Arizona Cardinals (0-0) at Detroit Lions (0-0)
The Lions made the playoffs last season, but they were arguably the worst team in the league to qualify for the post-season. Their 9-7 record was tied for worst among playoff teams and all 9 wins came against non-playoff teams, making them the only post-season qualifier to not defeat another post-season qualifier. Despite those wins coming against weak opponents, the Lions still only won one game by more than a touchdown all season. They finished 28th in first down rate differential, worst among playoff teams, and only made the post-season because they pulled out some close victories against bad teams. In the post-season, they were predictably destroyed in Seattle by the Seahawks in a 26-6 loss.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, did not make the playoffs, but were a much better team, even going into Seattle late in the season and winning straight up as massive underdogs. They finished 7-8-1, but their special teams swung more than a few games. They missed a game winning field goal against New England. They allowed a long punt return to set up the winning score against the Rams. They had a blocked punt and a number of missed field goals in the tie against the Seahawks. They allowed a kickoff return touchdown in a 6-point loss to the Vikings. And against Miami, in a 3-point loss, special teams cost them 7 points on 3 plays with a missed field goal, a missed extra point, and a blocked extra point that was returned for 2 points.
They could have been 12-4 if not for those screw ups and they finished the season #1 in first down rate differential, for the 2nd season in a row. On top of that, their +56 point differential was 7th in the NFL and best among non-playoff teams. They should have better luck in close games in 2017, but they also had a tough off-season. They lost 5 starters on defense, including defensive end Calais Campbell and safeties Tony Jefferson and DJ Swearinger, all of whom were among the best in the league at their position in 2016. They also enter the season without linebacker Deone Bucannon and possibly without left guard Mike Iupati thanks to injury.
They did a good job of finding cheap replacements this off-season, but they are still significantly less talented than last season and they are one of the oldest teams in the league. They may end up winning more games than last season, but they are unlikely to be as effective overall and could be very vulnerable defensive early in the season without Bucannon. The Lions are also without a key player, with left tackle Taylor Decker set to miss the start of the season after having shoulder injury, and the Cardinals should be the right side, but we aren’t getting a ton of line value with them as 2 point road favorites.
Arizona Cardinals 27 Detroit Lions 24
Pick against the spread: Arizona -2