NFL 2018 Season - Week 16
 

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Bare Facts
by Dennis Ranahan

Last Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers opened their season as a touchdown underdog in Minnesota, and lost both the game and point spread to the Vikings. On Monday night, the Detroit Lions opened their season at home as a touchdown favorite against the New York Jets, and lost both the game and point spread decision.

This week, the Lions travel to San Francisco and are a touchdown underdog in the 49ers home opener. In other words, a team that was a touchdown underdog the first week, and lost, is now a touchdown favorite, and a team that was favored by a touchdown, but lost, is now a touchdown underdog.

Who do you like in this game?

No doubt, the Minnesota Vikings, who beat the 49ers, are considered a lot better team than the Jets squad that upset the Lions on their home field. After all, the Vikings have what many consider the best defense in football and the Jets opened on the road with a rookie quarterback. But, is a two touchdown shift in the point spread from one week to another warranted?

The public thinks so, but it is out of line with what the bookmakers thought. The first number released on this game had the 49ers favored by a field goal, but the bettors swooped in on that line like seagals show up to feast at the stadium after a San Francisco Giants baseball game. By Tuesday afternoon, after the Lions stunk it up in their nationally televised Monday Night Football opener, the point spread had been raised to 5½ points in response to the heavy action on the 49ers. On Wednesday, the line was up to six points, and by Sunday, it would be higher still if driven totally by public money.

For an average football team, winning as a favorite is a lot tougher task than winning as an underdog. So, while the 49ers had the much tougher matchup in their opener than did the Lions, they also had the advantage of underdog motivation and points on the spread. Neither of those elements were enough to vault Kyle Shanahan’s team to a win.

As a decided favorite in his first game as an NFL head coach, Matt Patricia, appeared totally overmatched by the young Jets. But, now as an underdog, the motivation shifts to his Lions and what seemed a disaster in his opener is likely to shift to a win in his second outing.

The 49ers came into this season the most overrated squad in the league. In 2017, San Francisco was 1 and 10 before their season ending five game winning streak that was achieved by a number of fortuitous situations against uninterested opponents and coincided with the insertion of new quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. That late season surge, put expectations for this season well ahead of the actual Niner talent level.

Even in defeat, the knowledge they opened against one of the best teams in the league on their home field, did little to douse the 49ers confidence. In fact, the most common theme on coverage of the 49ers this week in the Bay Area focussed on how well they played against the Vikings and if only they hadn’t turned the ball over near the goal line they may have pulled out an upset win.

Beware of teams that celebrate losses as if they proved they could win. What really happened, and the facts will bare this out, was that San Francisco fell behind 24-6, turned the ball over four times, Garoppolo threw three interceptions, was sacked three times and the 49ers lost the game. The final score was actually closer than the game itself, and that does nothing to serve as a wakeup call for an overconfident San Francisco squad.

Conversely, the Lions have nothing to hide behind. They got whipped by a rookie quarterback on their home field. Although, in the third quarter their game was tied at 17 before the Lions expected victory and played horrible for the final quarter and half enroute to the lopsided loss, 48-17.

That defeat serves the Lions well. No one on the plane ride from Detroit to San Francisco was talking about if only this or that, they are forced to look at the abyss of dropping to oh and two in a pair of games they thought they could win just a few days ago.

Now, on full alert, the Lions will be the more motivated squad when they meet San Francisco on Sunday, and maybe, just maybe, the 49ers will finally get the wakeup call they need to win in the future.

Qoxhi Picks: Detroit Lions (+6) over San Francisco 49ers