Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Detroit Lions: 2020 Week 16 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-5) at Detroit Lions (5-9)

The Buccaneers’ 9-5 record doesn’t jump off the page, but they’ve been one of the better teams in the league this season. They’ve faced one of the toughest schedules in the league, with their five losses coming against opponents who are a combined 49-21. On top of that, three of those losses came by 3 points or fewer, as opposed to just one win all season by 3 points or fewer. In total, the Buccaneers are 8-2 in games decided by more than a field goal. They rank 6th in point differential at +80, despite a tough schedule, and, in terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, they rank 2nd at +3.75%.

That’s more or less where the Buccaneers have ranked all season, but how they’ve been successful has shifted. Earlier in the year, they were very reliant on their defense, which ranked first in first down rate allowed over expected for most of the early part of the season, but dominant defenses tend to regress to the mean as the season goes on, especially as injuries pile up. 

The Buccaneers have not been an exception and they are missing key players like defensive tackle Vita Vea and cornerback Carlton Davis, but they have made up for their declining defense by improving on offense, as Tom Brady has gotten more comfort in this offense, with wide receivers Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown being integrated after missing significant time earlier this season due to injury and suspension respectively. 

In addition to ranking 2nd in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, they are also the only team in the league to currently be in the top-10 on both sides of the ball (9th on offense and 4th on defense). They could continue regressing defensively going forward, but their offense should be able to continue compensating. My roster rankings also back them up as a top level team, as they rank 3rd currently, so I would expect them to continue to play at a high level going forward.

The Buccaneers’ schedule gets a lot easier this week in Detroit, as not only are the Lions 5-9, but they’re far from full strength. The Lions have been one of the most injury plagued teams in the league in recent weeks, missing key players on both sides of the ball, but, beyond that, they will also be without interim head coach Darrell Bevell due to COVID protocols, so they will essentially have a head coach by committee this week. 

The Lions rank 28th in my roster rankings and would plummet to dead last without quarterback Matt Stafford, who will play through rib and hand injuries, but is a candidate for an in-game setback that would cause him to be pulled for backup Chase Daniel, who would be a massive downgrade even from a less than 100% Stafford. This is only a low confidence pick on the Buccaneers for now because this line is pretty high at 9.5, but, depending on the status of several questionable players for the Lions (left tackle Taylor Decker, center Frank Ragnow, and linebacker Jamie Collins), I may end up placing a bet on Tampa Bay. The gap between these two teams is massive.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31 Detroit Lions 20

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -9.5

Confidence: Low

Detroit Lions at Tennessee Titans: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (5-8) at Tennessee Titans (9-4)

This line has finally posted, favoring the Titans by 9 points at home over the Lions, with Matt Stafford expected to play through a rib injury. If Stafford was healthy and not at risk of an in-game setback, I would have been all over the Lions this week. For one, they’re in a better spot than the Titans, who have to turn around and play a much tougher game against the Packers next week. Favorites cover at just a 44.0% rate all-time when facing a team with a winning percentage less than 40% before facing a team with a winning percentage at least 30% higher than their current opponent. 

The Lions’ defense has been horrendous this season, ranking dead last in first down rate allowed over expected at +4.43%, but the Titans haven’t been much better, ranking 28th at +2.47%, and defensive performance is much more inconsistent week-to-week than offensive performance. The Titans obviously have the edge on offense, which they do over most teams, as they are one of the top teams in the league, ranking 3rd in first down rate over expected at +3.10%, but the Lions aren’t too far behind, ranking 8th at +1.73%. 

If Stafford was healthy, the Lions absolutely could have kept this shootout close and covered this spread. However, with him being less than 100% and possibly significantly less than 100%, it’s a much riskier play. In fact, if the Titans get cornerback Adoree Jackson back this week and guard Rodger Saffold plays through his questionable tag, I’m going to flip this pick to the Titans. For now, I’m taking the Lions for pick ‘em purposes, but this is one of my lowest confidence picks of the week.

Update: Saffold and Jackson are both playing, so I am switching my pick to Tennessee. I’m actually disappointed that Stafford won’t be missing this game because I would have loved to bet on the Titans if backup Chase Daniel was starting. This is as healthy as the Titans have been in a while, while the Lions are very banged up on both sides of the ball. For reference, my calculated line is currently Tennessee -10, but it would have been Tennessee -16 with Daniel under center.

