Hype, Trap, Bet: Beware of Dan Campbell and the Lions
August 28, 2023
Aug 26, 2023, 08:00 AM ET
It’s fun to jump on the bandwagon. To board the hype train as it leaves the station, heading for greener pastures. Sometimes those pastures include some extra green in your pocket. Other times, it’s a one-way ticket to disappointment along with the rest of the public.
In the sports betting world, it’s essential to know the difference between when the public is on a smart bet, and when a line has taken on so much public steam that it’s moved past the point of being good value. A good bet at -110 odds isn’t automatically a good bet at -150.
That’s what I’m setting out to do for you this season; to help you spot those differences and think critically when you see something on tv, hear it again on a podcast, and then see it all over your social media feeds the rest of the week.
This week, we’re taking on the Detroit Lions — everyone’s belle of the ball this upcoming NFL season. Let’s dive into the hype, touch on a few traps, and round it out with a few reasonable bets to place.
Believing the Hype
Ever since Dan Campbell first professed a propensity for biting kneecaps, Motown Mania has been in full effect. The love affair reached a fever pitch last August when the team was featured on Hard Knocks and Jamaal Williams convinced us to run through a brick wall.
After barely missing the playoffs, the public is back on board for another successful season in Detroit. The Lions win total is currently set at 9.5 at Caesars Sportsbook, with significant juice to the over. Dan Campbell is the co-favorite for Coach of the Year at 10-1. They’re +120 favorites to win the NFC North for the first time since the division was called the NFC Central.
According to Caesars, the public has bet more money on the Lions to win their division than any other team. It’s also the biggest hold on any team to win their conference.
This is a clear case of the public wanting to buy into a great story and be a part of history as the woebegone franchise turns things around with a blue-collar mentality and a can-do attitude. We’re all rooting for the Lions to buck historical trends, hoping they can have the same impact on the 2023 NFL season that Barbenheimer had on movie theaters this summer.
Beware of the Trap
Let’s take a step back for a second and look at a couple of these bets.
Dan Campbell to win Coach of the Year (+1000)
The Coach of the Year Award traditionally goes to one of two archetypes:
(1) the top seed/best team in the league, or (2) the biggest surprise of the season that drastically improves or goes beyond expectations.
If Detroit goes 10-7 and wins the NFC North, that will be a historic year for the franchise and a great storyline for the season. My friend and yours, Daniel Dopp, will cry tears of joy we haven’t seen since the Red Wings hoisted the Cup in 2008. But that’s also exactly what the odds are telling us should happen. They’ll barely hit their win total, and they’ll cash close to even money on winning the division.
A bet on Campbell to win Coach of the Year is a bet on, at minimum, 12-13 wins or the top seed in a weakened NFC. You can’t convince me to take the odds on that any more than you could convince Tom Brady to eat a strawberry.
Lions to win the NFC North (+120); Lions win total OVER 9.5 (-130)
In addition to projecting out the entire fantasy football landscape, Mike Clay also does his own league-wide projections. He currently has the Lions ranked as the 18th-best team in the NFL, behind the Vikings, and projected for just 8.2 wins.
ESPN Analytics has the Lions as the 11th-best team according to FPI, ahead of Minnesota at 15 and the Bears and Packers in the mid-20’s. But even if you agree with the rosy FPI outlook, the Lions’ division odds still aren’t a good betting value. Their model projects Detroit to have a 43% chance to win the NFC North, which absolutely makes them the favorite but is below the +120 odds that you’re betting on them (+120 odds imply a 45% chance of the event happening).
The Vikings probably won’t win an NFL-record 11 one-score games again this season (cue the Usher “watch me” meme) but they should be just as competitive in this division with an improved defense, a full season of T.J. Hockenson, oh and Justin Jefferson who just happens to be the best wide receiver in the league and the consensus first overall pick in fantasy football. Meanwhile, the Bears and Packers are plucky unknowns that could spoil things as well.
The more optimistic ESPN Analytics projection has the Lions for 9.4 wins, almost exactly in line with Caesars’ line of 9.5. But with the current odds of -130 to the over, you would need at least a 57% chance of Detroit hitting double-digit wins for it to be worth taking that bet. In the words of Mark Cuban: I’m out.
Everyone is climbing on board now, but this hype train left the station last season. If you’re trying to buy a ticket now, you may be paying a Taylor Swift-level resale markup for a seat you could have bought at face value in 2022.
The bets to make
It’s not all rain on the mayday parade! Here’s a few relevant betting markets that do have some value.
Coach of the Year
Let’s say you still want to jump on a bandwagon that hasn’t jumped the shark yet. Instead of picking Dan Campbell to run the table, consider a bet on Sean Payton (+1200). All he needs to do is resurrect Russell Wilson from the calamity that was last season’s Denver Broncos. Going 10-7 or 11-6 would be a 5-to-6 win jump, and that isn’t improbable given the team’s talent level and expectations from a year ago.
Or you can take a flier on Mike McDaniel (+1800). Someone is going to take down that loaded AFC East with 13 or 14 wins, and Tua Tagovailoa was already flirting with MVP consideration last year on one of the best offenses in the league before his season was derailed by injuries.
Lions to make the playoffs (-170)
If you have FOMO and need to have action on the Lions this year, there is a value play on the board. ESPN Analytics gives Detroit a 65.4% chance of making the playoffs in an NFC that realistically doesn’t have seven good teams. Shop around and look at different sportsbooks to get the best number you can, but -170 odds means you only need a 63% probability for the bet to be a good value.
How bad is the NFC? Mike Clay’s 8.2-win Lions still grab the No. 7 seed in the NFC according to his projections. Even if they don’t take the next step forward, you can still expect Campbell and Co. to be in the playoff hunt come December and enjoy riding the public wave!