Every NFL season brings with it outliers who far exceed expectations or disappoint miserably. With the futures odds set for the 2021 NFL season, we examine that broad range of possibilities for the Detroit Lions.
When Last We Met
Well, the Lions didn’t have the league’s worst record in 2020 and that’s just about the nicest thing I can say about them. The Lions had a disastrous 2020 season in Matt Patricia’s third year, which started off with a O/U sportsbook projection of seven wins.
The first part of the season went well enough. The NFL betting lines favored the Lions in two of their opening six games. The Lions outperformed that expectation with a 3-3 record through six games and had a solid road win over the Arizona Cardinals. Star receiver Kenny Golladay had been dealing with injuries but was 3-1 in games he played 50% or more of the snaps in.
Things certainly got worse from there. The Lions lost at home to Indianapolis in Week 8 by 20 points and Golladay was once again injured. Then, the Lions followed with a 34-20 loss to the Vikings to drop to 3-5.
At this point, Patricia, who was long on the hot seat, was rumored to be at the end of his leash. Through seven games Detroit’s defense was allowing 30 points per game, which was 28th in the league. The Lions were also an inexcusable 0-3 at home.
Patricia saved his job, at least for a little while, with a 30-27 win over the Washington Football Team. Then, in Week 11, Detroit was shut out for the first time since 2009 as the Lions lost 20-0 to a lowly Panthers team. However, the straw that broke the camel’s back came in Week 12.
Lions fans got what they wanted for a long time on Thanksgiving and no, I don’t mean a win. Detroit lost to Houston 41-25 to drop to 1-4 at home and 4-7 overall. Patricia’s tenure finally came to an end following the game, along with GM Bob Quinn’s. Patricia was 13-29-1 during his time with Detroit.
Darrell Bevell took over on an interim basis in yet another lost season for the Lions. The Lions won their first game under Bevell over the Bears but went 0-4 in their last four games.
The Lions finished the season 5-11 and were a poor team for betting online at 7-9 ATS. Detroit had an inexcusable 1-7 record at home and an atrocious defense which gave up the most points in the league.
After putting up with mediocrity for a long time, QB Matthew Stafford had enough and requested a trade following the season. If there are any positive takeaways from the 2020 Lions season, rookie RB D’Andre Swift and TE T.J. Hockenson both played well and are pieces to build around.
To Miss the Playoffs (-1000)
The Lions are almost certain to miss the playoffs according to these NFL playoff odds. The Lions have a new coaching staff, GM, and QB. All of that change is going to mean growing pains.
Detroit hired former Saints assistant Dan Campbell to be head coach. Brad Holmes, a longtime member of the Rams organization, was hired to be the new GM. Their first order of business was to grant Matthew Stafford his trade request and send him to the Rams..
In return, Holmes got Jared Goff, first-round picks in 2022 and 2023, and a third-rounder, which became cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu. Not a bad return in Holmes’s first big move. However, the Lions are dealing with a bare cupboard.
Detroit’s two best receivers, Marvin Jones and Golladay, both departed in free agency. This is going to be a full-scale rebuild for the Lions and it’s going to take time.
Nearly no one expects the Lions to be able to compete for a playoff spot this season. Goff has a lot to prove but it is unclear whether the Lions see him as the face of the franchise going forward.
He reached a Super Bowl with the Rams just a few seasons ago but had one of the league’s best defenses. Playing with a rebuilding Lions team might be a truer test of his abilities.
The Lions chose to hand out a bunch of one-year contracts in free agency rather than commit long-term money. The Lions certainly didn’t make a splash in free agency, as a result, but have flexibility for the future.
The Lions have a mediocre receiving corps, consisting of Tyrell Williams, Geronimo Allison, Breshad Perriman, Quintez Cephus, and fourth-round pick Amon-Ra St. Brown. The former three are all on one-year contracts.
Williams is coming off of a shoulder injury that kept him out all of 2020, while Allison opted out of the 2020 season. Projected starters like K Randy Bullock and LB Alex Anzalone are also on one-year deals.
D’Andre Swift will get the bulk of the carries as Detroit let Kerryon Johnson go and signed Jamaal Williams to a two-year deal to be Swift’s backup. The Lions also drafted Oregon State RB Jermar Jefferson in the seventh round. Adrian Peterson is still a free agent but spent 2020 with Detroit.
The two big contracts the Lion handed out were to their own players. The Lions made Pro Bowl C Frank Ragnow the highest-paid center in the league and locked him in until 2026. Detroit also signed DE Romeo Okwara to a three-year, $37 million deal. Okwara led the Lions last season with 10 sacks.
Detroit drafted for the long term by taking Penei Sewell at No. 7. A tackle out of Oregon, Sewell is the kind of piece that Detroit can build around but won’t immediately make the Lions a playoff contender.
