Arizona Cardinals (3-1) at Detroit Lions (0-4)
The Lions are the league’s last remaining winless team at 0-4. Many think they should have won last week in Seattle because the refs missed a pivotal call at the end of the game, but, regardless of the outcome, they definitely got outplayed in Seattle last week, needing to rely on a +2 turnover margin and a return touchdown to even keep it close. They moved the chains at a mere 54.55% rate, while the Seahawks moved them at a 67.86% rate. On the season, they rank 24th in rate of moving the chains differential.
That suggests they’re not quite as bad as their record suggests and they’re not, especially when you take into account the brutal schedule they’ve played thus far. They started the year on the road in San Diego and Minnesota, a pair of possible playoff teams, and then week 3, when they finally got a home game, it was against Denver, another strong team. Starting the season with two road games puts a team at a serious disadvantage, not because it makes it hard to build momentum, but because teams that have their home opener week 3 usually don’t play that well that week. They cover the spread only about a third of the time and are generally less energized, as a result of all of the travelling they have to do to start the season. And then, of course, Detroit had to go to Seattle last week, one of the toughest places in the NFL to win.
Given all of that, I don’t think the Lions are going to be one of the worst teams in the league all season. They also get key defensive player DeAndre Levy back this week, after he missed the first 4 games of the season with a hip injury, and right guard Larry Warford is also expected to play, after being limited to 97 snaps thus far this season with injury. It’s not all good in injury land, as starting defensive tackles Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker will both miss this week, Ngata with a week-to-week injury and Walker after being put on injured reserve with a broken ankle last week, ending his season. However, Levy returning is the biggest deal out of all of those injury developments. Things are looking up for the Lions overall.
That being said, they’re probably going to have to wait another week to get their first win, as they once again face a very tough opponent, the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals lost their first game of the season last week, at home against St. Louis, but they did win the first down battle 26 to 13 and move the chains at a higher rate than the Rams in that 2 point loss, so they definitely didn’t play badly. They only lost because they lost the turnover battle by 3 and that tends to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. Teams with a turnover margin of -3 in a game, on average, have a turnover margin of -0.1 the following week, so the Lions won’t be able to count on turnovers to help them win this game, even after winning the turnover battle in Seattle last week.
The Cardinals still rank 1st in rate of moving the chains differential, even after last week’s loss, but it’s important to remember that their schedule has been the opposite of Detroit’s, as they’ve faced New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco, and St. Louis. There’s a good chance that, even without any wins, the Lions are the best team they’ve faced thus far. Still, if I had to pick, I’m taking the Cardinals against the spread as 3.5 point road favorites here, though I’m not confident at all, especially with the public all over Arizona. The Lions should be able to get off the snide next week, when they host Chicago. The Lions are in a good spot with no upcoming distractions, ahead of that easy game against the Bears, but the Cardinals also are, as they head to Pittsburgh next week to take on the Ben Roethlisberger-less Steelers, and, like I said, if I have to pick, the Cardinals should be the right side.
Arizona Cardinals 24 Detroit Lions 20
Pick against the spread: Arizona +3.5