Detroit Lions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2017 Week 14 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (6-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-8)

The Lions went 9-7 and made the playoffs last season and they are 6-6 and in the middle of a playoff race again in the NFC, but they haven’t been as good as their record in either of the last two seasons. In 2016, they won just one game by more than a touchdown, didn’t win any games against playoff teams, and finished with a first down rate differential of -1.90%. This year, they are winning by bigger margins, but their first down rate differential is even lower at -3.83% and they are 1-6 against teams with winning records. Five of their wins have come against the Cardinals, Giants, Packers, Bears, and Browns and they lost the first down rate battle in 3 of those games.

Fortunately for the Lions, their opponents this week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have more in common with the teams that the Lions have beaten this year than the teams they’ve lost to. That’s very relevant, given that the Lions only have to win this game to cover this even spread. After a big off-season, the Buccaneers entered the season with high expectations, but sit at 4-8 in the middle of an injury ruined season. Quarterback Jameis Winston has returned from his shoulder injury, but does not seem 100% yet.

Winston is also missing his top-2 offensive lineman, with center Ali Marpet and right tackle Demar Dotson out for the season, leaving him with one of the weakest offensive lines in the league. On defense, the Buccaneers lost edge rusher Noah Spence for the season early in the year and are also without rotational defensive tackle Clint McDonald, starting cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, and starting safety TJ Ward. The Lions are banged up too, with quarterback Matt Stafford playing through a hand injury and talented right tackle Ricky Wagner out of the lineup, but they are still the better of these two teams.

The Lions are also in a better spot, as the Buccaneers are coming off of a road overtime loss in Green Bay and then have to turn around and host the Falcons next week. They could easily look past the Lions a little as a result. Teams cover at just a 43% rate off of a road overtime loss (as long as they aren’t road underdogs in their second of two road games) and teams are just 39-67 ATS since 2014 before being home underdogs of 4.5 or more, which the Buccaneers likely will be next week. The Buccaneers probably aren’t talented enough to win this game if they aren’t focused, so the Lions seem like the smarter side, but we aren’t getting any line value with them and it’s hard to be confident in them since we don’t know the state of Stafford’s hand injury. The Lions are the choice for pick ‘em purposes only.

Detroit Lions 24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23

Pick against the spread: Detroit PK

Confidence: None

Detroit Lions at Baltimore Ravens: 2017 Week 13 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (6-5) at Baltimore Ravens (6-5)

Both of these teams are 6-5 and in the playoff race in their respective conferences, but I think both teams aren’t quite as good as their records. The Lions made the postseason last year, but they won just one game by more than a touchdown, didn’t win any games against playoff teams, and finished with a first down rate differential of -1.90%. This year, they are winning by bigger margins, but their first down rate differential is even lower at -3.27% and they are 1-5 against teams with winning records. Five of their wins have come against the Cardinals, Giants, Packers, Bears, and Browns and they lost the first down rate battle in 3 of those games. They’ve been overly dependent on getting big plays and winning the turnover margin, which are tough to consistently do every week, especially against tougher competition.

The Ravens have also faced a very easy schedule though, with their last 4 wins coming against teams starting backup quarterbacks. Their 6 wins have come against teams quarterbacked by Andy Dalton, Deshone Kizer, EJ Manuel, Matt Moore, Brett Hundley, and Tom Savage. Matt Stafford is definitely a step up in class, but he doesn’t have a good running game or defense supporting him and the Ravens are a step in in class from the caliber teams the Lions usually beat. I give the Ravens a slight talent edge and they’re at home, but I am not confident in them as 3 point home favorites.

Baltimore Ravens 23 Detroit Lions 19

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -3

Confidence: None

Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions: 2017 Week 12 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (8-2) at Detroit Lions (6-4)

I did not have strong confidence in either side in the Rams/Vikings matchup last week, but I was hoping the Rams would win. The Vikings were 1.5 point underdogs in Detroit on the early line last week in this Thanksgiving matchup and I thought the line might move to 3 if the Vikings lost. I would have been very excited to bet the Vikings as 3 point underdogs, especially if the Vikings switched quarterbacks from Case Keenum to Teddy Bridgewater following a loss. The Lions have had a lot of trouble with top level teams in the past couple seasons and they’ve been a mediocre team in first down rate differential over those two seasons as well.