Tennessee Titans 34 Detroit Lions 24

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -9

Confidence: None

Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (9-3) at Detroit Lions (5-7)

Ordinarily, when a good team has back-to-back easy games, that team tends to fare very well in the first game, without any upcoming distractions on the schedule. That’s especially true when their opponent has another tough game on deck, as favorites of 6 or more are 69-23 ATS since 2010 before being favored by 6 or more points again when their opponent will next be favored by 6 points again the following week. All three of those things should be the case in this one, with the Packers facing the Panthers next and the Lions facing the Titans.

Unfortunately, we’re not getting line value with the Packers as 8.5-point favorites in Detroit. The Packers’ defense has been suspect, with a +0.89% first down rate allowed over expected, and, while defensive play is much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance, the Packers’ 6th ranked offense in first down rate over expected (1.84%) is missing stud center Corey Linsley and doesn’t have a massive edge over the Lions’ 12th ranked offense (+1.03%). I have these two teams about seven points apart, giving us a calculated line of Green Bay -6.5. I’m still taking the Packers for pick ‘em purposes because of the great spot they’re in, but this could still be a relatively final score, especially if the Lions can keep it close enough to get a backdoor cover late.

Green Bay Packers 30 Detroit Lions 20

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -8.5

Confidence: Low

Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears: 2020 Week 13 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (4-7) at Chicago Bears (5-6)

The Lions have had a tough season, as they are just 4-7 despite a relatively easy schedule and have just one win by more than a field goal, against a Jaguars team that is one of the worst in the league.  In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Lions rank 29th in the NFL at -3.23%, only ahead of the Bengals, Jaguars, and Lions. However, there is reason to believe they can be better going forward, as offense tends to be much more consistent week-to-week than defense and the Lions’ issues have been almost primarily concentrated on the defensive side of the ball. 

While the Lions’ offense ranks a decent 13th in first down rate over expected at +0.63%, their defense ranks dead last in first down rate allowed over expected at +3.86%, which even looks bad compared to the 31st ranked team at +3.00% and the 30th ranked team at +2.76%. Despite that, the Lions’ chances of being somewhat passable defensively going forward are better than you’d think, just due to pure regression to the mean and if they can do that they will find winning games a lot easier, as they already have a solid offense. Firing defensive minded head coach Matt Patricia can’t hurt either, as his defenses consistently underperformed since his arrival in Detroit. 

The Bears, meanwhile, have been almost the opposite, with a strong defense that ranks 6th in first down rate allowed over expected at -2.66%, but a horrible offense that ranks 30th in first down rate at -3.66%. I like the Lions’ chances of being better going forward, so we’re getting good value with them as 3-point underdogs in Chicago, where the Bears won’t have any fans in the stands. This line suggests the Bears are about 2-2.5 points better than the Lions on a neutral field, which I think is off by at least a couple points. My calculated line is about even, so getting a full field goal with Detroit is a great value, with 1 in 4 games decided by 3 points or less.

The Lions have a tough game with the Packers on deck and teams are 58-97 ATS since 2014 before being home underdogs of 6 or more, which the Lions almost definitely will be next week, but they should be still focused this week against a divisional rival that already beat them earlier this year. Divisional road underdogs are 75-46 ATS since 2002 in a same season regular season rematch against a team that previously lost to as home favorites. The Lions are pretty depleted due to injury, but the Bears are as well and my roster rankings have these two teams about even, so the Lions are worth a bet. In fact, depending on the status of some questionable players for the Bears (top defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, left tackle Charles Leno, and #1 receiver Allen Robinson), I may increase this bet.

Detroit Lions 23 Chicago Bears 22 Upset Pick +145

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3

Confidence: Medium

Houston Texans at Detroit Lions: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (3-7) at Detroit Lions (4-6)

There was no early line posted for this game last week, with Matt Stafford’s status somewhat uncertain due to a thumb injury, but it’s unlikely if the oddsmakers knew that Stafford would be able to play through the injury that this line would have been posted at Houston -3 a week ago, but that’s where it is right now, in the wake of the Texans’ victory over the Patriots as small home underdogs and the Lions’ 20-0 loss in Carolina to a backup quarterback. 

Normally, I like to fade significant week-to-week line movements as they tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play, but the Lions are very banged up, beyond Stafford being less than 100%, and, even when they were healthier, they weren’t that good, ranking 29th in the NFL in schedule adjusted first down rate differential on the season at -3.21%, with their only win by more than a field goal coming against an awful Jaguars team. The Lions were mispriced as field goal favorites in Carolina last week, so the Lions likely would have been mispriced on the early line as well.

