Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions: 2021 Week 18 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (13-3) at Detroit Lions (2-13-1)

The Packers have nothing to play for this week, having clinched the #1 seed in the NFC last week, and this spread expects them to play their key starters very little, as the Packers would not be mere 3.5-point favorites in Detroit in normal circumstances. My calculated line has the Packers favored by 10.5 if the Lions are missing their two talented tackles Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell, who are both in COVID protocols, and favored by 9 if both Decker and Sewell play. 

However, those calculated lines are meaningless if we don’t know how much action the Packers’ key starters will get. Aaron Rodgers, for his part, says he wants to play, but his head coach Matt LaFleur has also said Rodgers doesn’t need to play and it’s possible he only plays enough to get Davante Adams to some receiving milestones and to put up another few drives to keep fresh in the minds of MVP voters. 

This line doesn’t suggest the Packers’ starters won’t play at all, as they are still favored on the road by more than a field goal, but they may need only Rodgers and Adams to play a half to cover this spread, especially with Jordan Love being a capable backup. I am taking the Packers for now, but this can’t be anything more than a no confidence pick unless something changes or we hear something definitive on how the Packers will approach a meaningless game, with a bye week secured for next week.

Green Bay Packers 24 Detroit Lions 20

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -3.5

Confidence: None

Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks: 2021 Week 17 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (2-12-1) at Seattle Seahawks (5-10)

The Seahawks are just 5-10, but they are a lot better than their record. Their point differential is just -1, as they have gone 2-5 in one score games, and that is despite the fact that Russell Wilson missed three games and was limited in about another three games with injury. The Seahawks are solid on defense (20th in schedule adjusted efficiency) and special teams (6th), so when Wilson is healthy, they are much better than a 5-10 team. 

The Seahawks lost to the Bears last week, but it was a 1-point loss in which the Seahawks won the yards per play battle in that matchup by 1.6 yards per play, losing the game primarily because of third downs (3/10 to 7/14), which are not as predictive on a week-to-week basis as early downs. I suspect the Seahawks would win that game significantly more than half of the team if they played that game a hundred times.

Now the Seahawks get an even easier game with the Lions coming to town. The Lions have been better than their 2-12-1 record this season, with just four of their losses coming by more than ten points, but they are starting backup quarterback Tim Boyle, who is one of the worst backup quarterbacks in the league, which significantly hurts their chances of keeping this game close as 7.5-point underdogs. 

The only reason I am not betting on the Seahawks is because this could be a look-ahead spot for them with a much tougher game against the Rams on deck. Favorites of a touchdown or more cover at a 42.6% rate all-time against an opponent with a record more than 50% worse than their next opponents’ record, which applies here. The Seahawks are still the pick for pick ‘em purposes though, as they should be able to get their fourth multiscore win of the season against a Lions team that is missing key personnel on both sides of the ball.

Seattle Seahawks 22 Detroit Lions 13

Pick against the spread: Seattle -7.5

Confidence: Low

Detroit Lions at Atlanta Falcons: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (2-11-1) at Atlanta Falcons (6-8)

The Falcons are 6-8 and technically still in the mix for a playoff spot in the NFC, but they don’t have any impressive wins, as all six of their wins have come by one-score against teams with a .500 record or worse. Meanwhile, their eight losses have come by an average of 20.63 points per game, including six losses by 13 points or more. In total, the Falcons have a point differential of -126, 4th worst in the NFL, and their efficiency metrics are even worse, as they rank 24th, 29th, 28th, and 30th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, mixed efficiency respectively. Fortunately for the Falcons, they get another easy game this week with the Detroit Lions coming to town, sitting at 2-11-1. 

The Lions did win last week in shocking upset fashion against the Cardinals, but teams tend to struggle the week after a big upset win, covering at just a 41.4% rate after a win as double digit underdogs, as teams tend to be flat after such a big win and they tend to be overvalued as well. In the Lions’ case, they have moved from being 6.5-point underdogs on the early line last week to now 6-point underdogs, which is not a big swing, unless you consider that it happened despite the fact that the Lions will be without starting quarterback Jared Goff in this game, leaving overmatched Tim Boyle to make his second career start, a big concern considering how much he struggled in his debut.

The Falcons haven’t blown anyone out this year, but this is probably their best chance to do it, so we’re getting some value with them as 6-point favorites. My calculated line is only Atlanta -7, so we’re not getting a ton of line value with them, but when you add in that the Lions could be flat after essentially winning their Super Bowl last week, there is enough here to be somewhat confident in the Falcons. I think I would need this line to drop to 5.5 to consider placing a bet on the Falcons, but I will also reconsider a bet on this game if there are any further significant COVID absences or reactivations.

