Lions head coach Dan Campbell will have a speech ready Thursday night as his team is expecting its best season since the heyday of Barry Sanders and Wayne Fontes. The latter was so recognizable at the time that he showed up in the first few minutes of 1996’s Cameron Crowe football-adjacent film “Jerry Maguire.” Tom Cruise’s character writes a mission statement that doesn’t go all that well at first (he gets fired), but he eventually piles up enough victories – re-signing his top client, getting the girl (and the kid with the spiky hair), building back his career – that it all works out in the end.
I can’t promise that the Lions will have a fairytale ending to their season, or that they’ll win in Kansas City, or that our bets for the season opener will cash. But if we stick to our mission statement, we’ll bank enough wins each Thursday night to be shown the money by Week 18.
I think … the Lions will be able score on the Chiefs
As discussed in the round-robin underdog moneyline parlay, the cornerstone of the Chiefs’ defense is Chris Jones, who tallied 15.5 sacks from the middle of the defensive line last season. Jones put up a Defensive Player of the Year-level campaign similar to Aaron Donald in his prime, and now he’s channelling his inner Rod Tidwell and wants to get paid like Donald. So, barring a miracle, he won’t be playing. When Jones is out of the lineup, the Chiefs’ defense has given up 31.75 points against any offense with a pulse since 2019.
We also like the Lions’ offense and the chances they score the most points in the league this year. This feels like an opportunity to start that effort, even though the real beginning of this chapter of Lions football probably began when they averaged 29.4 points in the final nine games of last year.
If Travis Kelce isn’t able to play, that increases the possibility of an extra possession or two for Detroit when the Chiefs can’t convert third downs with the same efficiency to which they’ve grown accustomed. More possessions and shorter fields lower the bar for what’s required from Jared Goff and company to clear a team total that hasn’t changed despite the good chance that two stars will be out for K.C.
Pick: Lions team total over 23.5 (-115)
I think … someone has to catch easy passes for Mahomes
The Chiefs came out of their 2022 bye week with a plan against the Titans – throw the ball. Mahomes did so 68 times, as they felt that’s how they could beat Tennessee in Week 9 before going back to a more balanced attack the next week. Why is this important? Because from Week 1-9, Isiah Pacheco maxed out at 30% of the snaps. For the rest of the season, Pacheco never had fewer than 35% of the share. In meaningful games between Week 10 and 17, his receiving yard totals were 17, 16, 23, 11, 32, and 18. None of those totals are lower than 10.5, which is his receiving yardage total for Thursday night.
With Kelce likely out, and the explosive Pacheco in his second year in Andy Reid’s offense, look for him to help bail out Patrick Mahomes with short targets that could go a long way but don’t have to to go over.
Pick: Isiah Pacheco over 10.5 receiving yards (-110)
I’ll say … Ben Johnson remembers where he came from
If you weren’t excited by Brock Wright and Shane Zylstra last season, you weren’t alone. But they had most of the 12 touchdowns caught by Lions’ tight ends last season. Their anonymity didn’t stop Goff from finding them in the end zone, and the Lions spent the 34th overall pick on Sam LaPorta.
Goff had never thrown more than six touchdowns to tight ends before last year, which tells me that these scoring plays are more about offensive coordinator Ben Johnson’s design than Goff’s tendencies. Johnson, the Lions’ former tight ends coach, now has a high-investment player at the position to draw up plays for.