2021 Betting Preview: Detroit Lions

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2021 Betting Preview: Detroit Lions

You know things didn’t go well for a franchise if they fired their head coach (Matt Patricia) in the middle season and if they traded away their franchise quarterback (Matthew Stafford) at the end of the season. The Lions finished with a 5-11 record (7-9 ATS) and they missed the playoffs (-330) for the fourth consecutive season. The franchise regressed during the tenure of Patricia whom GM Bob Quinn brought in after Detroit went 9-7 in each of Jim Caldwell’s final two seasons in 2016-17. The Lions had posted 7+ wins in five straight seasons before Patricia came to town, and they failed to win more than six games in any of his three seasons. Patricia and Quinn ran the franchise so far into the ground that the Ford Family fired both of them just 43 games into Patricia’s tenure with a 13-29-1 overall record (.314). The Lions went for a hard reset this off-season by bringing in HC Dan Campbell, GM Brad Holmes, and QB Jared Goff to lead the franchise in 2021.

The Lions scored the 13th-fewest points per game (23.6) and they allowed a league-high 32.4 points, which resulted in a 10-6 mark toward overs. Detroit ended the year 4-4 in one-score contests and a pathetic 0-6 in games decided by three scores or more, so it’s not surprising they finished with the league’s third-worst point differential (-142).

Detroit’s 2021 win total (5) fell by a victory after it traded away Stafford this off-season as the team looks to the future beyond this season. The Lions fell a victory short of their 2020 win total and they locked in their under with their 11th and final loss against the Vikings in the season finale. Entering this season, I have the Lions power rated as the 31st-best team in the NFL (+20000 to win Super Bowl LVI), as the 16th-best team in the NFC (+10000 to win the conference), and as the fourth-best team in the NFC North (+2000).

2021 Schedule

Spreads are first-look lines from the SuperBook, which were released in early June.

WeekOpponentSpreadTime
1San Francisco 49ers+71
2@Green Bay Packers+7.58:15 (Mon)
3Baltimore Ravens+7.51
4@Chicago Bears+5.51
5@Minnesota Vikings+8.51
6Cincinnati Bengals+11
7@Los Angeles Rams+124:05
8Philadelphia EaglesPK1
9Bye
10@Pittsburgh Steelers+7.51
11@Cleveland Browns+101
12Chicago Bears+312:30 (Thurs)
13Minnesota Vikings+41
14@Denver Broncos+7.54:05
15Arizona Cardinals+6.51
16@Atlanta Falcons+7.51
17@Seattle Seahawks+9.54:25
18Green Bay Packers+3.51

The Good

The Lions don’t have too many easy games on the schedule outside of additional games against the Bengals, Eagles, and Falcons. The Lions caught a break since they’re one of 11 teams that won’t face an opponent coming off of a bye this season, and the NFL gave them just one primetime game against the Packers on MNF in Week 2. Detroit will also catch two opponents coming off Monday games this season when they play Pittsburgh in Week 10 and Arizona in Week 15.

The Bad

The Lions will face the fourth-toughest schedule this season based on 2021 win totals (per Sharp Football), which includes brutal stretches to start and end the season. They’ll open against the 49ers, Packers, and Ravens in the first three weeks and they’ll finish the season against the Seahawks and Packers.

Key Off-season Moves

AdditionsDraftDepartures
Jared Goff (QB)Penei Sewell (OT)Matthew Stafford (QB, LAR)
Jamaal Williams (RB)Levi Onwuzurike (DT)Adrian Peterson (RB)
Tyrell Williams (WR)Alim McNeill (DT)Kenny Golladay (WR, NYG)
Breshad Perriman (WR)Ifeatu Melifonwu (CB)Jamal Agnew (KR/PR, Jax)
Josh Hill (TE)Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR)Marvin Jones (WR, Jax)
Darren Fells (TE)Derrick Barnes (LB)Danny Amendola (WR)
Charles Harris (DE)Oday Aboushi (OG, LAC)
Michael Brockers (DT)Everson Griffen (DE)
Tim Boyle (QB)Danny Shelton (DT, NYG)
Alex Anzalone (LB)Jarrad Davis (LB, NYJ)
Quinton Dunbar (CB)Desmond Trufant (CB, Chi)
Kalif Raymond (WR)Justin Coleman (CB, Mia)
Darryl Roberts (CB,Was)
Duron Harmon (S, Atl)
Christian Jones (LB, Chi)
Chase Daniel (QB, LAC)