Atlanta Falcons 24 Detroit Lions 16

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -6

Confidence: Low

Arizona Cardinals at Detroit Lions: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (10-3) at Detroit Lions (1-11-1)

The Cardinals went 2-1 in the three games that Kyler Murray missed, but when Murray returned I said the Cardinals were in more trouble than that suggested, as they faced a relatively easy schedule without Murray and still had just an even point differential in those three games, due to injury absences beyond Murray. In addition to Murray being out, the Cardinals were also without top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and talented left guard Justin Pugh on offense, while their defense was without one of their best players, interior defender JJ Watt. The Cardinals won Murray’s first game back, but they needed to win the turnover battle by 4 to beat the Bears by 11 and then last week the Cardinals lost at home to the Rams, who were missing key players due to COVID protocols.

Hopkins returned for the past two games and Pugh returned last week, but Hopkins is now out indefinitely, while Pugh was still very limited in practice this week and, even if Pugh does play, the Cardinals will be without at least one offensive line starter, with center Rodney Hudson in COVID protocols, so Murray will have less help than he has had since returning. Meanwhile, their defense has really not been the same without Watt, who will now be joined on the sidelines by top cornerback Robert Alford, which is another big loss for this defense, given how thin they are at the cornerback position.

Given that, it’s hard to justify them being 12.5-point favorites on the road. The Cardinals are facing the Lions, who have the league’s worst record, but the Lions are at home and they have been competitive in most of their games, as just four of their 13 games has resulted in a loss that would have led to the Lions failing to cover a 12.5-point spread. The Cardinals could also overlook the Lions, with this game sandwiched in between a tough loss to the Rams and a much tougher game against the Colts on deck next week. Favorites of a touchdown or more cover at just a 43.4% rate all-time before facing an opponent with a winning percentage more than 40% higher than their current opponent’s winning percentage and that applies here.

The Lions are short-handed as well, again missing tight end TJ Hockenson and running back D’Andre Swift, who both missed the Lions’ blowout loss in Denver last week, but they got center Evan Brown back and could also get back both running back Jamaal Williams and safety Tracy Walker, which would be big re-additions. Depending on the status of those players and other key questionable players (Pugh, Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz, Lions left guard Jonah Jackson), I may place a bet on the Lions, but there is a lot of uncertainty here right now.

Update: Tracy Walker is playing, but Jamaal Williams is out, as is Jonah Jackson, while both Justin Pugh and Zach Ertz will play for the Cardinals. I am leaving this as a low confidence pick.

Arizona Cardinals 27 Detroit Lions 17

Pick against the spread: Detroit +12.5

Confidence: Low

Detroit Lions at Denver Broncos: 2021 Week 14 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (1-10-1) at Denver Broncos (6-6)

I have picked the Lions in recent weeks, betting them frequently, as winless teams tend to be a good bet late in the season and, in fact, the Lions have now covered in five of their last six games, after last week’s upset win over the Vikings. However, now the Lions are not winless anymore and they could be in a bad spot after an emotional upset victory, as teams cover at just a 41.0% rate after a win as home underdogs of 5 points or more. The Lions could easily still be overlooked though, especially by a Broncos team that is coming off a tough loss to the Chiefs and now gets an easy opponent before another tough conference matchup against the Bengals. 

Teams cover the spread at just a 42.7% rate as favorites of a touchdown or more before facing an opponent with a winning percentage over 50% higher than their current opponent, which applies in this situation and effectively cancels out the Lions’ bad trend. On top of that, part of the reason why teams tend to struggle after a big home upset wins is because they become overrated off of overreaction to a single week of play, but the Lions went from being 8.5-point underdogs on the early line last week to now being 10-point underdogs this week, despite the Broncos looking underwhelming in Kansas City. 

That’s partially because the Lions will be without a pair of key offensive playmakers in running back Jamaal Williams and tight end TJ Hockenson, after already losing running back DeAndre Swift the week before, but my calculated line still has the Broncos favored by just a touchdown at most, despite the Lions’ injury absences. Even though the Lions have a terrible record, they haven’t been blown out much, as just three of their 12 games have ended in a defeat by more than 10 points, which is important, considering this line is at 10. 

The Broncos are unlikely to be the team that pushes that number to four. The Broncos started 3-0 against a weak schedule, winning all three games by double digits, but they have lost key players like Von Miller, Josey Jewell, AJ Johnson, and Graham Glasgow since then and have slipped to 6-6, while ranking just 21st, 4th, 29th, and 19th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency. The Lions, despite their league worst record, rank 25th, 28th, 9th, and 27th respectively, about four points behind the Broncos. This isn’t worth a big play, but I would expect this to be another relatively close game for the Lions, who are not as bad as their record.

