NFL Picks: Lions vs. Cardinals in Week 2

Jason Lake

Thursday, September 12, 2013 11:20 AM UTC

Thursday, Sep. 12, 2013 11:20 AM UTC

The Detroit Lions and Arizona Cardinals are both worthy follow candidates for 2013, but they’ll have to play each other in Week 2 after beating the NFL odds in Week 1.

Jason’s record on his final NFL picks for 2013, up to September 10 inclusive:

2-2-1 ATS

1-1 ML (+0.71 units)

0-2 Totals

I love it when a plan comes together. The Detroit Lions are this year’s go-to team for betting on the NFL, and they came through in Week 1, downing the Minnesota Vikings 34-24 and cashing in as 4-point home favorites. It’s like picking cherries off a tree.

One problem: That win was against the Vikings, one of this year’s go-to fades. Detroit’s opponents on Sunday (4:05 p.m. ET, FOX) are the Arizona Cardinals, another team with a very good shot at beating the NFL odds in 2013. Only one can win, and as we go to press, our consensus reports show a big early push on the visiting Lions, with the Week 2 NFL lines moving from Detroit +1 at the open to Detroit –1.5 and beyond.

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In the Desert 

If you did any NFL handicapping at all this offseason, you’re well aware about the potential the Lions have this year. If not, it’s pretty much all here in my Week 1 preview. The Cardinals also have plenty of upside from a football betting perspective, but they’ve gotten a lot less ink than their opponents on Sunday.

This is understandable. Arizona is a regional market, of course, but this isn’t just about East Coast bias or anything like that. The potential upside for the Cardinals this year is based primarily on the arrival of QB Carson Palmer (and head coach Bruce Arians, among others). It isn’t based on sexy regression analysis; the 2012 Cards went 5-11 with 4.8 Estimated Wins and 4.8 Pythagorean wins. That makes Arizona a riskier follow candidate.

Moon over Palmer

Advanced stats are wonderful, but hitching your wagon to Pythagorean wins and nothing else is a great way to miss opportunities. This Arizona club was 4-0 SU and 3-1 ATS to start the 2012 campaign, and that was mostly with QB Kevin Kolb at the helm. Kolb wasn’t terribly good, but once he was lost for the season in Week 6, Arizona’s other quarterbacks were far, far worse. 

Here’s some advanced stats to illustrate my point. These are the Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) numbers from Football Outsiders for Arizona’s four starting QBs in 2012, alongside Palmer’s numbers with the Oakland Raiders. 

Palmer           –2.2% (No. 18 overall, min. 100 passes)

Kolb              –23.1% (No. 31)

Brian Hoyer    –26.5% (N/A)

John Skelton   –35.0% (No. 37)

Ryan Lindley   –55.8% (No. 39) 

It’s not easy to overstate how awful Skelton and especially Lindley were last year. Suffice to say that Lindley was the runaway Worst QB in the World by just about every measurement, and Skelton should easily get the nod for second worst over Mark Sanchez, Brady Quinn and Matt Cassel. Kolb’s performance was more like Jake Locker’s (–23.6%). Palmer, meanwhile, ranked between Joe Flacco (–1.3%) and Andrew Luck (–5.1%) on the DVOA charts. And that was despite playing for the Oakland Raiders. 

Acceptably Average

To put it another way, let’s turn to Chad Millman’s handy Point Spread Value Above Replacement (PSVAR) rankings. Going into Week 1, Luck was listed at +6 PSVAR over Matt Hasselbeck, who posted a –11.5% DVOA in 2012. How many points, then, is Palmer worth to the Cardinals this year? A couple of touchdowns? Even if we just add seven points to all of their games from last year, they end up 8-7-1 instead of 5-11.

Palmer, as he often does, had his good moments and bad moments in Week 1. The Cardinals were up 24-13 on the St. Louis Rams at the end of three quarters, but they couldn’t sustain their drives, and the Rams stormed from behind to get the 27-24 win. Arizona still got paid, though, cashing in as a 3.5-point road dog. Let’s see if Palmer and the Cards can stick the landing at home this time.

NFL Pick: Take the Cardinals +2 at Bodog
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