The Lions aren’t any healthier this week, with top wide receiver Kenny Golladay (6th game missed), top slot receiver Danny Amendola (2nd game missed), starting guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai (4th game missed), top interior defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand (2nd game missed), top edge defensive lineman Trey Flowers (4th game missed), and starting cornerback Jeff Okudah (2nd game missed) all out, so it’s understandable why this line is where it is. My calculated line is Houston -2, so we’re still getting slight line value with Detroit +3, as the Texans still rank just 28th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -2.50%, but it’s hard to be confident at all in Detroit if we don’t know how well Stafford is going to be able to play through his injury on a short week. A push is a strong possibility as well.

Houston Texans 27 Detroit Lions 24

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3

Confidence: None

Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (4-5) at Carolina Panthers (3-7)

Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater remains a gametime decision officially, but this spread has been posted at Detroit -2.5 in some places, a steep dropoff from Carolina -3, where this line was last week on the early line, so it definitely seems like the odds makers don’t expect Bridgewater to be to play. Even if Bridgewater doesn’t play, I like the Panthers at +2.5, so I’m making this pick now so the line doesn’t have a chance to move if Bridgewater can in fact go, after taking all of the first team reps in yesterday’s walkthrough. 

If Bridgewater was fully healthy and this line was still 3, I would say that line would be about right. The Panthers are basically a slightly better version of the Lions and the Panthers have at least some limited homefield advantage with fans in attendance, so giving them the full field goal would be appropriate. However, it’s hard to justify a 5.5-point swing for Bridgewater’s absence, especially given that there is still a chance Bridgewater can go and given that Lions quarterback Matt Stafford will be at less than 100% himself, playing through an injured thumb.

The Panthers have key absences beyond the quarterback position, but left tackle Russell Okung and Christian McCaffrey are missing their 6th and 8th game respectively, so not having those two isn’t anything new, and, while cornerback Donte Jackson and guard John Miller are missing their first game of the season, they are less important absences than Okung and McCaffrey. The Lions are also missing key players with top wide receiver Kenny Golladay, top edge defender Trey Flowers, slot receiver Danny Amendola, and every down running back DeAndre Swift missing their 5th, 3rd, 1st, and 1st games of the season respectively. 

Given that the Lions are almost as banged up as the Panthers and that the Panthers have been the slightly better team all season and that the Panthers are at home, it’s hard to justify the Lions being favored by 2.5 points. That doesn’t mean I’ll be betting on the Panthers. In fact, with the amount of uncertainty in this game, it’s hard to justify the Panthers as anything more than a no confidence bet, as they likely will be starting a completely unknown quarterback in XFL star PJ Walker and, even if they don’t, they’ll be starting a much less than 100% Teddy Bridgewater, but even with Walker in the lineup, this line is off, so the Panthers are the pick at 2.5 either way.

Update: Bridgewater is out, so this line has jumped to +3. I was willing to take the Panthers without Bridgewater for pick ’em purposes at +2.5. +3 is a much more intriguing number, especially with the Lions also down their top defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand, in addition to all of the aforementioned absences. My calculated number is Detroit -1 and that’s with a very conservatively low grade on the unproven Walker, who we didn’t even get a pre-season to evaluate this year. If Walker can surprise in his first career action, the Panthers could easily win this game straight up.

If I had any confidence in Walker I would recommend a bet at +3, as the Lions only win by more than a field goal this season came against the lowly Jaguars in a game in which the Lions were much healthier than they are now. Instead, I’m leaving them as a low confidence pick, but feel free to bet Carolina if you feel like taking a chance on a completely unknown commodity. The money line is intriguing as well at +135.

Carolina Panthers 27 Detroit Lions 26 Upset Pick +135

Pick against the spread: Carolina +3

Confidence: Low

Washington Football Team at Detroit Lions: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

Washington Football Team (2-6) at Detroit Lions (3-5)

The Lions have lost back-to-back games by multiple touchdowns, pushing them down to 27th in point differential at -43, but they still continue to be overrated, favored by 4.5 points at home over the Washington Football Team. The Lions have been even worse than their point differential suggests, as they’ve faced a below average schedule and barely won two of their games.

They beat the Falcons by 1 in a game in which the Falcons would have won if they had just taken a knee late and kicked a field goal. They beat the Cardinals by 3 in a game in which the Lions won the turnover battle by 3 but lost the first down rate battle by 8.96%. Their other win and only convincing victory came against a Jaguars team that is one of the worst in the league. They nearly beat the Bears earlier this year, but they still lost the first down rate battle in that game to a mediocre Bears team. Overall, the Lions rank just 28th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -2.62%.

Washington, meanwhile, is just 2-6, but they actually rank 9th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential. Both of their wins have come by double digits, while two of their losses came by a combined 4 points against the Giants in games in which Washington won the first down rate battle by 4.47% combined, but lost the turnover battle by 6, missed a makeable field goal, and allowed a return touchdown, three things that are highly unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. Even having played 4 games against the NFC East, Washington has still played an above average schedule and is legitimately a couple plays away from being 4-4 against that schedule.