Update: The COVID absences have continued for the Lions, with safety Tracy Walker and edge defender Julian Okwara being the most notable of the players who were also ruled out after Jamaal Williams. I am regretting locking this in at 10, as the line has since shifted to 11, and even at 11 I don’t know if I would be confident in the Lions, given how short-handed they will be this week.

Denver Broncos 23 Detroit Lions 16

Pick against the spread: Detroit +10

Confidence: Medium

Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (5-6) at Detroit Lions (0-10-1)

The Lions are famously winless, heading into week 13 at 0-10-1, but winless teams actually tend to be a good bet against the spread this late in the season, as they tend to be undervalued by oddsmakers and the public, they tend to get overlooked by their opponents, and they tend to bring their best effort every week, in desperate pursuit of their first win. In all, winless teams cover at a 63.0% rate in week 9 or later.

The Lions also aren’t getting blown out every week either. They have been outscored by an average of 10.5 points per game, which gives them a point differential of -115, which is actually ahead of a couple teams (Texans and Jets), but even that suggests they are getting blown out more often than they are, with just three of their eleven games resulting in losses by more than 10 points, including a game against the Packers in which they led at halftime in Green Bay. 

The Vikings have not had any blowout losses, with their 8-point loss to the 49ers last week being their biggest margin of defeat of the season, but that seems to be a well known fact by the public, as many consider them a couple wins better than their record. However, that ignores that most of their wins have been close as well, including a few that could have gone the other way and just one win by multiple scores, relevant considering this is a 7.5-point line. Their point differential is +5 and their efficiency ratings don’t make them look any better, as they rank 14th, 30th, 5th, and 21st in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, suggesting this has been no better than an average team this season.

Making matters worse for the Vikings, they are dealing with some tough health situations that make them more of a below average team, at least slightly. Their defensive line figures to be healthier this week, with both starting interior defenders Dalvin Tomlinson and Michael Pierce likely to return from short-term absences, but they’re still without their two best edge defenders Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen, while their secondary is likely to be without top cornerback Patrick Peterson and their linebacking corps is expected to be without top linebacker Eric Kendricks. On the other side of the ball, the Vikings will be without feature back Dalvin Cook and talented starting left tackle Christian Darrisaw, which are both big absences. 

My calculated line has the Vikings as just 5-point favorites in Detroit, so we’re getting good line value with the Lions at +7.5. The Vikings are also in a bad spot, having to play again in four days against the Steelers, as favorites have covered at just a 41.2% rate all-time before a Thursday game. With another game around the corner, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see the Vikings overlook the winless Lions, which could lead to the Lions at least keeping it close, as they have many times this season, including a near win in Minnesota earlier this season, back when the Vikings were healthier. I like the Lions a lot at +7.5.

Minnesota Vikings 24 Detroit Lions 20

Pick against the spread: Detroit +7.5

Confidence: High

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions: 2021 Week 12 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (3-7) at Detroit Lions (0-9-1)

Both of these teams are dealing with injuries to their expected starting quarterback. The Bears’ situation is less concerning, with experienced veteran Andy Dalton being the backup. Dalton obviously lacks the upside or athleticism of rookie starting quarterback Justin Fields, but he is probably an upgrade as a passer and might not be a downgrade overall. The Lions’ situation is more concerning because, as bad as Jared Goff has been as a starter this season, backup Tim Boyle is still a big downgrade, struggling mightily in his debut last week after previously throwing just four passes in four seasons in the league after going undrafted in 2018. 

The good news for the Lions, however, is that, unlike Fields, who has been ruled out, Goff is questionable and seems like he is on the right side of questionable and likely to start after a one-game absence. This team still has a lot of problems even if Goff plays, but they are not as bad as their record suggests, as many of their losses have been close. Their -113 point differential is certainly not good, but it’s better than the point differential of the Texans (-121) and Jets (-142), who have probably had worse seasons than the Lions, despite managing to win a couple games each.

That point differential shows they are being outscored by an average of 11.3 points per game, but even that suggests they are getting blown out more often than they are, with just three of their ten games resulting in losses by more than 10 points, including a game against the Packers in which they led at halftime in Green Bay. By contrast, four of their ten games have been decided by three points or fewer, relevant given that they are 3-point underdogs in this game. That’s all despite the fact that the Lions have faced an above average schedule and, in fact, this home game against the Bears is arguably the easiest game of their season. 