Instead, the Vikings beat the Rams 24-7 and this line subsequently moved to 3 in favor of the Vikings, so a completely different outcome than I was hoping for. That 4.5 point line movement seems like a major overreaction to the Vikings’ win last week. The Rams are a quality opponent, but were not as good as their 7-2 record suggested because they had faced such a weak schedule. That win also keeps Keenum as the Vikings’ quarterback for another week. Keenum is playing as well as he ever has, but Bridgewater was a legitimate franchise quarterback before going down and probably still gives them a better chance to win the Super Bowl. He’s the quarterback the Vikings should be starting in the postseason if they want to make a deep run and it’s in their best interest to get him get some starts in the regular season before then.

Given this line and that Keenum remains the starter for the Vikings, I actually like the Lions’ a decent amount this week. The Lions have had first down rate differentials of -1.90% and -2.49% over the past two seasons respectively and they are 1-4 this season against teams with winning records, after not beating a single playoff team all season in 2016. However, getting a field goal cushion with them is nice, given that about 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less. They also beat the Vikings earlier this year in Minnesota, in their 1 win over a team with a winning record. 

That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll win again, but the Lions are healthier now than they were then with talented left tackle Taylor Decker back from injury and I have this line calculated at even, so we are getting line value with the Lions here. The Vikings also haven’t had a ton of success against winning teams either, as last week was Keenum’s first victory over a likely playoff opponent and it came against a team that has also faced a weak schedule. This is a low confidence pick, but the money line makes some sense given that it’s at +130 and that this game is a toss up at best.

Detroit Lions 24 Minnesota Vikings 23 Upset Pick +130

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3

Confidence: Low

Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears: 2017 Week 11 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (5-4) at Chicago Bears (3-6)

The Lions beat the Browns 38-24 in Detroit last week, but the game was a lot closer than the final score suggested. The Browns led 24-17 in the 3rd quarter, despite allowing a return touchdown earlier in the game and getting no points out of a goal line opportunity at the end of the half. The Browns then had another goal line opportunity in the 4th quarter and threw an interception. The Lions won the first down rate battle, but only by 3.15%. On the season, they rank just 22nd in first down rate differential at -2.05%, similar to last season, when they were -1.90%.

Despite being 5-4 this season and 9-7 last season, they aren’t that good of a team. Last season, they won 8 of 9 games by a touchdown or less and didn’t beat a single playoff team. This season, their margin of victory has been better, but that’s largely because they have a +7 turnover margin, tied for 3rd in the league. Turnover margins tend to be very inconsistent on a year-to-year and week-to-week basis (the Lions were just -1 last season), so the Lions probably won’t be able to count on that going forward. Their strength of victory is also once again pretty unimpressive, as 4 of their 5 wins have come against the Cardinals, Giants, Packers, and Browns.

The Bears, meanwhile, have been underrated for most of the season (5-2-1 ATS through the first 8 games), until last week when they were strangely 6 point home favorites against the Packers. The Bears lost outright, though the loss came by 7 points and the game could have been a lot different had they not fumbled at the goal line in the 2nd quarter. Now the Bears are back to being a little underrated, as they are field goal home underdogs against the Lions this week.

The Bears are 3-0-1 ATS this season as home underdogs, with outright wins against the Steelers and Panthers, so they should be able to give the Lions a good game as well. Even if they end up losing, the field goal gives us enough cushion to be confident in the Bears, as close to 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or less. I have this line calculated at even, despite the Bears likely missing middle linebacker Danny Trevathan, so we’re getting good line value with Chicago +3.

The Bears are in a tough spot with the Eagles on deck, as teams are 48-78 ATS since 2012 before being double digit underdogs, which the Bears will likely be in Philadelphia. Tough upcoming games tend to present a distraction for teams, though the Bears are in a must win spot at 3-6 so I’d be surprised if they didn’t give a good effort. The Lions, on the other hand, have a much tougher and more important game against the Vikings on deck and it’s in 4 days on Thanksgiving. Favorites are just 61-95 ATS since 2008 before Thursday Night Football, as it’s understandably tough to be focused for an inferior opponent with another game right around the corner. I like the Bears a good amount this week as long as we get the full field goal.

