Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (5-10) at Green Bay Packers (6-8-1)

The rule of thumb with the Lions in the Matt Stafford era is to take them against easier opponents and bet against them against harder opponents. They are just 20-41-2 against teams with a winning record since Stafford’s first full season in 2011 and, more recently, they went 1-11 against eventual playoff teams from 2016-2017, as opposed to 17-4 against non-playoff teams. This season, they are 1-7 against teams currently still in the playoff race and 4-3 in their other 7 games.

The Packers are not in the playoff race and the Lions beat them earlier this season, but they could have easily won that game if not for a career worst performance from kicker Mason Crosby. They’re also better than than record suggests, ranking 16th in first down rate differential at +0.60% and ranking even higher in my roster rankings, even with top defensive linemen Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels out and top cornerback Jaire Alexander likely joining him after not practice all week. They’ve underachieved offensively and lost some close games due to special teams screw ups (including the first Detroit game), but they’ve been better offensive since firing head coach Mike McCarthy and they could easily be in the playoff mix if they had won a couple of their close losses.

The Lions are also worse than they’ve been in recent years, thanks to a significant amount of personnel losses. Just in recent weeks, the Lions have lost right guard TJ Lang, running back Kerryon Johnson, wide receivers Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, and defensive tackles Da’Shawn Hand and A’Shawn Robinson, among others. Given the talent gap between these two teams and the Packers history of dominance at home (38-19 ATS in games Aaron Rodgers has started and finished since 2011), I have this line calculated at Green Bay -10, so we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Packers, but not enough to bet money on them confidently, given how banged up their defense is.

Green Bay Packers 30 Detroit Lions 20

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -7.5

Confidence: Low

Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (7-6-1) at Detroit Lions (5-9)

The Lions have been pretty predictable in the Matt Stafford era, playing well against weaker opponents, but struggling in tougher games. Since Stafford’s first full season as a starter in 2011, the Lions are 20-40-2 ATS and 20-42 straight up against teams with a winning record like the Vikings. Most recently, they went 1-11 against eventual playoff teams between 2016 and 2017, as opposed to 17-4 against non-playoff teams.

The Lions have also incurred a lot of losses over the course of the season, losing right guard TJ Lang, running back Kerryon Johnson, wide receiver Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, and defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand, among others. Quarterback Matt Stafford is also dealing with a back injury that seems to have limited him in recent weeks. They rank 26th in first down rate differential at -3.29% and they’re arguably even worse than that, given all of their missing personnel.

All that being said, this line is pretty high, favoring the Vikings by 6 points on the road. If the Vikings’ offense plays like it did last week in their first game under new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, they should cover with ease, but that’s far from a guarantee, as inconsistent as their offense has been this season. I’m still going with the Vikings, but I would need this line to drop below 6 to consider betting money on Minnesota.

Minnesota Vikings 24 Detroit Lions 16

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -6

Confidence: Low

Detroit Lions at Buffalo Bills: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (5-8) at Buffalo Bills (4-9)

Earlier in the week, I was strongly considering betting on the Lions in this game, for a couple of reasons. For one, the Lions typically play well against losing teams, while struggling against good teams. Since 2014, they are 20-12 ATS against teams with a losing record and they went 17-4 straight up against non-playoff teams between 2016 and 2017. The Bills certainly qualify at 4-9. Their offense has been better since getting Josh Allen back from injury a few weeks ago, but their defense takes a big hit with the losses of linebacker Matt Milano and cornerback Taron Johnson and they could be without running back LeSean McCoy with injury as well this week.

On top of that, the Bills are in a terrible spot and could easily be looking forward to next week’s game in New England. With their season essentially over, the Bills might not bring their best effort against the Lions, ahead of a much bigger game. Since 2014, teams are 39-67 ATS before being double digit underdogs (the early line is New England -13), including 10-18 ATS as favorites, which the Bills are by 2.5 points in this one.

Unfortunately, the Lions have had their own injury issues in the past week, losing stud rookie defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand, slot receiver Bruce Ellington, talented right tackle Rick Wagner, and top edge rusher Ezekiel Ansah. The Lions have lost as much as any team in the league since week 1, with those 4 players joining a list that includes starting wide receivers Marvin Jones and Golden Tate, starting running back Kerryon Johnson, and stud right guard TJ Lang. On top of that, quarterback Matt Stafford is less than 100% with a back injury. The Lions are pretty bad team right now and we’re not getting much line value with them at +2.5. The money line is worth a bet at +120, but I’d need at least +3 to consider betting this spread.