The Bears are 3-7 and have been as bad as their record suggests, with the 6th worst point differential in the league at -77 and rankings of 29th, 12th, and 22nd in offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively. This once dominant defense is not what it was, due to several key off-season departures in recent years and now some in-season injuries, most impactfully the ones suffered by Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks, arguably their two best defensive players, whose absence makes their defense even worse than their efficiency rank. Meanwhile, their offense has struggled as much as it has in recent years, regardless of who they have started at quarterback. 

The Lions rank 27th, 27th, and 4th in offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively, which is very underwhelming, but still doesn’t make them the worst team in the league and it makes them a decent value as 3-point home underdogs, assuming Goff can play. Winless teams also tend to be a good bet this late in the season, covering the spread at a 63.3% rate in week 9 or later. I still wouldn’t bet them in that scenario, but if Goff plays and this line stays put, they are the better side for pick ‘em purposes. If Goff is out, I will likely be on the Bears for no confidence as a pure fade of Tim Boyle. I am leaving this as a no confidence pick on the Lions, but I will likely have an update based on Goff’s status and any potential line movement.

Update: It sounds like Goff is playing, so I’m bumping this up to low confidence before the line drops below a field goal, which it could on Thursday morning.

Chicago Bears 24 Detroit Lions 23

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3

Confidence: Low

Detroit Lions at Cleveland Browns: 2021 Week 11 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (0-8-1) at Cleveland Browns (5-5)

Ordinarily, this would be a look ahead spot for the Browns, who have a much tougher game next week in Baltimore, after this game against the winless Lions. Favorites of a touchdown or more cover at just a 41.5% rate all-time before facing an opponent with a winning percentage that is 60% higher or more than their current opponent’s winning percentage, which would apply to the Browns. On top of that, winless teams tend to be a good bet after a certain point in the season, covering at a 63.0% rate all-time in week 9 or later.

However, the Browns are coming off of a blowout 45-7 loss in New England and will probably be more focused than they normally would have in this game, as they try to bounce back from an embarrassing loss. Teams cover at a 58.2% rate all-time after a loss by 35 points or more, as a result of being some combination of undervalued, overlooked, and embarrassed. The Lions, meanwhile, could be tired after a tie with the Steelers last week, with teams going 11-17 ATS all-time after a tie. The Lions have played a lot of their losses close, but they also haven’t had back-to-back close losses, following up every single digit loss with a double digit loss and they could be flat again this week after coming so close last week.

Meanwhile, despite the Browns’ blowout loss last week, they are still much better than their record suggests, as they have faced a tough schedule and have three one-score losses, including a pair of games in which they won the first down rate and yards per play battle, but lost the turnover battle. They rank 10th, 5th, and 5th respectively in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency on the season, despite dealing with a significant amount of short-term injury absences, many of whom have since returned. Still one of the more talented teams in the league, I have the Browns calculated as 14-point favorites in this matchup with the Lions.

This line favors the Browns by 12, so we are getting some line value with the Browns, but not nearly enough to bet them, especially with the conflicting trends and other uncertainties in this game. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield will be playing at less than 100% with several injuries and the extent to which he’ll be limited is unclear, while the Lions will be turning to unproven backup Tim Boyle, who has thrown four passes in four seasons in the league. 

It’s possible Boyle’s lack of experience could work to the Lions’ benefit, as the Browns won’t have much tape of him to prepare with, but it’s also possible he shows why he hasn’t played much in his career and proves to be completely overmatched. Not knowing which will be the case makes this game even tougher to predict. The Browns are still the pick for pick ‘em purposes, but I am not confident in them at all.

Cleveland Browns 26 Detroit Lions 13

Pick against the spread: Cleveland -12

Confidence: None

Detroit Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2021 Week 10 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (0-8) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3)

The Pittsburgh Steelers were a 12-4 team a year ago, but many of their wins came by small margins against weak opponents, with a dominant defense masking significant flaws on offense. As their schedule got harder, the Steelers, who won their first 11 games, lost five of their final six games, including a first round playoff exit. Overall, just three of their twelve wins came by more than ten points and their nine games that were within that margin of 10 included teams like the Giants, Broncos, Texans, Eagles, and Cowboys, who all finished 6-10 or worse, as well as a matchup against a Ravens team that was playing many backups due to a COVID outbreak.

Coming into this season, the Steelers’ didn’t look noticeably improved on offense, while their defense had the potential to be significantly worse than last year’s dominant unit, as a result of off-season losses and general regression to the mean. The Steelers have gotten out to a 5-3 start, despite their schedule being tougher than a year ago, but they have not been as good as their record, as their three losses have come by more points combined (33) than their five wins (25). In fact, their biggest margin of victory all season is just seven points.