That being said, there is certainly a big reason to believe Washington won’t be the 9th best team in schedule adjusted first down rate going forward, which is that they’ve been carried by a defense that ranks first in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.97%, but rank just 29th offensively in first down rate over expected at -3.47%. In addition to their defense outperforming it’s talent level, especially with players like Landon Collins and Matt Ioannidis out with injury, defensive play also tends to be much more inconsistent than offensive play, so it’s very tough for any team to continue playing at the level Washington has played at defensively.

The Lions may rank significantly behind Washington defensively, ranking 31st in first down rate allowed over expected, but their offense ranks 13th in first down rate over expected, so if both defenses regress to average somewhat, the Lions would seem to be in decent shape. However, I was encouraged by how Alex Smith played in relief of an injured Kyle Allen last week and, while it’s hard to say how good Smith can be after his horrific injury two years ago, he was a solid starting quarterback before the injury and if he can even resemble his old form he should be able to be an upgrade under center for this team compared to the likes of Kyle Allen and Dwayne Haskins, which would be a boost to this offense and give them more life going forward. 

The Lions, meanwhile, are missing arguably their best player on either side of the ball, without top wide receiver Kenny Galloday and top edge defender Trey Flowers. They may be able to sneak out this victory at home over Washington, but there’s no good reason why they should be laying 4.5 points, especially since they won’t have the benefit of any fans in the stands at this home game. I like the WFT a good amount this week, to at least keep this close, but possibly pull the upset as well.

Detroit Lions 20 Washington Football Team 19

Pick against the spread: Washington +4.5

Confidence: High

Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (3-4) at Minnesota Vikings (2-5)

This line was finally reposted at Minnesota -3.5, after confirmation that Lions quarterback Matt Stafford would be able to play despite being placed in the COVID contact tracing protocol earlier in the week. Earlier in the week I liked the Vikings at that number and I like them even more now that Stafford will be playing despite not practicing all week. The Lions are also now without starting safety Tracy Walker and starting left guard Joe Dahl due to injury and likely will be without top linebacker Jarrad Davis as well, in addition to top defensive end Trey Flowers and top wide receiver Kenny Golladay, who were ruled out earlier in the week.

The Vikings have just two wins, but they beat the Packers last week and, while that was in part due to the Packers looking ahead to a big rematch against the 49ers on a short week, the Vikings being competitive with high level teams is no fluke. They were a 4th down conversion away from beating the Seahawks and the Titans needed to go 6 for 6 on field goals, including 3 for 3 on 50+ yard field goals, to beat the Vikings by a single point. In total, the Vikings have allowed 19 of 19 field goals against, which is highly unlikely to continue going forward.

The Vikings could easily be 4-3 right now, despite a relatively tough schedule, and that doesn’t even take into account that the Vikings fared much better on a per play basis than the final score suggests in losses to the Falcons and to the Packers in their week 1 matchup, or that the Vikings were missing top offensive player Dalvin Cook in that Atlanta loss. In terms of first down rate differential, when adjusted for schedule, the Vikings rank 3rd in the NFL at +3.19%. While I don’t think they’re quite that good, I have them 14th in my roster rankings, and there’s definitely a strong case for them being significantly better than their record.

The Lions, meanwhile, are 3-4, but one of their win came in an improbable comeback against the Falcons, another came by 3 in Arizona in a game in which they won the turnover battle by 3, but lost the first down rate battle by 8.96%, and the third came against a banged up Jaguars team that is one of the worst in the league. Their four losses, meanwhile, have come by a combined 51 points, giving them a -29 point differential, 22nd in the NFL.

In schedule adjusted first down rate differential, they are even worse, ranking 30th at -4.12%, as they haven’t played that well against a relatively easy schedule, and that doesn’t even take into account all of the Lions’ absences or the disruptions to their week this week. The Vikings should be favored by at least a touchdown, so we’re getting great value with them at 3.5. There isn’t a great choice this week, but the Vikings are my Pick of the Week.

Minnesota Vikings 35 Detroit Lions 27

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -3.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Indianapolis Colts at Detroit Lions: 2020 Week 8 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (4-2) at Detroit Lions (3-3)

This is another game I locked in earlier this week, back when the line was 2.5, and I am glad I did because sharp money has pushed this line up to 3 since and about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal. What caused me to lock this game in when I did was seeing linebacker Darius Leonard return to practice in the Colts’ first practice following last week’s bye and, in fact, Leonard is not even listed on the injury report this week, after missing the Colts’ previous two games with injury prior to the Colts’ bye week. 