Final Update: The Bills will be without LeSean McCoy and backup Chris Ivory in this one, but the line has still climbed up to +3. Detroit is worth a small bet this week as the better team in the better spot, getting a field goal.

Detroit Lions 19 Buffalo Bills 17 Upset Pick +135

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3

Confidence: Medium

Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals: 2018 Week 14 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (4-8) at Arizona Cardinals (3-9)

I’ve picked against the Lions a lot recently, but that’s because they’ve been playing a lot of teams with winning records and they historically have not done well against teams with winning records in the Matt Stafford era. That changes this week, with the Lions facing the 3-9 Cardinals, the first team they’ve faced since week 4 with a losing record. Since 2014, they are 19-12 ATS against teams with a losing record and they went 17-4 straight up against non-playoff teams between 2016 and 2017. I like their chances of continuing that this week.

The Lions’ offense has taken a lot of hits as the season has gone on, with right guard TJ Lang, wide receiver Marvin Jones, and running back Kerryon Johnson sidelined with injuries and slot receiver Golden Tate now in Philadelphia, but their defense has gotten significantly better as the season has gone on. It hasn’t been that noticeable because of their tough schedule, but defensive end Ezekiel Ansah is back healthy and playing well, defensive tackle Damon Harrison has provided a big boost against the run since being acquiring from the Giants, and young defensive linemen A’Shawn Robinson and Da’Shawn Hand have gotten more playing time and have played well.

That should be more noticeable this week against an Arizona team that is arguably the worst in the league. They pulled the stunning upset in Green Bay last week, but those kind of upset victories tend to be flukes more than anything, as teams are just 15-30 ATS over the past 30 years after a win as 13+ point underdogs. That win also came at a cost, as starting wide receiver Christian Kirk went down for the season with a foot injury, joining left tackle DJ Humphries, right guard Justin Pugh, and top linebacker Josh Bynes as recent injury casualties. The Cardinals rank dead last in first down rate differential at -7.77% and are even worse without those four. I like the Lions a lot in a game in which they basically just need to win to cover. This is a smaller bet at -3.

Detroit Lions 20 Arizona Cardinals 13

Pick against the spread: Detroit -2.5

Confidence: High

Los Angeles Rams at Detroit Lions: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (10-1) at Detroit Lions (4-7)

The book on the Lions since Matt Stafford became a full-time starter in 2011 is to take them in easier games and fade them against tougher opponents. Over that time period, they are 20-39-2 ATS and 20-41 straight up against teams with a winning record. Most recently, they went a combined 1-11 against eventual playoff teams between 2016 and 2017, as opposed to 15-3 in their other 18 games. This year, they’ve beaten the Patriots, Panthers, and Packers, but the Panthers and Packers would have won if not for several missed kicks and both teams could easily end up missing the playoffs anyway.

The Rams certainly count as a tougher opponent, as they are arguably the best team in the league. They haven’t had many blowout wins lately, winning by double digits just twice in their past 9 games, which would seem relevant in a game they’re favored by 9.5 or 10 points, but look at who they’ve played during that stretch: Chargers, Vikings, Seahawks, Broncos, 49ers, Packers, Saints, Seahawks and Chiefs. Aside from the 49ers, who the Rams beat by 29, all of those teams are playoff contenders. The Rams also won by 20+ in their first 2 weeks of the season against the Raiders and Rams.

The Lions are more similar to the teams they’ve blown out, as they rank 26th in first down rate differential at -4.09%. They’ve been better defensively since getting defensive tackle Damon Harrison in a trade from the Giants and getting defensive end Ezekiel Ansah back from injury, but they’ve gone in the opposite direction on offense, trading slot receiver Golden Tate to the Eagles and losing running back Kerryon Johnson, right guard TJ Lang, and wide receiver Marvin Jones to injury.

The Rams are also in a great spot coming out of a bye. Good teams tend to take care of business after a week off, especially on the road, as road favorites of 4+ are a ridiculous 32-8 ATS off a bye since 2002. The bye also allowed them to get healthy, as they come into this game at close to full strength. Not only do they get starting cornerback Aqib Talib back from an extended absence, but fellow starting cornerback Marcus Peters has struggling through an injury and he should be closer to full strength after an extra week off. The Rams’ defense has been shaky recently, ranking 25th in first down rate allowed on the season at 39.67%, but they should be better than that going forward. I like their chances of taking care of business and blowing out the Lions. At -9.5, this is my Pick of the Week, but they’re also worth a big bet at -10.