2021 Season Odds

Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook

Team FuturesOdds
Season Win Total (O/U)5 (+100/-122)
NFC North+2500
Playoffs (Y/N)+575/-1000
NFC Championship+10000
Super Bowl+20000

Season Prop Movement

  • Win Total: 5 (-110) in late March to 5 (+100)

  • Super Bowl: +10000 in early February to +20000

Reasons to Bet Over the Season Win Total

The Lions have been mostly stuck in neutral the last 12 years with Matthew Stafford at quarterback. The organization decided to turn the page with Dan Campbell as the new head coach and 2016 first overall Jared Goff as the new quarterback. The Lions started their rebuild by loading up in the trenches, which included selecting top offensive tackle Penei Sewell who fell to No. 7 overall. They then used their next two picks on DTs Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill who they’ll pair with DT Michael Brockers, whom they traded for this off-season, as they look to repair their broken run defense from 2020.

The Lions are building from the inside out in 2021 and they could have one of the league’s better O-lines. They have three potential standouts in Sewell, LT Taylor Decker, and C Frank Ragnow, and there’s upside potential at guard for second-year pro Jonah Jackson and 2020 free-agent signee Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Campbell and OC Anthony Lynn are embracing a run-heavy mentality and they could have an effective combo at running back between D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams. The recipe for the Lions to go over their win total is to play in tight games by running the ball effectively to control the ball and shorten games before pulling out a couple of one-score games. They certainly have to be better in those tight contests this year after they failed to win a single game out of the six contests they played that finished in one-score differences.

Reasons to Bet Under the Season Win Total

The Lions finished under their win total in three straight seasons under former HC Matt Patricia and their win total has bottomed out this season despite the NFL adding an extra game in 2021. It’s not hard to see why since Detroit just suffered the biggest quarterback downgrade in the league this off-season when they traded Stafford for Goff. GM Brad Holmes has embraced the idea of tanking this season to set the franchise up for future success after trading away Stafford to start the off-season. They then let Kenny Golladay walk in free agency without using their franchise tag, and they handed out mostly one-year deals to outside free agents (besides Williams’ two-year deal) to maintain cap flexibility for the future. This is clearly a team that has an eye toward the future so take the over with the Lions at your own risk.

I’m not sure Campbell will fully embrace a rebuild type of attitude on the field, but it may not matter for the first-time, full-time head coach. The Lions have one of the worst rosters in the league and there’s plenty to be dubious about with this coaching staff between Campbell’s bizarre opening press conference and Lynn’s underwhelming track record as a head coach and play-caller. It doesn’t help that the Lions will face one of the league’s most difficult schedules. It wouldn’t be surprising if Holmes and the front office direct Campbell to play younger players at the end of the season if they’re eyeing up one of the top picks in next year’s draft.

Notable Player Props

Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook

Jared Goff: passing yards (4050.5), passing TDs (21.5), most passing yards (+4400)

Fantasy Points Projection: passing yards (3690), passing TDs (19)

  • Best-Case Scenario: Goff’s play picks up in his sixth season with a change of scenery in Detroit and his top receivers, Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman, stay healthy and provide some big plays for him.

  • Worst-Case-Scenario: Goff’s downward career trajectory since his Super Bowl appearance in the 2018 season continues in his first year with a much less talented squad in Detroit.

D’Andre Swift: receptions (52.5), OPOY (+6600), most rushing yards (+4400)

Fantasy Points Projection: receptions (52), rushing yards (990)

  • Best-Case Scenario: Swift is the featured player in the Lions’ offense and he sees a slight increase in his 12.2 carries and 3.8 catches per game from Week 8 through the end of last season.
  • Worst-Case-Scenario: Swift loses out on more snaps to Jamaal Williams than anticipated heading into the season as OC Anthony Lynn uses a true two-man rotation in this backfield.

