Detroit Lions (2-1) at Minnesota Vikings (2-1)
The Lions are 2-1 and were literally inches away from beating the Falcons and going to 3-0 last week, but they rank 29th in first down rate differential (-6.54%), as they have allowed 12 more first downs than they’ve picked up. Despite their record, they’ve lost the first down rate battle in each of their first 3 games. Their record is largely the result of a +6 turnover margin and a subsequent +2 return touchdown margin, but turnover margins are inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so they won’t be able to count on that every week. Last season, they managed just 14 takeaways all season and finished at -1 in turnover margin, an example of how inconsistent turnover margins are. Given that, they’re highly unlikely to keep up their current pace, as they’re on pace for 43 takeaways, more than triple their 2016 total.
That will have a noticeable effect on the field, as the Lions defense has had serious problems getting teams off the field without takeaways this season, forcing just 11 punts, fewest forced by any team who has played 3 games except the Saints. That’s despite playing a couple of mediocre offenses, the Cardinals and the Giants, to start the season. Having Ezekiel Ansah healthy has helped this defense, but they’ve missed fellow starting defensive end Kerry Hyder, who is out for the season, and their offense is not as good as last season without left tackle Taylor Decker, who is out with a shoulder injury.
The Lions ranked 29th in first down rate differential last season too, when they went 9-7 with 8 wins by a touchdown or less and no wins over playoff teams, so they should be a smart team to bet against going forward. Unfortunately, we’re not getting great line value with the Vikings here as 2 point favorites with Case Keenum under center. The Vikings were +2 last week for the Buccaneers and, though they won pretty easily, that was primarily because the Buccaneers were banged up defensively and because they won the turnover battle by 3. I’m taking the Vikings still, but it’s a no confidence bet as long as the Vikings as favored.
Minnesota Vikings 23 Detroit Lions 20
Pick against the spread: Minnesota -2