NFL Picks: Minnesota Vikings vs. Detroit Lions

Jason Lake

Tuesday, September 3, 2013 7:18 PM GMT

Tuesday, Sep. 3, 2013 7:18 PM GMT

This Detroit Lions are this year’s top candidates for a bounce-back season, and the NFL betting lines are marching steadily toward them for Sunday’s season opener against the Minnesota Vikings.

The Motor City has seen better times. So have the Detroit Lions. Despite making the playoffs in 2011, and despite all the talent on their roster, the Lions punted the 2012 NFL regular season at 4-12 SU and 6-10 ATS. The Oxford English Dictionary confirms this as “wallet-shredding.”

That makes the Lions one of the hottest commodities on the NFL odds market. As they say on the car lot, there’s never been a better time to buy. Except that’s not quite the case anymore as Detroit gets ready to introduce its 2013 model this Sunday (1:00 p.m. ET, FOX) at Ford Field against the Minnesota Vikings. The Lions were 3-point home favorites when the first Week 1 NFL odds were posted way back in May; that line moved to –3.5 at the start of the preseason and kept on climbing, as high as 5.5 points by the time we went to press.

Do the Math

There’s still a case to be made for picking the Lions this week. If you’ve done your football betting homework over the summer, you’ll already be aware that Detroit wasn’t quite as bad last year as that 4-12 record would suggest. The Lions played well enough in 2012 to post 7.4 Estimated Wins (per Football Outsiders) and 6.4 Pythagorean Wins. That was the widest margin for any team between expected stat nerd performance and actual football performance.

Fortunately for us, the betting public isn’t all too concerned about Pythagorean anything. Looking at the Super Bowl futures market at Intertops, the Lions opened on Feb. 7 at 50-1, and stayed that way until August, when they edged up to 40-1. That’s still a bargain price for a team with this much upside.

[gameodds]16/226877/?r3=19-349/dec&r-1=43-19-349/us[/gameodds]

Doctor Detroit

It seems that playing football can cause you bodily harm. According to The Dallas Morning News, Detroit’s starting unit lost 69 man-games to injury last year. Only three teams suffered worse in 2012; the healthiest team, by the way, was the San Francisco 49ers at eight man-games lost. Just a little something to keep in mind for later.

These weren’t your garden-variety man-games, either. RB Jahvid Best (4.6 yards per carry in 2011) was lost for the season due to post-concussion issues and may never play again. Joining Best on injured reserve, in order of appearance: punter Ben Graham, WR Nate Burleson, intriguing rookie CB Bill Bentley, WR Titus Young and WR Ryan Broyles. And that was just before Week 14. What happened after that looks like a scene from – well, from whatever medical drama is popular these days. Lots of people got hurt. Surgery was performed.

He Was the Nazz

Thanks to the NFL’s special brand of communism, the Lions were rewarded with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, landing 6-foot-5, 270-pound DE Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah from the BYU Cougars. However, Ansah may have suffered a head injury during Saturday’s practice, and his status for Week 1 is being kept under wraps. Otherwise, Detroit is healthy to start the new season.

Things look a little less rosy for Detroit’s opponents this Sunday. The Vikings may be without six-time Pro Bowl DT Kevin Williams, who hyperextended his right knee after a low block by San Francisco’s Joe Looney during Week 3 of the preseason. That’s bad news for a team that was already on the list of potential busts for 2013. Minnesota went 10-6 last year (8-7-1 ATS) and made the playoffs despite posting just 8.8 Estimated Wins and 8.8 Pythagorean Wins.

Did somebody say… playoffs?! Yes, as luck would have it, Sunday’s game is the feature attraction of the Week 1 NFL betting trends, with the non-playoff Lions hosting the playoff Vikings. The sharps have been pounding the Lions in this one, with the early consensus reports showing 65 percent support for Detroit at –3 and 55 percent support at –4.5. But place your NFL picks early, because these prices won’t last forever.

NFL Pick: Take Detroit –4.5 at Ladbrokes
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