Oh, that magic number. The Detroit Lions and Tennessee Titans are playing in one of 11 matchups in Week 3 with the NFL betting line hovering around three points. Can the Titans keep the Lions within a field goal?
In case I haven’t said it
enough already this week, or during my stellar handicapping career, you have to
shop those NFL odds from open to close. Consider Sunday’s Lions-Titans matchup
(1:00 p.m. ET, FOX). The line opened as low as Detroit –1.5 before climbing
as high –4. We’re looking almost across the board at Detroit –3.5 as I write
this Wednesday night.
Punt, Pass, Kick
It’s the Year of the Kicker, folks. After two
games, place-kickers have made 121 of 129 field-goal attempts. Holy cannoli.
That includes 13-of-16 from at least 50 yards out, and 1-of-1 from 63 yards,
courtesy of San Francisco 49ers veteran David Akers.
Kickers have long been considered the lowest caste
of the NFL. You can’t think about Garo Yepremian without wanting to chuckle, or
the Gramatica Brothers, or Mark Moseley’s MVP award. On rare occasion, there’s
an Adam Vinatieri out there who gets some love. Mostly, though, kickers get
remembered for failing (take Scott Norwood for example).
Forget that. Today’s kickers are bigger, stronger
and more accurate than ever. And they’d better be. Nearly one in six NFL games
is decided by exactly three points. That’s why sharp handicappers are always
looking for a betting line that moves to 2.5 or 3.5 points, not to mention a
strong special teams unit. You won’t find a more undervalued commodity on the
football field, even now.
The Good Foot
The Lions and the Titans both happen to have
Pro-Bowl kickers at their disposal. Detroit proudly features Jason Hanson (82
percent career accuracy on figgies), who is in his 21st season with the Lions
after getting drafted in the second round back in 1992. Yes, the second round –
this was before free agency hit the NFL, by the way. Tennessee has Rob Bironas
(86.5 percent), one of nine kickers ever to connect from 60 yards or more.
Hanson is 6-of-7 to start the season with his one
miss coming from 40 yards against the 49ers last week, schtoinking it off the
right upright. That turned out to be critical in a 27-19 San Francisco win with
the Lions getting seven points on the road. Bironas is a quiet 3-for-3 as the
Titans struggle downfield under QB Jake Locker (77.6 passer rating).
It’s pretty much a saw-off from a field-goal
standpoint, but Bironas was better on kickoffs last year with the league moving
the ball up five yards to the 35. Tennessee ranked sixth in touchback
percentage at 56.41, with Detroit coming in 15th at 46.08 percent. Factor in
that field position, plus the punters and returners, and the Titans were third
last year in special teams efficiency with the Lions placing No. 29.
Yeah, But Locker?
It’s quite tempting to add Bironas’ big boot and
the Titans at +3.5 to you NFL picks this weekend. The problem is, the Titans are playing lousy football on
offense and defense, while the Lions are merely mediocre thus far. Yet things could
turn around this week. Detroit is running out of healthy bodies in the
backfield after putting CB Drayton Florence (forearm) on injured reserve
Wednesday and picking up Jerome Murphy off waivers from the New Orleans Saints.
Here’s Locker’s chance to shut up his critics, at
least for one week. Although his numbers don’t show it, Locker is making better
decisions, and the offensive line in front of him is capable of playing better
football, as well. So of course I’ll take the home dog with the upside and the
better special teams and the extra half-point off the magic number. It’s all
Free NFL Pick: Titans to cover the number