Detroit Lions (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS), 1:00 p.m. EST, Week 1 NFL, Sunday, September 11, 2011, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay, Fla., TV: FOX
by Badger, NFL Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Det +3/TB -3
Two teams that were former division foes in the NFC will renew their ex-rivalry in an interesting National Football League week one season opener September 11th, when the Detroit Lions travel to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Raymond James Stadium.
The game will feature two of the young gun quarterbacks of the NFL, as Josh Freeman and the Buccaneers are hoping to build off of last years surprise 10-6 season and take the next step into the NFC playoffs. In Detroit, the goal of 2011 is to keep Matthew Stafford healthy because with him back in the lineup the Lions have been the most exciting team in the preseason this year.
Oddsmakers installed the Buccaneers as the standard 3-point favorite at home when the betting line opened a few weeks ago, almost baiting the betting public to fall in love with the Lions and their fantastic preseason. Well, it worked, because the point spread is all the way down to Tampa Bay minus 1.5-points at a few places in Las Vegas and its down to -2 or -2.5 at most of the offshore sportsbooks on the Web.
The over/under total opened at 40 and has also moved a little after early betting, jumping up the point to 41 on the board at most sportsbooks currently offering NFL totals odds.
On paper the Buccaneers would appear to have the better offense, but thats not the way it has looked over the past few months following the summer lockout. The young Bucs looked overmatched in their preseason game versus New England, and theyve struggled to run the ball and protect the QB in the pocket thus far, which if it continues into the regular season will put far too much pressure on Freeman to carry the team.
Meanwhile, the Lions offense has looked sharp, efficient and completely in synch throughout the entire preseason, averaging 32.6 points per game through the first three games including an eye-opening performance against Tom Brady and the Patriots in the popular and crucial third preseason game last week. The Lions could have issues at running back, since rookie Mikel LeShoure already out for the season (Achilles) and Jahvid Best battling concussion issues already. Third-year pro Ian Johnson (Boise St.) has been the Lions best back in the preseason, so there might also be extra pressure on Stafford once the real bullets start flying.
Defensively these two teams are very similar, as both teams play a 4-3 scheme that is built around massive defensive lines that stuff the run and make teams throw the ball over the top of them to win.
The Lions brought in two new free agent corners in the secondary in Chris Houston (Atlanta) and Eric Wright (Cleveland) to team up with young safeties Amari Spievey and Louis Delmas to try and shore up the defenses weakest link in 2010. The Buccaneers also sport a few young starters in their secondary (CB E.J. Biggers and FS Cody Grimm), and are expected to start two rookies at middle linebacker (Mason Foster) and right end (Adrian Clayborn), so it will be interesting if Stafford is able to take advantage of the youth on defense.
These two played late in December last year, a 23-20 victory by Detroit in overtime that helped to kill any thoughts of playoffs for the Bucs in 2010. Detroit kicker Dave Rayner drilled a 28 field goal at the end of regulation to push it into overtime, then he ended it with a 34-yarder in OT to give the Lions the win. Stafford, of course, was already out for the season with injury so Drew Stanton rallied the troops for the Lions win last year, while Freeman was good (251 yds., 1 TD), but not good enough to overcome the Lions defense (3 sacks) and nine Bucs penalties that crushed them in the end.
The Lions covered in last years game as 3.5-point underdogs, while the total of 43 points fell right on the closing over/under total of 43 points at kickoff, causing the game to end as a push.
There arent too many attractive betting trends to follow in this game either, as most of them are average to poor at best.
Detroit is just 4-23 SU as the underdog over the past few seasons, but they do have a 13-11 ATS record in their last 24 games away from Ford Field so they do at least play competitively most of the time. The Lions are also 12-10 ATS in their last 22 games against an NFC opponent.
Tampa Bay is lousy at home versus the spread, going 3-11 ATS over the last 14 at Raymond James Stadium despite an excellent 10-5-1 ATS record for all 16 games in 2010.
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread: The Lions have been an excellent story so far in 2011, but once the real season gets started I dont expect them to have as much success as theyve had so far. As the say, the preseason isnt the regular season. Tampa will likely struggle against the Lions defense too, so Im thinking a 17-14 or 20-17 type of game. Im taking the under of 41 here.
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