Let’s face it – betting on sports is considered a low art form at best and a vice at worst. If John Feinstein is a pharmacist, I’m a crook in a creepy hat selling pills on a street corner.
But there are times that I think modern, online gambling is the best thing ever to happen to sports. How many people have learned about obscure leagues and little-known teams because it was where the action was on a particular night? How many times have otherwise-routine events turned into a personal triumph thanks to a small wager and a subsequent rooting interest?
NFL games between lowly, losing teams near the end of a season are a drag. There is almost no point, no reason for the rosters to get together and play, save their professional obligations. There are certainly far-fewer reasons for people to buy tickets or tune-in on TV. That’s where recreational gambling comes in. The athletes do care and do play hard in “meaningless” games, at least most of the time. By handicapping and betting on the outcome even a casual fan with no hometown allegiance can wind up caring a whole lot too.
Detroit at Denver has to be among the most boring Week 16 match-ups for non-gambling pigskin fans. But for people who buy-in to the Las Vegas action it might just be a whale of fun.
Who: Detroit Lions at Denver Broncos
When: Sunday, December 22nd, 4:05 PM EST
Where: Empower Field at Mile High, Denver, CO
Lines: DET (+7) at DEN (-7) / O/U Total: (38)
Detroit fans have had a ton of excuses for the Lions only winning 3 games this season, but there’s at least 1 valid excuse in the lot. The injury bug has hit the Lions about as hard as any other team in the NFL, and GM Bob Quinn has already given Matt Patricia a vote of confidence that the latter will be back as head coach in 2020.
Not that things are going any better on the gridiron. Detroit’s offense is on its 3rd quarterback in David Blough, and it is safe to assume the Lions are looking ahead to next year. Matthew Stafford and Marvin Jones Jr. are both on IR, though the offense should get a boost with running back Kerryon Johnson expected to return on Sunday. Even though Johnson has missed 6 games with injury, he is still the Lions leading rusher with just 308 yards…which probably illustrates the broader problems with the team better than anything. Patricia has fallen into the trap of building around Matt Stafford and a pass-blocking OL that can’t run-block and is therefore ineffective in the long run.
Another bright spot for Detroit has been the emergence of 3rd-year wide receiver Kenny Golladay. The last pick of the 3rd round in the 2017 draft, the Northern Illinois product has doubled his touchdown total of 5 last year to 10 in 2019, and has exceeded 1,000 yards receiving in back-to-back seasons.
Fans and some pundits are rightfully puzzled over why Golliday didn’t get an invite to the Pro Bowl:
“I feel like it’s still, you know, like you said, an honor to be noticed. It is what it is, it’s whatever,” Golladay said in the locker room on Wednesday. “I feel like I’m still flying under the radar right now, which is cool with me. “It is what it is at the end of the day. If I would have made it, that’s great.”
NFL.com ranked Golladay as the fifth-biggest Pro Bowl snub after Tuesday night’s roster reveal. The website pointed to the receiver’s added 6.9% catch rate above expectation and the fact quarterbacks have a 105.1 rating when throwing his way as the reasons to consider him a snub.
Except for Golladay becoming the 2,000,000th pro athlete to say “it is what it is,” I think he deserves more praise as well.
For Denver, the last 2 games of the season will serve an evaluation process of whether or not rookie Drew Lock is the quarterback of the future. After an impressive 22-for-27, 300+ yard performance with 3 passing touchdowns against Houston 2 weeks ago, Lock struggled at Arrowhead Stadium last week. The 2nd-round pick out of Missouri was just 18-for-40 passing with 208 yards and an interception in the Broncos’ 23-3 loss.
It does appear that GM John Elway got it right with 1st-round pick Noah Fant. In the upset win in Houston, Lock and Fant connected 4 times for 113 yards and a score. The former Iowa tight end is now Denver’s 2nd-leading pass catcher behind emerging wide receiver Courtland Sutton. On the season, Fant has posted a 32-548-3 stat line, very respectable for a rookie playing with 3 different quarterbacks throughout the season.
Denver kicker Brandon McManus is having his best season since 2015. The 28-year-old PK is connecting on 85.7% of field goal attempts and is 11-for-15 from 40+ on the season. The thin air helps – but he’s good on the road too.
Weather is expected to be mild and calm at Mile High, and Lock will be playing against a team that can’t control the ball and doesn’t have a very good pass rush. The Mizzou grad may not be the next franchise QB in the Rocky Mountains, but there’s a bunch of factors that should help him have a better outing this Sunday.
The Broncos are a safe ATS pick at (-7).