Despite not having Leonard for the past two games, the Colts still rank 3rd in first down rate allowed, but that’s a testament to how good the Colts’ defense was with Leonard (#1 in first down rate allowed), not a sign that the Colts didn’t miss Leonard, as their first down rate allowed climbed from 28.17% in the 4 games with him to 30.34% in the 2 games without him. The Colts haven’t faced a tough slate of offenses overall and “only” rank 6th in schedule adjusted first down rate allowed, but with Leonard back in the mix, the Colts look like one of the top few defenses in the league, both statistically and in terms of their talent level on paper. 

The Colts’ offense isn’t quite as good, but they still rank 5th in the NFL overall in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -2.34%, despite being without one of the top defensive players in the league over the past two games. The Lions, meanwhile, rank 30th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -5.22%, despite a decent 3-3 record. The Lions beat the Cardinals week 3, but needed to win the turnover battle by 3 in that game to win by just three points and lost the first down rate battle by 8.96%. The following week, the Lions only lost by 6 to the Saints, but needed 3 fourth down conversions just to make it that close and lost the first down rate battle by 9.89%. 

In their last two games, the Lions have beaten the Jaguars and Falcons and won the first down rate battle in both of those games, but those are their only two first down rate battle victories of the season and they came against the teams ranked 31st and 29th respectively in schedule adjusted first down rate differential. It helps that offensive stats are more consistent and predictable than defensive stats because the Colts’ edge over the Lions in offensive statistics isn’t nearly as big as their edge in defensive statistics, but the Lions are still unlikely to be competitive in the first down rate battle and will need to rely on more unpredictable things like turnover margins and 4th down performance to have a chance to win this game. It’s possible they could do that, but this line is too low at 2.5. My calculated line favors the Colts by 5.5, with the Lions having in fans in attendance at home, so we’re getting great line value with the visitors.

The Colts have a tough game on deck after this one, as they host the Ravens next week, a game that may seem like a distraction for this Colts team, especially since road favorites cover at a 38.6% rate before being home underdogs (the Colts are +4 on the early line). However, that should be minimized by the Colts coming off of a bye, as road favorites tend to do well after a bye, covering at a 60.9% rate over the past 30 seasons, including a 65.9% rate as road favorites of 3.5 or more. The line isn’t that high, but it arguably should be, so the logic holds that the Colts should be focused and fresh this week and we’re getting good line value to boot. 

I’m leaving this as a medium confidence pick for now because of some injury question marks, including the possible absence of Lions’ left tackle Taylor Decker, the possible absence of Lions’ center Ryan Kelly, and the possible season debut of Colts’ defensive end Kemoko Turay, who has begun the season on the PUP list, but I like the Colts for a bet regardless and if the injury news is good, I’ll boost this to a high confidence pick.

Indianapolis Colts 26 Detroit Lions 20

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -2.5

Confidence: Medium

Detroit Lions at Atlanta Falcons: 2020 Week 7 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (2-3) at Atlanta Falcons (1-5)

These two teams are pretty similar. Both teams look like middling teams on paper, but have struggled in first down rate differential, with the Falcons ranking 30th at -5.53% and the Lions ranking 28th at -4.83%. Both teams have primarily struggled on defense, ranking 30th and 31st respectively in first down rate allowed, but their offenses have also been disappointing, as they have the offensive talent to be above average on that side of the ball, but have not been thus far. At their best, these are both middling teams that can compensate for a below average defense with an above average offense.

The Lions have a pair of wins, but one came against the Jaguars and the other came by just three points against the Cardinals in a game in which the Lions lost the first down rate battle by 10.50%, but managed to win because of a +3 turnover margin, which isn’t replicable every week. The Falcons, meanwhile, are legitimately a couple plays away from being 3-3, blowing near impossible to blow leads against the Cowboys and Bears, but they lost the first down rate battle against the Cowboys (-10.80%) and against the Vikings last week (-8.56%). 

When adjusted for strength of schedule, the Falcons have a decent lead in first down rate differential (-3.47% vs. -5.07%) because they’ve faced a much tougher schedule and they have the slight edge in my roster rankings as well, so they should be considered the better team, even if only by a slim margin. However, this line has it somewhat backwards, favoring the Falcons by just a point at home, suggesting the Lions are the slightly better team. It’s not enough to make the Falcons worth betting, but my calculated line is -3 and the Falcons should have a good chance to cover in a game in which they basically just need to win to cover.

Atlanta Falcons 34 Detroit Lions 31

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -1

Confidence: Low