Lions-49'ers Sunday Night Preview
FROM HANDSHAKE TO FISTICUFFS? LIONS VISIT 49ERS ON SUNDAY NIGHT
It's been replayed to death already...and if one player looks at another one funny Sunday Night on NBC...it will all be replayed again. There's supposed BAD BLOOD between the Detroit Lions and the San Francisco 49ers because of an awkwardly aggressive handshake between coaches Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz.
NBC loves drama. Too bad they don't love comedy any more! You know they'll play up that angle whenever they can. But, as handicappers, YOU need to remember that we're talking about two playoff teams from last year who could well face each other this year in the postseason. Already, one week into the 2012 season, it's pretty clear that San Francisco is a force to be reckoned with...and Detroit sure didn't get any worse in the offseason.
Let's run this high profile NFC matchup through a gauntlet of key indicators to get a sense of best expectations...
DETROIT LIONS AT SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (8:25 p.m. on NBC)
Las Vegas Spread: San Francisco by 6.5, total of 46
Through the week this game hopped between 6.5 and seven. The Wise Guys liked the underdog Lions getting the full touchdown enough that they would drive the number down whenever it got that high. The faction of sharps who preferred the strong defense of the host would lay that 6.5 figuring they wouldn't get a better number later. The public tends to bet favorite in TV games. And, that same public just watched the 49ers win in Green Bay the prior week.
2011 WON-LOST RECORDS/SCHEDULE STRENGTH
Detroit: 10-6 (12th ranked schedule according to USA Today)
San Francisco: 13-3 (19th ranked schedule according to USA Today)
As we mentioned back on Thursday, we'll be using key stats from last year this weekend before going exclusively with the new season starting next week. Little has changed stylewise in the offseason for teams who will be showcased in the national telecasts. The 49ers impressed last year against what was roughly a league average schedule. Detroit played a top dozen schedule and still qualified for the playoffs while battling periodic injuries. Perhaps most importantly...you got the sense that bigger things could be ahead for the young skill position players and these relatively new head coaches.
2011 TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL
San Francisco: +28
Both were helped by turnovers last year. Much of that is a reflection of their physical play on defense. But, you have to catch a few breaks to get all the way up to +28. No matter how conservative San Francisco is on offense, and aggressive on defense, they just can't count on +28 again. They'll need to win more games this year with raw production if they want to measure up to last season's 13-3 record. Detroit can get haphazard, as you saw last week in their win over St. Louis. They had to overcome a 3-0 turnover deficit to score a nailbiter victory. It's extremely rare for any NFL team to pull something like that off. It took a matchup between a playoff caliber team and a doormat for it to be possible this time.
2011 OFFENSIVE STATS
Detroit: 396.1 yards-per-game on 6.0 yards-per-play
San Francisco: 310.9 yards-per-game on 5.0 yards-per-play
This is a little misleading because San Francisco isn't focused on accumulating yards when they have the ball. Well, not in the sense that most teams do. They try to play smart and focused, then take advantage of opportunities that come their way. Detroit goes petal to the metal all game and isn't afraid to throw deep to highlight reel receivers. Detroit had the more explosive offense last year. San Francisco had the safer offense. It worked for both.
2011 DEFENSIVE STATS
Detroit: 367.6 yards-per-game on 5.6 yards-per-play
San Francisco: 308.2 yards-per-game on 5.1 yards-per-play
Great defense from the 49ers. Even though they were in a weak division, they did grade out to have a schedule strength that was close to average. Those aren't polluted by a gift schedule. The 49ers still have the elite defense that Mike Singletary built...and that man can build defenses even if he's not head coaching material. Detroit tends to fall into shootouts, which means the defense tries to force turnovers rather than shutting people down. Tough to do that vs. SF's preferred style of play.
IMPORTANT CHANGES IN 2012
San Francisco has made it clear that they intend to throw downfield more this year. They acquired Randy Moss in the offseason and he didn't embarrass himself in Green Bay. If Alex Smith can post bigger stats while not imploding, then the Niners become championship material right away. If increasing risk just leads to turnovers, things are going to get messy.
DETROIT 27, ST. LOUIS 23
Total Yardage: St. Louis 251, Detroit 429
Rushing Yards: St. Louis 78, Detroit 83
Passing Stats: St. Louis 17-25-0-173, Detroit 32-48-3-346
Turnovers: St. Louis 0, Detroit 3
Third Downs: St. Louis 33%, Detroit 44%
Vegas Line: Detroit by 9, total of 46
Total yardage shows Detroit's real dominance as a playoff team vs. a patsy. Those three interceptions made this a thriller that didn't need to happen. Things really are that simple when you handicap the Lions. You want to take them at value prices if you're confident they can avoid making big mistakes. You want to be careful laying big prices with them because it's so hard to trust them to play a clean 60 minutes. The fact that they couldn't reach 100 rushing yards vs. St. Louis might be a bad indicator for them this week. Stafford will HAVE to pass, which plays right into San Francisco's hands.
SAN FRANCISCO 30, GREEN BAY 22
Total Yardage: San Francisco 377, Green Bay 324
Rushing Yards: San Francisco 186, Green Bay 45
Passing Stats San Francisco 20-26-0-191, Green Bay 30-44-1-279
Turnovers: San Francisco 0, Green Bay 1
Third Downs: San Francisco 22%, Green Bay 46%
Vegas Line: Green Bay by 5, total of 46.5
This was as solid as it gets. Remember that Green Bay scored a TD on a punt. So, San Francisco won 30-15 in terms of offense vs. defense, with a huge 186-45 edge on the ground. If you move the ball that way, turnovers are less likely to happen. We're disappointed with the 22% mark on third downs. Throwing further downfield was supposed to help with that. If there's a trouble spot for San Francisco tonight...it's in that category. Settling for punts and field goals can bite you in the butt when your opponent can strike for a big play at any time.
As is often the case in the big TV games when quality teams are playing each other, the ability to play a clean game will be the ultimate tie-breaker. Normally, that edge would go to San Francisco in dramatic fashion. But, they are trying to throw further downfield this year. And, the Vegas line has adjusted to that advantage...which is why this line is up near a touchdown rather than down at a field goal. How many sites would see a playoff team getting this many points as a dog? You'll have to determine of the market has overadjusted to last week's 49er win in Green Bay. And, you'll have to decide whether or not the Lions are up to the challenge of playing relatively mistake-free football on the road. Detroit's just as capable of winning here as San Francisco was in Green Bay last week.
JIM HURLEY always evaluates all the options on busy NFL Sundays. He could have a big play in this game. Or, it might be part of a TV Parlay with NY Jets/Pittsburgh, Dallas/Seattle, or Baltimore/Philadelphia. Check our season-long packages before the early games start so you don't miss any Upset Specials or Big Play Blowouts!
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Back with you Monday in the NOTEBOOK to preview Denver/Atlanta on ESPN. Can Peyton Manning navigate a brutal early season schedule for the Broncos? The man with the answers is the man who makes sure you GET THE MONEY! That's JIM HURLEY!
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