If I were to single out one team that potentially has the most to lose from the ongoing National Football League labor impasse, I would choose the Detroit Lions. Two years ago this summer, the Lions were coming off a season in which they became the first NFL team to finish with an 0-16 record. They commanded so little respect among bettors and oddsmakers that one major Nevada sports book created a proposition asking how the Lions would fare in their first four regular-season games. An 0-4 record opened as an even-money favorite. (The Lions went 1-3.)
This season, if the NFL lockout is settled, Detroit figures to rank as the most substantially improved team in the league. Some basic sports statistics as well as some technical indicators from the realm of sports betting suggest Detroit is a franchise on the upswing.
The Lions finished 6-10 straight-up last season, but went 12-4 against the point spread, meaning they won money for their backers at the betting windows while exceeding the expectations of oddsmakers and, perhaps more significantly, the betting marketplace. Five of their losses came by 4 points or fewer.
Detroit has performed well in recent drafts, selecting quarterback Matthew Stafford in 2009, reigning defensive rookie of the year Ndamukong Suh in 2010 and Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley in this year’s first round.
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Early Las Vegas betting lines for the forthcoming season reflect higher expectations for Detroit. According to point spreads posted at Cantor Gaming sports books (M Resort, Cosmopolitan, Hard Rock, Tropicana), for instance, the Lions opened as just a 2-point underdog at Minnesota in Week 3. Last year, the Lions went off as a 13-point underdog when they played at Minnesota. Other notable early point spreads:
The Lions opened as a 1-point favorite against the Bears in Week 5. When they hosted Chicago last season, the Lions went off as a 5-point underdog.
The Lions opened at “pick ’em” against the Falcons in Week 7. The teams did not meet last season, but Atlanta finished 13-3.
Detroit went off as a betting favorite in only three games last season and was never favored by more than 3.5 points. This coming season, the early line has Detroit favored by 4 against Kansas City and Minnesota, by 4.5 against San Francisco and by 7.5 against Carolina.
This time last year, the odds on the Lions winning the Super Bowl were upwards of 100-1 in Las Vegas. This year, 30-1 is a more typical price.