The new Lions regime seems to be a breath of fresh air. Detroit isn’t trying to take shortcuts to success, which might mean a few more bad years. However, there certainly seems to be a plan in place, which is apparently building the offensive and defensive lines first. This season won’t be judged by whether Detroit makes the playoffs or not.
It’ll be incredibly difficult to make the playoffs with a roster this thin and the NFL’s sixth toughest schedule.
Instead, the Lions have two first-rounders in the next two drafts and will undoubtedly be focused on continuing to find foundational pieces like Sewell. That doesn’t mean the Lions can’t be somewhat competitive in the NFC North, though.
To Make the Playoffs (+600)
Even the most generous NFL predictions don’t include the Lions in the playoffs. To make the playoffs, it would take a massive leap on both sides of the ball.
Goff wasn’t great his last two seasons in LA but it’s possible he takes a step forward. With guys like Williams and Perriman on one-year deals, maybe they have career years in search of longer-term contracts. More likely, Detroit won’t be as good offensively with Goff instead of Matthew Stafford.
The offensive line has the potential to be solid. Sewell will contribute right away, while Ragnow and LT Taylor Decker are foundational pieces.
If Swift takes the bulk of Peterson’s carries from last season he has the potential to be a 1,000-yard rusher. Peterson had a rough year with just 3.9 yards per carry and has struggled to find another NFL contract. Swift totaled 521 yards on 4.6 YPC and 8 TDs in his rookie year and can certainly build on it.
The defense was a dumpster fire last season and Holmes made a call to his former team to help address that. The Lions got DT Michael Brockers for a seventh-round pick and the veteran totaled five sacks last season.
Holmes also opted to draft DTs in the second and third rounds of the draft. Levi Onwuzurike out of Washington and Alim McNeill from NC State should both help the Lions put pressure on opposing offenses.
LB Trey Flowers and CB Jeff Okudah are both healthy after dealing with injuries in 2020. Okudah was the third pick in the 2020 NFL draft and underwent groin surgery last December. Okudah claims the injury limited his mobility for much of his rookie season.
The Lions allowed 284.9 passing yards per game last season, which was second-most in the NFL. If Okudah is healthy and S Tracy Walker can have a bounce-back year, Detroit could be much better vs the pass. Especially with added defensive pressure from a revamped defensive line.
The hope is that new defensive coordinator and former Pro Bowl DB Aaron Glenn can reenergize this group. Glenn is now the third DC the Lions have had in the past three seasons but he did spend five years as Saints defensive backs coach.
The Saints have consistently had one of the best secondaries in the league and the Lions desperately need improvement in that area. With a much-improved defense, maybe the Lions could win a few more games than they did in 2020.
When we look at Detroit’s divisional rivals in the Vikings, Packers, and Bears, all are expected to be better than the Lions. The O/U win totals are as follows:
Only the Packers are expected to be a shoo-in for the playoffs. It currently looks like Rodgers will be a Packer in 2021 and re-evaluate his future next season, instead.
So, the best hope for the Lions is making it through a Wild-Card spot. The Lions will be thrown into the fire the first three weeks of the season vs the 49ers, Packers and Ravens. Anything better than 0-3 in those games would be a surprise.
But, Detroit does have winnable non-divisional games in the Eagles, Bengals, Broncos and Falcons. If Detroit can improve to 5-3 or 4-4 at home over last season’s 1-7, there is a possibility that the Lions make the playoffs. Albeit, a slim one.
To Win the NFC North (+2200)
Frankly, it could take a Rodgers trade or injury. The Lions have an incredibly slim chance to be better than the Packers with Rodgers in the picture.
Goff and Swift would have to play out of their minds while the defense approaches league average or better.
Detroit would almost certainly have to go 4-2 or 5-1 in the division for this to be a reality with how difficult its non-divisional schedule is. Let’s say that the Lions go 4-2 in the division, lose their first three games, and win all four of their “easier” non-divisional games.
It’d likely still take two wins out of five over the Steelers, Rams, Browns, Cardinals, and Seahawks.
Maybe Goff gets his revenge game vs his former team but ten or eleven wins is not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination. The NFL division odds reflect a huge uphill battle to win the NFC North.
To Win the NFC (+5000)
It honestly might be more likely that the Lions don’t win a game than they win the NFC. However, I do think the Lions are going to be better than expected and win six or seven games.
But, the Lions are almost certainly not making the Super Bowl with a placeholder roster and remnants of 2020’s worst defense. It’s surprising that these NFL Conference Odds reflect a greater than one percent chance of this happening.
To Win the Super Bowl (+12500)
The Lions will, in all likelihood, be a non-factor in Super Bowl Betting this season. A team rebuilding on this scale could sneak into the playoffs but it just doesn’t seem realistic to even begin to speculate about this potentiality.
But, at 125-to-1, the Lions have better Super Bowl Odds than the 1999 Rams did. So, there’s always a chance!