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The Detroit Lions finished the 2021 season with the second worst record in the NFL. They were one of just two teams, along with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who failed to reach four wins on the year. However, that hasn't stopped bettors from lining up to back the Lions in 2022. As of mid-May at BetMGM, only the New York Jets have received more over bets on their season win total than the Lions.
The Lions win total is set at 6.5, which is a 3.5 win upgrade from their total last year. It's tied for the largest season-to-season upgrade in the league, alongside the Jaguars, Denver Broncos and New York Giants. Those teams either have new coaches or new quarterbacks. The Lions have neither. So why is the market so high on Detroit?
The Lions were unlucky, but showed improvement
The Detroit Lions started the 2021 season with an 0-8 and then 0-10-1 record. There were props available by midseason whether the team would go 0-17 and whether the team would go winless. The Lions did end up righting the ship in the second half of the season, losing just five of their final nine games and going 3-3 in their last six games of the year.
What went wrong for the Lions? Well, a lot.
First off, it was the first season under the general manager/coach pairing of Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell. The team stripped down their roster and relied on a lot of younger players. Expectations weren't very high for Detroit to begin with last year, as it was clearly a rebuilding season with both executive and coach learning on the fly.
Then, the injuries hit. The team lost two starting offensive linemen to injury early on in Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow. They lost receivers Quintez Cephus and Tyrell Williams, who were both projected as starters. The secondary was depleted due to injuries to Jeff Okudah and Ifeatu Melifonwu. As the season progressed, it didn't get better. Jared Goff, D'Andre Swift and T.J. Hockenson, arguably Detroit's three most talented pieces on offense, all missed time down the stretch.
In total, Football Outsiders ranked Detroit 3rd in "adjusted games lost" due to injury in the 2021 campaign. That measures not just how many injuries a team had, but how impactful those injuries were to the team. For the most part, injuries aren't predictive and it's not much of a leap to assume better injury luck moving forward for Detroit.
The team was also unlucky on the field. They lost six one possession games, including three games on last second field goals by the opposing team. The most memorable of those games was the incredible walk-off 66-yard field goal from Justin Tucker. The team was extremely competitive most weeks, as shown by their 11-6 record against the spread, which was 4th best in the league.
Reasons for optimism with Detroit
The Lions played better as the 2021 season went on, but their 3-3 record down the stretch isn't the only reason for optimism surrounding Detroit.
The Lions added an impact player on both sides of the football in the first half of the first round of the NFL draft. They drafted edge-rusher Aidan Hutchinson and wide receiver Jameson Williams to give them two more impact players. They signed D.J. Chark in free agency to bolster their wide receiver room before then. They also added Mike Hughes and DeShon Elliott to bolster the secondary.
While most bad teams have a poor offensive line, that isn't the case with Detroit. The Lions' five projected starters along the line allowed just 11 sacks in 2021, and their average PFF grade was 75.3. The entire unit returns for 2022, and with hopefully a healthier season from center Frank Ragnow, many rankings have the Lions as a top-5 offensive line in the league.
Say what you want about Jared Goff, but in a league filled with mediocre-to-bad quarterbacks, he's far from the worst. The Lions have also upgraded the weapons around him. He will no longer need to rely on throwing the ball to the likes of Josh Reynolds or Quintez Cephus. The Lions can line-up Williams, Chark and Amon Ra-St. Brown in three receiver sets, which is a tremendous upgrade. T.J. Hockenson is one of the better tight ends in the league, and the same can be said about running back DeAndre Swift when healthy.
The Lions also have one of the weaker schedules in the league. According to Warren Sharp, Detroit has the 5th easiest schedule in the NFL. Sharp uses sportsbooks' projected win totals for each team to determine his strength of schedule rankings. The Lions get the Chicago Bears twice on their schedule. They also have both New York teams, Seattle, Carolina, Jacksonville, and Washington which make up the lighter side of their schedule.
Oddsmakers are already projecting a much improved season from the Lions this year. They won just three games last year, but their win total for this season is set at 6.5 wins. There's optimism surrounding the Lions, and you can see the reasons why. Detroit is a long shot to make the playoffs at +400 odds, but seven wins is not out of the question for this team. It should, at the very least, be a much more fun NFL football season in Michigan.