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Detroit Lions UNDER 5 Wins (-120) OR UNDER 4.5 Wins (+120 or higher)
I like both of these bets and I am fine with taking either for solid value. The short answer to this handicap is that the Detroit Lions simply stink. The deeper dive is this: no matter how you rank the Lions' positional units, most of them rank bottom five (outside of offensive line).
This is a team which is bad all around, had a downgrade at quarterback and have a new head coach who might literally run through a brick wall just for the sake of running through a brick wall. This is a team who hasn’t drafted well or managed the salary cap well in recent years either. Very little talent on a team with a new head coach spells a bad year overall.
But the main reason I bet this is because of what's stated above and their schedule. For their first 8 weeks (Week 9 Bye) the Lions play the 49ers, then @ Packers, Ravens, @ Bears, @ Vikings, Bengals, @ Rams, and Eagles. They are most likely starting out 0-3, and assuming Justin Fields doesn’t play to start the season, the Lions could also be facing a QB they don’t have film on in Week 4. The Vikings and Rams will most likely beat Detroit regardless, so that now gives us 2 or 3 possible wins in @ Bears, Bengals, and Eagles (assuming Eagles don’t have Watson playing). This is a team looking at 1-7 or 2-6 to start.
After the aforementioned Week 8 Bye, Detroit is @ Steelers, @ Browns, Bears, Vikings, @ Broncos, Cardinals, @ Falcons, @ Seahawks, Packers. I am having a tough time finding wins for this team in the second half stretch of the regular season as well. Even if you give this team 2 wins in that brutal second half stretch, that still only puts them at 4 wins at best. Add it all up and I just don’t see how the Lions will manage to win 6 games (assuming you bet 5) in order to lose and not push. Great value on both lines here.
This is a team I want nothing to do with early on or season long that doesn’t involve fading them. Later in the year we might get some nice point spreads for them not being good, sure, but I am not wanting to do anything with betting on this team any time soon. This could easily be the Houston Texans of the NFC.
Los Angeles Rams UNDER 10.5 Wins (-140)
Entering 2021, the Los Angeles Rams are looking to build off of a season that saw head coach Sean McVay & Company win a road playoff game in Seattle after a 10-6 season and eventually fall in the divisional round at Green Bay. Most Rams fans would consider the campaign a success, especially given the injuries and poor quarterback play the team endured along the way. Much of the Rams’ success in 2020 was predicated on their defense, a unit that ranked 4th in DVOA and carried them to victories.
While the defense remains a talented group headlined by two of the best in the game in Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, it’s worth wondering whether the level of play we saw from them last season is sustainable. While the Rams' defensive unit didn’t add anyone of value, it did lose talented secondary players in Troy Hill and John Johnson III that it’ll need to replace internally. Los Angeles was also the beneficiary of the second-most defensive touchdowns of any unit in the league, several of which came at key moments that helped them reach 10-6 in a season that could've quickly fallen off the rails.
The Rams’ division no longer has any easy wins available, either. The Arizona Cardinals continue to aggressively add talent and the 49ers likely return to a healthier group in 2021. The six games within the NFC West won’t provide a single easy win for Los Angeles. Outside their division? The Rams face difficult games with Indianapolis, Green Bay, Tennessee, Tampa Bay, and Minnesota - as well as the added 17th game, where they drew the short end of the stick with a trip to Baltimore in the dead of winter.
Replacing Jared Goff with Matthew Stafford is an obvious upgrade, and the Rams’ offense should be a lot more fun to watch in 2021. It remains to be seen, however, whether this upgrade is enough to offset the loss of key defensive personnel and likely oncoming regression. The Rams won’t be working with much room for error in 2021 and the lack of draft capital in recent years - mostly a result of their quarterback-centric trades since 2016 - leaves this team without as much depth as one might imagine. Should injuries plague the Rams in ways they haven’t in recent years (top 10 in adjusted games lost due to injury for 7 consecutive years, according to Football Outsiders), their depleted units will struggle - and if those injuries are along the offensive line, it may result in additional time missed due to injury for Stafford as well.
If healthy, there’s no reason the Rams aren’t a playoff team in 2021 with a very good defense and an offensively-gifted coach being paired with a competent quarterback. The margin for error in Los Angeles is remarkably small, though, and the NFC West is unrelenting - even if the Rams do stay healthy, winning 11 games may prove challenging with a schedule of this caliber and likely defensive TD regression coming.
Cleveland Browns UNDER 10.5 Wins (-110)
There’s no doubt that the Cleveland Browns have one of the NFL’s most talented rosters from top to bottom. They made the playoffs for the first time in 18 years last season and won their first playoff game for the first time since 1995. They’re a deep roster that added much-needed help in the secondary in the offseason and brought in veteran pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney to play opposite Myles Garrett on the defensive line. So what’s not to like?
Well, for starters, I’m still skeptical of quarterback Baker Mayfield and his ability to carry this team to a few wins along the way. If you’re on the over on Cleveland’s win total, you’ll say the roster is good enough to where Mayfield just needs to manage enough games adequately. After all, that was exactly how the Browns were successful in 2020. In 11 of Cleveland’s 12 wins, including the playoff win against Pittsburgh, the Browns had the lead at halftime. Also, in 11 of the Browns’ 12 victories, Mayfield failed to throw for 300 yards. Granted Mayfield’s career is still young, but 2020 was the lowest passing yardage output of his three seasons in the NFL and he didn’t even begin his rookie season as the Browns starting quarterback.
Kevin Stefanski came in as a new head coach and established an offensive identity centered around a strong running game. I mentioned Cleveland’s upgrades on defense earlier, so it certainly seems as it's going to look to replicate their 2020 success as far as how they plan to win, right? My problem with that plan being duplicated is that I’m simply not sold on the Browns getting off to as many good starts again and therefore I’m expecting Mayfield to have to lead them from behind more frequently in 2021. Cleveland’s defense was 20th in yards per play against last season at 5.7.
Remember that Dallas defense everyone made fun of every Sunday in the fall last year? The Cowboys were 23rd in yards per play against at 5.9 in 2020. For a defense as mediocre as Cleveland’s was, the Browns being fifth in turnover margin per game like they were in 2020 suggests some good fortune that might not carry over. The Browns averaged 367 yards per game last season while allowing an average of 374 yards per game. Could some of this be attributed to the Browns having a lot of early leads as we previously mentioned and sagging off a bit defensively in second halves? Sure. But it’s also not the best indicator that the Browns' success last year was a sign of things to come.
As far I’m concerned, this defense is either going to have to show significant improvement, or Mayfield is going to have to show he can lead them from behind in games, something he didn’t have to do much of last season. At nearly even money, and with Cleveland in one of the best divisions in football, the under is the only way I can look on this win total.