Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions: 2017 Week 17 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (7-8) at Detroit Lions (8-7)

The Packers’ season was derailed by an injury to Aaron Rodgers earlier in the season, but that’s not the only injury they are dealing with now. The Packers will also be without wide receivers Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson, outside linebacker Nick Perry, right guard Jahri Evans, and possibly outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who was missed last week’s game against the Vikings and was limited all week in practice. Given everyone that they are missing, they are currently one of the worst teams in the entire league.

The Lions, meanwhile, get right tackle Ricky Wagner and right guard TJ Lang back this week, after both missed last week’s loss in Cincinnati. That being said, I can’t be too confident in the Lions as 7-point favorites, as they really haven’t had that many blowout wins over the past couple years. Just 6 of their 17 wins over the past 2 seasons have come by more than a touchdown, which is particularly relevant given where this line is. They’ve also been worse than their record has suggested in general, finishing last year with a -1.90% first down rate differential despite a 9-7 record and having a -4.25% first down rate differential this season despite a 8-7 record. They still have a good chance to cover this line against a terrible opponent, but I wouldn’t recommend betting on it.

Detroit Lions 27 Green Bay Packers 17

Pick against the spread: Detroit -7

Confidence: Low

Detroit Lions at Cincinnati Bengals: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (8-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-9)

Since blowing a 20-10 4th quarter lead against the Steelers in week 13, the Bengals have lost back-to-back games against the Bears and Vikings by a combined 53 points. However, they’ve dealt with a lot of injuries over those last two games, particularly on defense, where they have been without stud linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Now healthier, I like the Bengals’ chances of bouncing back this week. Teams tend to bounce back after back-to-back blowout losses anyway, going 47-32 ATS since 2002 after two straight losses by 21 or more points.

It’s counterintuitive, but it makes sense, as teams tend to be overlooked, underrated, and embarrassed after back-to-back bad showings. I can’t 100% guarantee that the Bengals will be overlooked or embarrassed this week, but they definitely appear underrated. This line was Detroit -1 a week ago, but now it’s Detroit -3.5, despite Burfict’s return. Two weeks ago, I think this line would have been Cincinnati -3, after their near win in Pittsburgh. About 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer, so that’s a huge swing.

Even at Cincinnati -3, I might take the Bengals. The Lions are 8-6 and went 9-7 last season, but they didn’t beat a single playoff team in 2016 and have just one win against a team with a winning record in 2017. In addition to having a weak strength of victory, they also have a weak margin of victory, with their average win over the past 2 seasons coming by 7.12 points and 7 of 17 wins coming by a field goal or less, very relevant considering this line is 3.5. They just rank 27th in first down rate differential at -3.87%, after finishing last season 28th. The Bengals, meanwhile, rank 24th in that metric at -1.90%, despite two terrible performances in a row.

The Lions have good quarterback play and a strong passing game, but they can’t run the ball and they rank dead last in first down rate allowed. They are also very banged up on the offensive line right now. While the Bengals are getting healthier, the Lions will be without center Travis Swanson and right guard TJ Lang, while right tackle Ricky Wagner is highly questionable after missing last week’s game and being limited in practice all week this week. The Lions won last week at home against the Bears with a banged up offensive line, but that was a mere 10-point win, despite Mitch Trubisky throwing a trio of interceptions, including 2 in the red zone. Turnover margin is very unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so they won’t be able to count on that in this one. I like the Bengals a lot at +3.5.

Cincinnati Bengals 23 Detroit Lions 20 Upset Pick +160

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +3.5

Confidence: High

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (4-9) at Detroit Lions (7-6)

When these two teams met in Chicago 4 weeks ago, I made a big bet on the Bears as 3-point home underdogs. The Lions and Bears have been on my overrated and underrated lists respectively throughout most of this season and Chicago +3 at home seemed like a great value. That line ended up pushing when the Bears missed a potential game tying field goal with time expiring, but I still feel like it was the right side. The Lions scored one of their touchdowns on a fluky fumble return and lost both the first down battle (25 to 20) and the offensive touchdown battle (3 to 2). In first down rate differential, the Bears finished at +6.33% for the game, despite the close loss.

Since then, things have arguably gotten worse for the Lions, as they lost at home to the Vikings, got blown out in Baltimore, and then managed to only win by a field goal in Tampa Bay against a weak Buccaneers team, despite winning the turnover battle by 2, something they’re not going to be able to count on every week. Injuries have become a big problem for this team, as Matt Stafford is playing at less than 100% with a throwing hand injury, while center Travis Swanson will join talented right tackle Ricky Wagner on the sideline this week with an injury, after Wagner missed last week’s game in Tampa Bay.

The Lions sit at 7-6, after going 9-7 last season, but their margin of victory has been slim, with their average victory coming by 6.94 points over the past 2 seasons and 8 of those 16 wins coming by 5 points or fewer. Considering they are favored by 5.5 in this one, that’s very relevant. They also rank 27th in first down rate differential at -4.06%, after posting a -1.90% rate in 2016, as they have allowed 38 more first downs and 4 more offensive touchdowns on the season than they have gained.

The Bears are only 4-9, but they rank 22nd in first down rate differential at -1.40% and they also rank slightly higher in my roster rankings now, given the injury situations of these two teams. While the Lions are banged up, the Bears are getting healthier. Middle linebacker Danny Trevathan, a key player who did not play the last time these two teams met, returned a couple weeks ago, while outside linebacker Pernell McPhee returns from a 1-game absence and safety Adrian Amos and nose tackle Eddie Goldman are questionable to return from 2-game and 1-game absences respectively, after getting in limited practices this week.

The Bears have a talented defense when their key players all are healthy and that could be the case this week for the first time in a while. The Lions, meanwhile, rank dead last in first down rate allowed at 38.13% and have major holes throughout their defense. We lost line value after the Bears’ blowout win in Cincinnati last week, as this line shifted from 6.5 to 5.5, but I like the Bears’ chances of continuing to play well in this game and at least keeping this one close, so 5.5 is still worth a bet.

Detroit Lions 23 Chicago Bears 20

Pick against the spread: Chicago +5.5

Confidence: Medium

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