Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Matt Patricia
- Win Over/Under: 7.5 (-120/+100)
- Make NFC Playoffs: +260 (28%)
- Win NFC North: +700 (12.5%)
- Win NFC Championship: +1700 (6%)
- Win Super Bowl: +3500 (2.8%)
The Action Network’s Projected Wins: 7.36 (21st)
Despite delivering more winning seasons (3) and playoff berths (2) in 2014-17 than they had over the first 14 years of the millennium, Jim Caldwell was sent packing by the Lions — probably because the team continued to flop against quality opponents.
The Lions were 8-1 against teams that finished no better than .500 last season but only 1-6 against teams with a winning record.
Over Caldwell’s four years, they were 32-5 against teams that finished .500 or below but only 4-23 against teams above .500.
Backing Detroit against a winning team isn’t as much of a bet as it is a charitable donation: The Lions have covered only 34.6% of the time against teams above .500 since 2014.
To remedy this, the organization hired former Bill Belichick minion Matt Patricia.
Is this anything more than the standard defensive coaching hire who pays lip service to “physicality” and “toughness” while taking advantage of the very few people aware the team was already pretty decent, thus allowing the team to attribute even moderate success to a “culture change” and label it “the start of something big”?
Patricia can go a long way toward proving himself by fixing the Lions’ longstanding issues with the running game and the offensive line in general.
Not only did the Lions finish 2017 last in rushing yards per game and Adjusted Line Yards (a Football Outsiders metric that measures the line’s contributions in the run game), but quarterback Matthew Stafford absorbed the second-most sacks in the league (47).
The line could improve with first-rounder Frank Ragnow, who will play next to tackle Taylor Decker on the left side and solid third-year pro Graham Glasgow in the middle while reliable veterans T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner man the right. Pro Football Focus ranks the unit eighth in the league heading into 2018.
The running game could also improve thanks to the burst of second-round pick Kerryon Johnson. Patricia also brought in LeGarrette Blount and could even keep Ameer Abdullah around (because it would be wrong for a Lions running back not named Theo Riddick to have a good fantasy season).
But Patricia also has to fix the run defense, which ranked No. 28 in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average last season. It was almost as bad as … Patricia’s 31st-ranked Patriots.
Interior linemen Ricky Jean-Francois and Sylvester Williams were brought in after earning top-30 run-defense grades from PFF last season. Linebacker Jarrad Davis was a tackle-whiffing machine as a rookie but should improve in Year 2, because under Patricia, the Lions now do real football things (like live tackling in practice).
The passing games on both sides of the ball are in good shape, too.
Patricia retained offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, because one doesn’t fire a man with one of the coolest names in sports. And it’s also no coincidence that in Cooter’s first two full seasons running the offense, Stafford cracked the top eight in ESPN’s Total QBR for the first time in his career.
Stafford’s weapons are among the best in the league, too.
Golden Tate is Julian Edelman with more wiggle. Marvin Jones turned into an 1,100-yard, nine-touchdown, contested-catch monster last season. And even the auto-draft guy in your fantasy league knows Kenny Golladay is a breakout waiting to happen.
Letting go of tight end/drop specialist Eric Ebron allows the Lions to get more looks for the athletic, 6-foot-4 Golladay. And adding well-rounded blockers at tight end in Levine Toilolo and Luke Willson frees Riddick up to run more routes out of the backfield.
The pass defense ranked No. 16 in DVOA last season and has two elite pieces in cornerback Darius Slay and safety Glover Quin, and Ezekiel Ansah adds some pass-rushing juice.
The Lions should also be better off for letting go of 950-snap linebacker Tahir Whitehead, who couldn’t cover a jar with a lid.
Even with plus-money on the under, this Lions team would probably be worthy of an over bet … most seasons.
They have their usual question marks — Lang is already hurt, and early returns on the run defense haven’t been good — but the prospect of an improved offensive line and smarter coaching gives them upside.
That said, improvement in the NFC North is par for the course in 2018.
Minnesota upgraded at quarterback with Kirk Cousins, gets Dalvin Cook back and adds Sheldon Richardson and George Iloka to an already-stacked defense. Green Bay should have Aaron Rodgers for more than seven games. (Right?) And Chicago’s coaching staff and offense are finally stepping out of the Stone Age.
The Lions might have been a 7-9 team last season if they had faced Rodgers twice instead of Brett Hundley, whose Packers they destroyed by a combined score of 65-28.
They also have a tough schedule, traveling to San Francisco and Dallas and then hosting the Patriots and Rams. They are expected to take care of business against the Seahawks and Panthers, but the Lions haven’t beaten Russell Wilson and Cam Newton since they were rookies. – Chris Raybon
The Bet: Under 7.5 Wins
Detroit Lions 2018 Schedule
- Games Favored: 4
- Avg. Spread: +1.1
- Strength of Schedule: 31st (1 = Easiest, 32 = Hardest)
Survivor Pool 101
- Use the Lions: Week 1 vs. NYJ
- Use Lions’ opponents: Week 9 @ MIN
Fantasy Football Outlook
- Top Picks: WR Golden Tate, WR Marvin Jones
- Sleepers: WR Kenny Golladay, RB Kerryon Johnson, RB Theo Riddick (PPR)
Best of “I’ll Take That Bet” on ESPN+
“We have seen a lot of support on the under and moved them from 8 to 7.5. But we are taking money on them at 60-1 to win the Super Bowl daily.”
– Westgate bookmaker Jeff Sherman to The Action Network’s Michael Leboff
Matthew Stafford Over/Under 4,299.5 Passing Yards? (-120/-110)
Stafford’s pass attempts have been trending down for six straight seasons, and the Lions indicated they want to be even more balanced in 2018 by spending a second-round pick on Johnson and bringing in Blount.
While this should still be a highly efficient passing offense, fewer attempts have me with a slight lean toward the under. And after making it through seven straight seasons without missing a single game, any regression in injury luck would provide a slight additional edge. – Sean Koerner
The Bet: Under 4,299.5 Passing Yards (-110)
Target Theo Riddick as an Underdog in DFS
The Lions are expected once again to feature a committee backfield, so plan to see plenty of Riddick on passing downs.
He carries a fairly low touch ceiling due to his limitations as an inside runner, but he remains a value play in the right game-flow situation.
More on the 2018 Detroit Lions
- Are the Detroit Lions Really an 8-Win Team?
- Can the Lions Support Marvin Jones, Golden Tate & Kenny Golladay in Fantasy?
- Matthew Stafford: When Should You Fade Him in Fantasy/DFS?