Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks: 2016 NFL Wild Card Round Pick

Detroit Lions (9-7) at Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1)

Detroit made the playoffs with a 9-7 record, despite losing their final 3 games of the regular season, but they’re one of a few playoff teams I don’t think much of (Houston, Oakland, and Miami are the others). They’re the only playoff team that hasn’t beaten another playoff team, entering with a 0-5 record in games against playoff teams (losses to the Texans, the Giants, the Cowboys, and the Packers twice). Even though all 9 of their victories came against non-playoff teams, just one came by more than a touchdown, meaning they were squeaking out victories against non-playoff teams all season to get to this point. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank 28th, the worst among playoff teams.

They didn’t get blown out a lot, losing just twice by more than a touchdown all year, but both losses by more than a touchdown came against playoff teams (the Cowboys and the Giants) and both losses to the Packers involved garbage time scoring that made the final score a lot closer. In last week’s home loss to the Packers, the Lions were down by two touchdowns before a meaningless touchdown with 13 seconds left in the game. In their loss in Green Bay, they were down 31-3 in the first half and did most of their damage in garbage time in an eventual 34-27 loss. Aside from those two games, their only loss by a touchdown or less against a playoff team was a 7-point loss to the Texans and the Texans are also a very weak playoff team. In fact, that 7-point victory tied the Texans’ 2nd highest margin of victory of the season.

This all is very relevant because this line is at 8, so if the Lions can keep this within a touchdown again, they’ll cover this spread. The Seahawks are a much better team than the Texans, but come into this game with a lot of questions, given how they ended the season. Aside from a blowout victory over the lowly Rams, who had just fired their coach 3 days earlier, the Seahawks have been very underwhelming for the last month of the season, since losing stud safety Earl Thomas for the year with a broken leg. They were blown out in Green Bay. They lost at home to Arizona. And last week, they barely won in San Francisco. They enter the post-season 8th in first down rate differential, which is solid, but they also had one of the easiest schedules in the league and are not the same team without Thomas. I’m taking the Lions to keep this within a touchdown, but I can’t take them for any sort of confidence.

Seattle Seahawks 27 Detroit Lions 20

Pick against the spread: Detroit +8

Confidence: None

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Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions: 2016 Week 17 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (9-6) at Detroit Lions (9-6)

I always talk about the inconsistency of turnover margins and why using past turnover margins as evidence for predictions of future turnover margins is basically useless. The Packers are a great example of that. Through the first 12 games of the season, the Packers were -5 in turnover margin on the season, but over the past 3 weeks they are +12. Unfortunately for them, that works both ways and teams that have a +12 turnover margin or better over a 3 game span, on average, have a turnover margin of +0.0 the following week. Despite their recent run to put them in position to win the NFC North, the Packers rank just 12th in first down rate differential.

The Lions, meanwhile, rank just 27th in that metric, despite their 9-6 record, and actually have a -5 point differential on the season, as 8 of their 9 victories have come by a touchdown or less. That’s why this isn’t a bigger bet on Detroit, but we’re still getting great line value with them as 3.5 point home underdogs. This line suggests the Packers are about 6.5 points better than Detroit, which don’t make sense. About 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less, so the Lions have plenty of room to cover even if they don’t win this game straight up. The Packers are just 2-5 ATS on the road this season anyway, with losses in Minnesota, Atlanta, Tennessee, and Washington, so I really don’t understand this line. Even just 2 weeks ago, the Packers won by just a field goal in Chicago and that was despite winning the turnover margin by 4, something they’re far from guaranteed to do again this week. If you can get more than a field goal, Detroit is worth a bet.

Green Bay Packers 31 Detroit Lions 30

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3.5

Confidence: Medium

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Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys: 2016 Week 16 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (9-5) at Dallas Cowboys (12-2)

With the Eagles’ upset victory over the Giants on Thursday Night Football, the Dallas Cowboys have clinched the NFC East and homefield advantage all the way through to the Super Bowl. The Cowboys have said they won’t take their foot off the gas, but it’s going to be tough for them to match Detroit’s intensity this week given that Detroit is still fighting for a playoff spot. Unfortunately, the line moved a point from 7 to 6 after the result of the Philadelphia game, a significant point given that about 9% of games are decided by exactly a touchdown.

If this line was still a touchdown, this would be worth a bet, as I like the spot Detroit is in besides the fact that this game is actually meaningful for them in the standings. The Lions are at an advantage because they are in their second of two road games. Teams are 142-108 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 113-74 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 239-254 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.94 points per game, as opposed to 341-476 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 2.96 points per game. On top of that, the Cowboys have no real homefield advantage because their fans travel so well. They’re just 11-28 ATS as home favorites since 2010. At 6, this is a low confidence pick, but if there are any 7s still floating out there it’s worth grabbing.

Dallas Cowboys 24 Detroit Lions 20

Pick against the spread: Detroit +6

Confidence: Low

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Detroit Lions at New York Giants: 2016 Week 15 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (9-4) at New York Giants (9-4)

At first glance, these teams appear very similar. Both teams are 9-4, but both teams have also won a lot of close games. In fact, between the two teams, 16 of their 18 wins have come by 7 points or fewer. Detroit beat New Orleans by 15, while the Giants won by 14 in Cleveland, and aside from that all their other wins have come by a touchdown or less. The big difference between these two teams: Detroit has a +4 turnover margin, while the Giants have done this despite a -5 turnover margin.