Los Angeles Rams 31 Detroit Lions 17

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -9.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (7-3) at Detroit Lions (4-6)

The rule of thumb with the Lions in the Matt Stafford era is to bet against them when facing good teams. They are 20-38-2 ATS and 20-40 straight up against teams with winning records since Matt Stafford’s first full season as starter in 2011. Most recently, they went 1-11 against eventual playoff teams between 2016 and 2017. I know the Lions have wins against the Patriots, Packers, and Panthers this season, but the Packers and Panthers would have both won if not for several missed kicks and the Patriots have also lost on the road in Tennessee and Jacksonville this season.

That win against the Panthers came last week, but the Lions had a -5.98% first down rate differential in that game, pushing them down to 25th at -3.78% on the season. Their defense has gotten better in recent weeks with top edge rusher Ezekiel Ansah returning from injury, but their offense has taken major hits, trading away slot receiver Golden Tate, and losing wide receiver Marvin Jones, running back Kerryon Johnson, and right guard TJ Lang with injury. The Bears, on the other hand, rank 1st in first down rate differential at 7.00%, as they’ve been even better than their 7-3 record suggests, losing those 3 games by a combined 11 points and winning the first down rate battle in two of them.

Under ordinary circumstances, I would bet on the Bears in this one, but these are not ordinary circumstances. Not only are the Bears in a bad spot playing in an early game on Thursday Night Football against a last place team that they already beat two weeks ago after getting their biggest win of the season on Sunday Night Football last week against the Vikings, but they’re also missing quarterback Mitch Trubisky with injury.

Trubisky is not the primary reason why the Bears are winning games and the line compensated for his absence, shifting from Chicago -4.5 to Chicago -3, but Chase Daniel is a bit of a mystery as an injury replacement. Despite pocketing over 28 million over a 10-year NFL career, Daniel has thrown just 78 passes in his career and has made just 2 starts. Obviously he’s doing something right behind the scenes to keep getting jobs, but I don’t know how much I trust him on a short week on the road favored by a field goal, especially if the rest of the team is flat on a short week after last week’s big win. The Bears are my choice, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Chicago Bears 20 Detroit Lions 16

Pick against the spread: Chicago -3

Confidence: Low

Carolina Panthers at Detroit Lions: 2018 Week 11 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (6-3) at Detroit Lions (3-6)

The Lions look on their way to a lost season at 3-6, in their first year under head coach Matt Patricia. The Lions went 9-7 in each of the past two seasons, but did not play like a 9-7 team in either season, finishing 28th in first down rate differential in 2016 and 26th in 2017. Now ranking 25th at -3.54%, the Lions have not been able to pull out late, close victories this season like they have in years past and it shows in their record.

They’ve also had injury issues. Franchise tagged defensive end Ezekiel Ansah is going into his 3rd game back after missing 6 games with injury earlier in the season, while #1 cornerback Darius Slay returns from a one game absence, but they placed talented right guard TJ Lang on injured reserve and will also be without starting wide receiver Marvin Jones and key run stuffer A’Shawn Robinson in this one. They also traded key slot receiver Golden Tate for a third round pick at the trade deadline, which hurt this offense significantly.

The Lions have never had much success against good teams like the Panthers anyway, going 19-38-2 ATS and 19-40 straight up against teams with winning records since Matt Stafford’s first full season as starter in 2011. Most recently, they went 1-11 between 2016 and 2017 against eventual playoff teams. They beat the Patriots and Packers this year, but the Patriots were not in mid-season form at that point (they lost to the Jaguars the week before), while the Packers would have won if Mason Crosby hadn’t had the worst game of his life (and the Packers might not end up as a playoff team anyway).

All of this being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lions kept this game close at home. This line is pretty high at -4.5, given that about 30% of games are decided by 4 points or fewer. The Panthers’ only win on the road this season came in a game in which they trailed by 17 points in the 4th quarter and I think this line is just a little bit too high. I can’t take the Lions with any confidence, but they are my pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Carolina Panthers 24 Detroit Lions 20

Pick against the spread: Detroit +4.5

Confidence: None