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Sometimes there's a disconnect between NFL fans who like to bet and those who don't.
To the non-bettor, the Detroit Lions have been terrible this season. They're 2-12-1. They took until Dec. 5 to get their first win. On the surface it's just another bad Lions season.
On the other side of the table, bettors will toast the Lions at the end of the season.
There are two teams this season that have losing straight-up records but have been a winner against the spread. One is the Minnesota Vikings, who are 7-8 overall but 8-7 against the spread. Not a big difference.
Then we have the Lions.
Lions have had a great season. For bettors
The Lions are not just the best losing team against the spread, they're one of the best ATS teams period. There are four teams with at least 10 wins against the spread, and the Lions are in that group.
The 2-12-1 Lions are 10-5 against the spread according to Covers.com's standings. The other three teams with 10 or more wins against the spread this season are the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts. The Packers and Cowboys have clinched division titles and the Colts are very likely to be a wild-card team. The Lions will have a top-five draft pick next April.
It's very rare for a team to have such a difference between their overall record and record against the spread. Usually if there's a big gap, it's from a very good team that oddsmakers have overpriced because they know the public will bet on them regardless of the number (the Kansas City Chiefs are a good example from the start of November in 2020 to this November, when they won a lot but rarely covered).
Even last week, when the Lions were on the road and didn't have quarterback Jared Goff, backup Tim Boyle did enough to cover the 6.5-point spread. The Lions lost 20-16. Bettors still cashed another Lions ticket.
Lions are big underdogs again
There is often value betting on bad teams in the NFL. The way the league is set up, streaks very rarely last. Most teams go up and down, with the most recent performance often being a terrible predictor of what we see next. The NFL is ripe for overreaction, and plenty of experienced bettors fade recency bias in the NFL each week. Many public bettors see a team with a losing record and assume they'll get blown out each week. The NFL is too competitive to be that predictable.
Still, having a team win eight more games against the spread than they have in the actual standings is an anomaly. The Lions have rarely been blown out this season despite losing just about every week. New coach Dan Campbell came in preaching a lot of old-school machismo, and while many rolled their eyes the players bought in. It seemed like after they finally won their first game they might coast the rest of the season, but they've covered in their last two games including a shocking win against the Arizona Cardinals. Clearly, the Lions aren't counting the days until the season ends, despite playing for nothing but pride.
The Lions are 7-point underdogs at BetMGM vs. the Seattle Seahawks this week. To the casual fan that might seem like an easy bet on the Seahawks, with stars like Russell Wilson and DK Metcalf going against a two-win team. Bettors who have been wise to the Lions most of the season will probably see it otherwise.