Jamaal Williams: rushing + receiving yards (725.5)

Fantasy Points Projection: rushing + receiving yards (840)

  • Best-Case Scenario: OC Anthony Lynn called Williams his “A-back” in the spring and he uses him as the team’s primary between-the-tackles runner while also sprinkling him in as a receiver too.
  • Worst-Case-Scenario: Williams is the clear second back and the new coaching staff continues to heavily feature D’Andre Swift after he played well in a bigger role at the end of the 2020 season.

T.J. Hockenson: receiving yards (770.5)

Fantasy Points Projection: receiving yards (815)

  • Best-Case Scenario: Hockenson finishes among the league leaders in target share at the position and he continues his run of consistent play from his sophomore season because of that volume.
  • Worst-Case-Scenario: Hockenson sees a significant decline in play from his quarterback going from Matthew Stafford to Jared Goff and his production tails off in his third season.

Breshad Perriman: receiving yards (750.5)

Fantasy Points Projection: receiving yards (650)

  • Best-Case Scenario: Perriman is able to stay healthy and he establishes himself as the #1 WR for Jared Goff in a wide-open receivers room. He finally hits 40+ catches and 650+ receiving yards in his seventh season.
  • Worst-Case-Scenario: Perriman enters the year having missed 29.5% of his career games (33-of-112) and he once again struggles to remain healthy on the field for his new quarterback.

Brolley’s Bets

Best Bets

D’Andre Swift over 52.5 receptions (-115, DraftKings). Risk one unit to win .87 units. — Swift averaged 3.5 catches per game as a rookie, which picked up to 4.0 catches per game in his final five games. The Lions’ wide receiving corps has the potential to be one of the league’s worst and it wouldn’t be surprising if Swift has one of the higher target shares at the position. T.J. Hockenson is the only other player guaranteed to command targets in this offense after they lost Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones in the off-season. The Lions also project to be playing in plenty of negative game scripts late in games with their win total sitting at just five wins so Swift could rack up some cheap catches from Jared Goff. The biggest concern is that Jamaal Williams will see a significant number of passing-down snaps to keep Swift off the field, but Swift is still the far more dynamic receiver. I wouldn’t be shocked if Swift vaults into the top five in catches at the position this season.

Breshad Perriman under 750.5 receiving yards (-115, PointsBet). Risk one unit to win .87 units. — Perriman has missed nearly 30% of his career games primarily because of chronic knee issues, and he’s yet to reach 40+ catches or 650+ receiving yards in any season. He’s also a shaky fit with Jared Goff since he’s primarily been a deep threat in his career, an area where Goff hasn’t exactly excelled. The Lions signed Perriman to just a one-year deal so they’ll have no allegiances to him if they’re looking to play younger receivers late this season. I’m willing to bet that Perriman doesn’t blow away his previous career bests in his seventh year in the league.

Leans

Detroit Lions under five wins (-110, BetMGM) — I’m probably a little higher on the Lions’ roster than most heading into the season, but I can’t go anywhere near the over for the Lions because of the two people running the show in Detroit in HC Dan Campbell and OC Anthony Lynn. Campbell could be in over his head as he heads to Detroit without any previous coordinator experience — he was at least an interim HC for the Dolphins in 2015. It’s also not a great sign that none of the other six teams with head coaching vacancies interviewed Campbell for their openings so he wasn’t exactly in demand around the league. Lynn will be running the offense and his teams had a history of underperforming under his leadership with the Chargers. The Lions could have a good offensive line after they added Penei Sewell to an already solid group, but they still have the weakest wide receiving corps and their back seven on defense will give up plenty of production this season. Jamaal Williams was the only non-Lions free agent whom new GM Brad Holmes handed more than a one-year contract this off-season so this franchise isn’t going to be afraid to embrace tanking at the end of the season if they’re well out of contention by the time December rolls around.

Tom is a Senior Writer at Fantasy Points who specializes in fantasy and betting analysis. He’ll be helping you to navigate the waiver wire and manage your fantasy teams while also keeping our betting content robust all year long, especially during the season. Tom's Best Bets against the spread won at 61.5% clip in 2019 and he was a perfect 8-0 on his Best Bets for season win totals in 2020.