Despite that, the Steelers are still favored by 8.5 points in this game. The Lions may seem like a team they should be favored by more than a touchdown against, as they are the league’s last remaining winless team, but that doesn’t mean they are the worst team in the league, as many of their losses have been close. On average, their losses have come by an average of 13.8 points per game and their -110 point differential is not the worst in the league, but even that makes it seem like they’ve been blown out more than they have been, as five of their eight losses have been kept within 10 points and one of their three losses by more than 10 points came in a game in which the Lions led the Packers at halftime in Green Bay. 

Overall, the Lions rank 24th, 27th, and 4th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively, which isn’t too far behind the Steelers, who haven’t been particularly good on any side of the ball this season, ranking 16th, 20th, and 17th respectively in those three metrics. The Lions should also get a boost in this matchup with talented left tackle Taylor Decker set to make his season debut after missing all of the season to this point with injury, a significant re-addition for this team. Given how many close games these two teams tend to play and that the Lions are getting healthier, I have this line calculated at Pittsburgh -5.5, so we’re getting significant line value with the Lions at +8.5.

The Lions’ biggest margin of defeat of the season came in their most recent matchup, a 44-6 defeat at home against the Eagles, but they were likely flat in that matchup after giving their best effort against the Rams in a close loss the week before, and that blowout loss should put the Lions in a good spot this week, as they will be embarrassed after that loss and will likely be much more focused to try to prove people wrong. In total, teams cover at a 58.7% rate all-time after a loss by 35 points or more, in part because teams tend to give their best effort after being embarrassed, but also partially because teams tend to be overlooked after a blowout loss. 

Going off of that, the Lions being winless is another reason they could be overlooked and, typically as a result of being overlooked, winless teams tend to be a good bet this late in the season, covering at a 64.9% rate in week 9 or later. The Steelers are especially likely to overlook the Lions given that they have a much tougher game on deck in Los Angeles against the Chargers on Sunday Night Football next week. Favorites of a touchdown or more cover at just a 42.9% rate before facing an opponent whose winning percentage is at least 50% higher than their current opponent’s winning percentage. With the Lions in a much better spot than the Steelers, who are overvalued as 8.5-point favorites, the Lions are an easy choice in this matchup against the spread and are worth a big play.

Update: I am glad I locked this in at 8.5, because Ben Roethlisberger is out for this game with COVID and the Steelers will turn to backup Mason Rudolph. The line has dropped to 6 as a result. For those wondering, I would still bet the Lions at 6, but not for as big of a play because I don’t think there is much difference between Roethlisberger and Rudolph and a line movement that involved key numbers of 6 and 7 is significant. With Rudolph under center, my calculated line is Pittsburgh -3.5. There is a decent chance the Lions could win their first game of the season this week.

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 Detroit Lions 20

Pick against the spread: Detroit +8.5

Confidence: High

Philadelphia Eagles at Detroit Lions: 2021 Week 8 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (2-5) at Detroit Lions (0-7)

Neither of these teams has an impressive record, but both teams have been better than their record. The Lions are the league’s last remaining winless team, but they have faced an above average schedule and are not getting blown out most weeks. On average, their losses have come by an average of 10.3 points per game, but even that makes it seem like they’ve been blown out more than they have been, as five of their seven losses have been kept within 10 points, while one of their two losses by more than 10 points came in a game in which the Lions led the Packers at halftime in Green Bay.

The Eagles, meanwhile, have faced arguably the league’s three best offensive teams, the Chiefs, Cowboys, and Buccaneers, who rank 2nd, 1st, and 4th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency. Overall, the Eagles have held their own defensively this season, ranking 8th in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, even after a disappointing performance against the Raiders last week. The Eagles have not been as good on offense, ranking 20th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency, but they have gotten back a pair of key offensive lineman, left tackle Jordan Mailata and right tackle Lane Johnson, so they should have better offensive performances going forward.

Unfortunately, with both teams being a little underrated, we aren’t getting any line value with either side, as my calculated line is right at Philadelphia -3.5, where this line is in reality. I am taking the Eagles for pick ‘em purposes for one reason and that’s because the Lions could be flat after coming up short in Jared Goff’s revenge game against the Rams last week, but I’m not sure how much of a hangover effect there will be from that in this matchup, especially with the Lions having still not won a game and desperate to get into the win column (winless teams cover at a 58.0% rate all-time in week 6 or later).

Update: This line has dropped down to 3, which is significant because 1 in 6 games are decided by a field goal. I still wouldn’t bet the Eagles, but I am upping the confidence on this a little bit.

Philadelphia Eagles 24 Detroit Lions 20

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -3

Confidence: Low