Detroit Lions (0-0) at San Diego Chargers (0-0)
I have these two teams about even coming into the season. San Diego has better quarterback play, but Detroit has a better supporting cast. I have both teams snagging a wild card berth, San Diego with 10 wins in the AFC and Detroit with 9 wins in the NFC. San Diego’s has been right around in the playoff mix over the past 2 seasons and I think this is their best team of the past 3 years. The defense will be better than it was 2 years ago thanks to the addition of Brandon Flowers and a now healthy Jason Verrett at cornerback.
Their offense probably won’t be as good as they were 2 years ago, but they’re more talented and healthier than they were last year. They had the most offensive adjusted games lost in the league last year and they also added the likes of running back Melvin Gordon, offensive tackle Joseph Barksdale, and guard Orlando Franklin this off-season. The running game and the offensive line were major offensive weaknesses last season and both should be much better this year, while the passing offense remains a serious weapon. Their front 7 is still a major weakness and prevents them from being a serious contender, but this is still a very solid football team.
As for Detroit, they were actually better in 2013 when they won 7 games than they were in 2014 when they won 11 games. The Lions underachieved in terms of wins and losses in both 2012 and 2013, going 11-21. However, that was largely as a result of a 6-14 record in games decided by a touchdown or less, a -25 turnover margin, and a -10 return touchdown margin. Those things tend to be inconsistent from year-to-year and, in 2014, everything swung the other way with the Lions. They went 6-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less, had a +7 turnover margin, and had a +1 return touchdown margin. As a result, they went 11-5, but ranked 15th in rate of moving the chains differential, after going 7-9 and ranking 6th in rate of moving the chains differential in 2013.
This year, they should have both Calvin Johnson and Stephen Tulloch back healthy for the whole year, while Matt Stafford could have a bounce back year. The offense should be better, but the defense is unlikely to be, even with Tulloch healthy, because of off-season losses on the defensive line and aging players in the secondary. Even with these two teams being even, I’m going to take the Chargers because the Lions are limping into the season and expected to be without talented linebacker DeAndre Levy and talented guard Larry Warford in this one. The Chargers won’t have Antonio Gates either, but I think the Lions’ losses will hurt them way more. The line often doesn’t take into account injuries to serious non-skill position players because casual fans don’t always pay attention, so we’re getting value with a Chargers team that should be at least -5 here at home. They’re -3 and even -2.5 in some places, so they’re the pick here.
San Diego Chargers 27 Detroit Lions 20
Pick against the spread: San Diego -3