’m not incredibly confident or anything, but there’s no way these two teams are equal on a neutral field, which is what this line would suggest.
I’m making this is a medium confidence pick for now. Don’t put any money on Detroit +3 yet though as I’m waiting to see the status of both Calvin Johnson and Adrian Peterson before I actually place a bet. Both could be out this week, but both could also play. If Adrian Peterson plays and Calvin Johnson does not, I’ll probably lower this to a low confidence pick, depending on where this line will be. I could also chicken out and drop it to a low confidence pick if Johnson is ruled out, regardless of Peterson’s status, if I change my mind or I don’t like where the line is at that point, but for now I do like the Lions this week, as long as we’re getting a field goal and Johnson plays.
Update: Leaving it at medium confidence. Adrian Peterson is listed as doubtful and Toby Gerhart is out. Calvin Johnson, meanwhile, could play, despite not practicing all week, as he’s listed as questionable and will be a game time decision. Besides, doesn’t the Lions winning a meaningless game convincingly against a bad team after their season is over seems like a very Lions thing to do. They have a ton of talent and could live up to it now that the pressure is off.
Detroit Lions 24 Minnesota Vikings 17 Upset Pick +130
Pick against the spread: Detroit +3