Why does that matter? Well, turnover margins are very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis so I tend to value teams that consistently move the chains above teams that consistently win the turnover battle. The Giants rank 8th in first down rate, while the Lions rank 19th. However, we’ve lost all line value with the Giants following their home victory over the Cowboys last week. This line has shifted from 3.5 to 4.5 in the past week. Considering about 3 in 10 games are decided by 4 points or fewer, this line is pretty high. The Giants are the significantly better team here, but this is a no confidence pick at 4.5.

New York Giants 23 Detroit Lions 17

Pick against the spread: NY Giants -4.5

Confidence: None

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Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions: 2016 Week 14 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (3-9) at Detroit Lions (8-4)

The Lions are 8-4, but rank 22nd in first down rate differential. They’ve allowed 8 more first downs than they’ve gained and 3 more touchdowns than they’ve scored. Their 15-point win in New Orleans last week was easily their most impressive game of the season, but their other seven wins all came by a touchdown or less and all required 4th quarter comebacks. That’s relevant considering the Lions are favored by 7.5 points here as home against the Bears.

The Bears are one of the weaker teams in the NFL thanks to injuries and suspensions, as they’re missing their top two quarterbacks (Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer), their top-4 pass catchers (Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White, Zach Miller, and Eddie Royal), their best offensive lineman (Kyle Long), and three of their best defensive players (middle linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman and cornerback Kyle Fuller). However, they’re still fighting, keeping it close with Tennessee two weeks ago and winning straight up by 20 as home underdogs against the 49ers last week. There’s not enough here for me to put money on it, but I like the Bears’ chances of keeping this within a touchdown.

Detroit Lions 23 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: Chicago +7.5

Confidence: Low

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Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints: 2016 Week 13 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (7-4) at New Orleans Saints (5-6)

The Saints enter this game at 5-6 and the Lions enter at 7-4, but the Saints have been much better than their record this season, while the Lions have been much worse than their record. On the season, the Saints have 43 more first downs than their opponents (the 2nd best differential in the league) and 11 more offensive touchdowns than their opponents (tied for the 3rd best differential in the league), but are just 5-6 because of because of a -4 margin in return touchdowns and 5 losses by 6 points or fewer (including 4 losses by 3 points or fewer). They could easily be 7-4 or 8-3 right now if a few things had gone their way.

The Lions, meanwhile, have trailed in the 4th quarter of all 11 games, but have managed to pull off the comeback in 7 of them. That’s impressive, but hardly sustainable. While the Saints enter this game 4th in first down rate differential, the Lions enter in 26th as they’ve allowed 12 more first downs than they’ve gained and 4 more offensive touchdowns than they’ve scored. Unfortunately, we’ve lost a ton of line value in the wake of New Orleans’ 49-21 blowout victory over the Rams last week, as this line has jumped from 3.5 on the early line to 6 this week. With that in mind, I’m actually taking the Lions here for pick ‘em purposes, as underdogs of 6 or more are 149-99 ATS since 1989 before being favorites of 6 or more, which the Lions will be next week when they host the Bears. With no real upcoming distractions, the Lions have a good chance of keeping it close against a superior opponent once again. The Lions don’t have a loss by more than a touchdown all season. I wouldn’t put money on either side though.

Update: There have been some injury developments on Saturday. Top linebacker Tahir Whitehead was ruled out for the Lions despite practicing in a limited fashion this week. Wide receiver Marvin Jones has also practiced in a limited fashion this week, but reportedly will also sit tomorrow, though he hasn’t officially been ruled out. It’s a bad sign for his chances that the Lions called another wide receiver up off the practice squad though. Despite those developments, this line has dropped from 6 to 5.5 today. It’s still a no confidence pick, but I’m switching to the Saints.

New Orleans Saints 34 Detroit Lions 27

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -5.5

Confidence: None

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Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions: 2016 Week 12 NFL Pick

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

The Vikings lost at home to the Lions in upset fashion a few weeks ago, but the good news is comparable teams tend to split the season series, even if the road team pulls the upset in the first game. Divisional road underdogs are 60-33 ATS since 2002 in same season divisional revenge games against an opponent that previously beat them as home favorites and they also pull the upset and win straight up about half the time. These two teams are about as comparable as it gets, as they enter this game with identical records and one spot apart in first down rate differential.

Neither team is as good as their record, as the Vikings rank 22nd and the Lions rank 23rd in first down rate differential. The Vikings have relied on a +13 turnover margin and a +5 return touchdown margin to mask an offense that has been one of the least effective at moving the ball in the league this season, two things that tend to be very tough to rely on and very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. The Lions, meanwhile, have trailed in all 10 games in the 4th quarter and don’t have a single victory by more than a touchdown. Ordinarily, these are both teams I’d bet against, but I obviously can’t bet against both here.

The Vikings have a powerful trend on their side, but they’re also only 2.5 point underdogs, which suggests they’re a little bit better than the Lions. I disagree with that, especially with the Vikings likely being without top receiver Stefon Diggs with injury. It’s only a half point, but 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal so I wish we were getting the full field goal with Minnesota. At 2.5, I’m actually going to take the Lions and hope for a field goal game, but this is a no confidence pick to start the week either way.

Detroit Lions 20 Minnesota Vikings 17

Pick against the spread: Detroit -2.5

Confidence: None

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