NFC North: Lions Fever

Lions favored (?!) in Minnesota*

September, 20, 2011
9/20/11
4:50
PM ET
We rarely get into betting lines here on the NFC North blog, mostly because I have no idea how they work and would be even more exposed in a gambling discussion than I am while talking football. But we've had a development this week that serves as a great starting point to preview the Detroit Lions' game Sunday at the Minnesota Vikings.

As noted on ESPN.com's very own odds and daily line page, the Lions currently are four-point favorites. Longtime NFC North fans know the Lions have lost 13 consecutive games at the Metrodome. Their last victory in Minnesota came on Dec. 14, 1997. All of which spurs the obvious question: How long has it been since the Lions were favored to win a game at the Metrodome?

The short answer: It's been more than 20 years.

I reached out to a few betting experts Tuesday, and none of their computer databases reached back far enough to find one. Johnny Detroit of Pregame.com reported no instances as far back as 1990, and Jay Korengay of the Hilton Sports Book in Las Vegas surmised it was during the mid-1980's. *Update: Further research from Pregame.com indicates the Lions were last favored at Minnesota on Sept. 20, 1981 -- exactly 30 years ago.

The Lions haven't just captured the attention and imagination of fans and fantasy players. The betting community has jumped on them as well. Their 8.5-point line for last Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs was the first time they have been favored by more than a touchdown in a game since 2000, according to covers.com. And the last time they were favored on the road by three or more? A 1999 game against the Chicago Bears, according to Johnny Detroit.

"We've been watching the Lions pretty closely," Kornegay said. "It's very unusual for a team that has struggled for as long as they have to become such a public team so quickly."

Yes, even Las Vegas has Lions Fever.
After our initial post on Detroit Lions Fever went to press Thursday, ESPN Insider K.C. Joyner published yet another optimistic look Insider at the Lions' fortunes for the 2011 season. You'll need an Insider subscription to read the entire piece, but Joyner mostly focused on how the Lions can maximize the defensive tackle combination of Ndamukong Suh and rookie Nick Fairley.

Here is a snippet: "What makes the pairing of these two so potent is that offenses usually only attempt to double-team block one defensive tackle on running plays. [Lions defensive coordinator Gunther] Cunningham echoed this sentiment when I asked him about this. He said, 'As far as Suh and Fairley playing together in the same front, [the offense] will have to make a decision on which way to slide the center and take the two to block one of them. We will have to figure out what the offense has in mind and work with the one that gets the single block from the guard.' Cunningham also indicated he was considering rotating Suh and Fairley so that he would always have one of them at full strength on every play."

The possibility of a rotation interests me. Remember, Suh was on the field for a higher percentage of his team's plays last season than any other NFL defensive tackle. He's young and in good shape, but strategically pulling back those snaps might be best for everyone.

Joyner typically takes a contrarian approach to football analysis, but this piece is pretty conventional. He concludes that the Suh-Fairley combination, along with the scheming of Cunningham and Lions coach Jim Schwartz "could also be the beginning of a nightmarish scenario for opposing NFC North quarterbacks."

We'll add it to our growing file on Lions fever.

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