Detroit Lions NFL Betting Preview: Stuck in the Cellar

Posted on: August 18, 2020, 04:00h. 

Last updated on: August 19, 2020, 12:37h.

The Detroit Lions are coming off back-to-back last-place finishes in the NFC North. And yet, with the return of quarterback Matthew Stafford, they’re a trendy pick to win the division.

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.
With Matthew Stafford sidelined for the second half of last season, the Lions went 0-8. (Image: Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports)

“The Lions are who you should bet on to win the NFC North,” Pro Football Focus, a stats-based Web site, declared in a tweet. The analytics site Football Outsiders used its modeling to predict the Lions would win the North. ESPN’s Bill Barnwell wrote, “Their chances of competing for the NFC North title are better than you think.”

Oddsmakers aren’t buying the hype. At William Hill (+6,000) and MGM (+8,000), the Lions have the seventh-longest odds to win the Super Bowl. They are the consensus last-place pick in the North by sportsbooks.

Over/Under: 6.5 Wins

In a balanced NFC North that appears to lack a dominant team, the Lions remain plopped squarely in the cellar. William Hill has the Lions at +850 to win the NFC North, well behind Green Bay (+140), Minnesota (+150), and Chicago (+420). PointsBet has the Lions in the basement, too, though at merely +550.

Detroit is certainly a trendy division winner pick this off-season,” an analyst from William Hill told “The Lions currently account for 38 percent of NFC North tickets, the most of any team in the division.”

With Stafford missing the second half of last season with an injured back, the Lions plunged to 3-12-1. That includes an 0-8 mark when he was out of action. With a quarterback as good as Stafford back in the lineup, there’s really nowhere to go but up.

Sure enough, FanDuel’s over/under is set at 6.5 wins (-150 for the over; +125 for the under). PointsBet has the over/under at 7.0 (-110 on both sides).

His return obviously changes the equation. In eight games last year, he had a 106.0 passer rating — by far the best of his career — and was on pace for his second season of 40 touchdowns.

Caldwell > Patricia?

Following the 2018 season, the Lions fired coach Jim Caldwell. It was a surprising move considering he was 36-28 in four seasons. Caldwell led the Lions to the playoffs twice (as many as the previous 16 seasons combined) and three winning records (as many as the previous 18 seasons combined).

Detroit replaced him with Matt Patricia, who rose to prominence as Bill Belichick’s defensive coordinator in New England. In his two seasons, the Lions are only 9-22-1. Last year, of course, went down the drain without Stafford. But his defenses have been of no help, with back-to-back No. 26 rankings in points allowed. Patricia is last in PointsBet’s Coach of the Year list at +5,000.

Patricia’s chances of staying off the coaching hot seat are tied to a healthy and productive quarterback. Stafford is fifth on the Comeback Player of the Year boards at PointsBet (+750) and MGM (+900).

Stafford might have the best skill group in the division. He has two excellent weapons at receiver in Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones, a potential threat in tight end T.J. Hockenson, and perhaps a credible running game with the combination of Kerryon Johnson, rookie D’Andre Swift and bruising Bo Scarbrough. If a revamped line holds up, they’ll score points.

The defense will determine whether the Lions can mount a challenge to Green Bay, which could regress after a 13-3 season, and Minnesota, which lost several key players on defense.

At cornerback, gone are starters Darius Slay and Rashaan Melvin. In are free-agent Desmond Trufant and first-round pick Jeff Okudah. Okudah is fifth on MGM’s Rookie of the Year list at +1,400.

Editor’s Note: This is part of 32 NFL team previews and concludes a look at the NFC North.