Chicago Bears 24 Detroit Lions 23 Upset Pick +140

Pick against the spread: Chicago +3

Confidence: High

Cleveland Browns at Detroit Lions: 2017 Week 10 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (0-8) at Detroit Lions (4-4)

The Browns are winless again at 0-8, but the good news is they come out of their bye as healthy as they’ve been all season defensively. Defensive tackle Danny Shelton, defensive end Myles Garrett, linebacker Jamie Collins, and cornerback Jason McCourty are arguably their best defensive players and all 4 of them have missed time so far this season, but all 4 are healthy this week. They still have injury issues on offense with left tackle Joe Thomas out for the season and wide receiver Corey Coleman out at least another week, but the Browns could conceivably play their best game of the season this week.

Given that, I think this line is a little high at 10.5. The Lions are 4-4 and made the playoffs last season, but they are a mediocre team. They finished last season 28th in first down rate and so far rank 23rd this season. They are 13-11 over the past 2 seasons, but their margin of victory has been just 7.00 points per game, with 9 of 13 wins decided by a touchdown or less. They get left tackle Taylor Decker back from injury this week, but he might not be 100% in his first game back and they are expected to be without right guard TJ Lang and defensive end Ezekiel Ansah this week, two key players on the offensive and defensive lines respectively. There’s not enough for me to bet money on the Browns, but I have this line calculated at -8.5, so we’re getting some line value with Cleveland.

Detroit Lions 24 Cleveland Browns 16

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +10.5

Confidence: Low

Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers: 2017 Week 9 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (3-4) at Green Bay Packers (4-3)

The Lions have been on my overrated last for a while. They made the playoffs last season with a 9-7 record, but 8 of those wins came by a touchdown or less and none of their wins came against playoff qualifiers. They finished the season 28th in first down rate differential, worst among playoff qualifiers. So far this season, they rank 25th in first down rate differential and are 3-4 on the season, with wins over the Cardinals, the Giants, and the Case Keenum led Vikings. They’re arguably even less talented than last season with left tackle Taylor Decker and defensive end Kerry Hyder out indefinitely. They have major problems on the offensive line and in the running game and their defense is middling at best.

Despite that, they seem to still be a little bit overrated, as they are 2.5 point favorites in Green Bay this week. They should only be favored by that many on the road against the worst teams in the league and, even without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers are not among the worst teams in the league. They still have a strong offensive line, good pass catchers, and a capable front 7, and rookie running back Aaron Jones has given life to this running game for the first time in a while.

They played a good New Orleans team close before their bye in Brett Hundley’s first start without top defensive back Morgan Burnett. Now coming off the bye with Burnett back healthy, they should be able to give the Lions a close game too or even pull the upset. I’d need a full field goal to put money on the spread, but the money line is a smart bet at +115 because this game is a toss up at best. If this line creeps up to a field goal before game time, I’ll consider upgrading this to a medium confidence pick. About 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, so getting protection against a field goal win by Detroit is key.

Green Bay Packers 21 Detroit Lions 20 Upset Pick +115

Pick against the spread: Green Bay +2.5

Confidence: Low

Pittsburgh Steelers at Detroit Lions: 2017 Week 8 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) at Detroit Lions (3-3)

The Lions went 9-7 and made the post-season last season and are 3-3 so far this season, but 9 of their 12 wins over the past 2 seasons have come by a touchdown or less and they’ve had trouble beating top level teams. They didn’t defeat a single playoff team in 2016, in a season that culminated with a 26-6 loss in Seattle in the first round of the playoffs, and the 3 teams they’ve defeated so far this season are not that impressive, as they’ve defeated the Cardinals, Giants, and the Case Keenum led Vikings. A year after ranking just 28th in first down rate differential, they rank just 27th this season and they are arguably worse overall this season, as they are without talented left tackle Taylor Decker.

The Steelers are the type of top level team the Lions typically struggle with, but the good news for the Lions is that the Steelers come in banged up, missing right tackle Marcus Gilbert and defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who are among the best players on the team, as well as Vance McDonald, their starting tight end. As a result, I think we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Lions, as I have these two teams about 5 points apart in my roster rankings this week. That suggests that the Steelers should be -2. That’s not a ton of line value and I’m not that confident in the Lions, but grabbing the field goal with the home team is the smarter move for pick ‘em purposes this week.

Pittsburgh Steelers 26 Detroit Lions 24

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3

Confidence: None