Are the Detroit Lions Really an 8-Win Team?

Jul 26, 2018 10:51 AM EDT

In a year where no NFC team with fewer than 10 wins made the playoffs, the 9-7 Detroit Lions were the first team out of the 2017 conference playoff picture. Despite missing the postseason, the Lions certainly exceeded expectations — at least the ones set by Vegas.

Their season win total was listed at 7.5 — just as it is this year — but unlike this season, their 2017 total had heavy juice on the under (-155 at Westgate). Following the somewhat unexpected nine-win season, that juice has swapped sides. This year, the over is listed -126 at Bookmaker and -130 at Westgate.


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But perhaps it shouldn’t be.

Last season the Lions caught a big break in their division. A guy named Aaron Rodgers went down for the year before both of his matchups with Detroit. The Lions instead faced Brett Hundley in both games, and won both with ease.

This season, the opponents they’re scheduled to face had a .535 combined win percentage in 2017, the second-highest percentage in the NFL.

They’ve also lost their leading tackler from last season in Tahir Whitehead … seems like that could be a big deal.

But beyond all of the on-field analysis I can try to put together, we can calculate a realistic expected win total for the Lions by looking at their point spreads for each game this season. Converting those to moneylines allows us to come up with implied win probabilities for each game, and adding those up should lead us to a more accurate win total, or at least an inconsistency that creates value on the listed total.

Week 1: vs. Jets

CG Tech line: DET -6

Approx. win probability: 70.65%

So far so good for the Lions. They’re one of five teams favored by six or more points in Week 1, so they’re likely starting the year off with a W.

Projected record: 0.71-0.29

Week 2: at 49ers

CG Tech line: DET +3.5

Approx. win probability: 35.73%

Week 2 begins a stretch of five straight games in which Detroit is listed as a dog. Of course, all of these lines are likely to change as the season progresses, but unfortunately they don’t let you wait until halfway through the season to go back and bet on win totals.

Projected record: 1.06-0.94

Week 3: vs. Patriots

CG Tech line: DET +4

Approx. win probability: 34.23%

The good thing about being matched up with the AFC East is the Lions get the Jets, Dolphins and Bills on their 2018 schedule. This is the bad thing.

Projected record: 1.41-1.59

Week 4: at Dallas

CG Tech line: DET +4

Approx. win probability: 34.23%

Finishing in second place last season means Detroit also gets the other second-place finishers in the NFC. Oddsmakers don’t seem to like their chances in Big D.

Projected record: 1.75-2.25

Week 5: vs. Packers

CG Tech line: DET +1

Approx. win probability: 48.75%

These won’t be the same Packers the Lions were lucky enough to face last season, but Vegas is still expecting a close matchup — at least for this meeting in Detroit. Heading into the bye, the Lions’ most likely record is 2-3.

Projected record: 2.24-2.76

Week 6: Bye

Projected record: 2.24-2.76

Week 7: at Dolphins

CG Tech line: DET +1

Approx. win probability: 48.75%

I’m a bit surprised to see the Lions as underdogs in Miami. Still, it’s close to a toss-up, so we’ll tack on close to a half-win to their total.

Projected record: 2.72-3.28

Week 8: vs. Seahawks

CG Tech line: DET -1.5

Approx. win probability: 52.5%

Finally a win percentage over 50. Not over by much, but still over.

Projected record: 3.25-3.75

Week 9: at Vikings

CG Tech line: DET +7

Approx. win probability: 24.79%

And we’re back to plus-numbers. Week 9 marks the biggest challenge on Detroit’s slate, and — as of now — is the only time the Lions are listed as at least a touchdown underdog. At the halfway point, they’re either 3-5 or 4-4.

Projected record: 3.50-4.50


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Week 10: at Bears

CG Tech line: DET +1

Approx. win probability: 48.75%

They put together only five wins in 2017, but the Bears are expected to improve this year. Even though the Lions won both meetings with Chicago last season, da Bears are favored in their first 2018 matchup.

Projected record: 3.98-5.02

Week 11: vs. Panthers

CG Tech line: DET -2.5

Approx. win probability: 54.48%

Here’s another matchup that comes as a result of the Lions’ second-place finish in 2017. Laying 2.5 points seems like it might be on the high side to me, but we’ll go with it.

Projected record: 4.53-5.47

Week 12: vs. Bears

CG Tech line: DET -5

Approx. win probability: 68.1%

After being a one-point dog two weeks earlier, Detroit gains six points on the spread by moving from Soldier Field to Ford Field. Still, the Lions’ most likely record at this point is 5-6.

Projected record: 5.21-5.79

Week 13: vs. Rams

CG Tech line: DET +2

Approx. win probability: 46.51%

Facing the NFC West means the Rams come to Detroit in Week 13. But with this spread less than a field goal, oddsmakers are giving the Lions a decent shot at winning this one.

Projected record: 5.67-6.33

Week 14: at Cardinals

CG Tech line: DET +1

Approx. win probability: 48.75%

The final game against their NFC West opponents comes in Arizona, where the Lions are one-point dogs to the Cardinals, giving them nearly a 50% chance at winning.

Projected record: 6.16-6.84

Week 15: at Bills

CG Tech line: pick’em

Approx. win probability: 50%

The only pick’em on the Lions’ schedule for now is against the Bills in Buffalo. Adding a half-win puts Detroit’s most likely record at 7-7 through 14 games.

Projected record: 6.66-7.34

Week 16: vs. Vikings

CG Tech line: DET +6.5

Approx. win probability: 27.65%

The final two games for Detroit won’t be easy. This is the second-largest spread the Lions will face, and it puts their win probability just over a quarter.

Projected record: 6.94-8.06

Week 17: at Packers

CG Tech line: N/A

With the unpredictability of Week 17, CG Tech leaves these lines off the board. Considering the Lions’ Week 17 opponent, however, this game could certainly still have some meaning.

As we noticed, the Lions went from +1 to -5 against the Bears when they moved from Chicago to Detroit. I’d guess that same type of change should take place as they go from one-point home dogs in Week 5 to face Green Bay on the road.

We’ll stay on the conservative side though, just for the sake of argument.

Predicted line: DET +3.5

Approx. win probability: 35.73%

Projected record: 7.30-8.70

With an expected win total of 7.3 based on this analysis, it seems that the juice belongs on the under 7.5, yet you can find the under listed at plus-money around most of the market, including +110 at 5Dimes and Westgate.

Only twice all season are the Lions given more than a 55% chance of winning, and — although I hate the eyeball test — it’s tough to pick out eight games that make me feel confident in a Lions victory. I mean, there’s a reason they’re favored in only four.

Credit:

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Matthew Stafford

Follow Danny Donahue on Twitter
@dannyjdonahue
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