On September 9th, the St Louis Rams open up their season in Detroit against the Lions with the glass half full. The question is whether or not they'll leave with the glass half empty. I'm projecting a 'moral victory' for Sam Bradford and company, and a cashing ticket for the home favorites.
When it comes to breaking down a Week 1 point spread, one must consider 'key numbers'. When the line opened Detroit -9 I thought that was kind of high. The Rams might be coming off a horrendous season, but they've made a number of great moves in the offseason and got some key pieces back from injury. The market agrees as we've seen a significant line move over the last 24 hours. Currently, Detroit is favored by a touchdown (odds courtesy of SBRforum).
So which way should we go? Right now, if you like the Rams you already missed out on two points of value over the key number of '7'. If you like the Lions you have to ask yourself whether they'll win by more than a touchdown.
Instead, consider throwing Detroit in a two-team, six-point teaser and take the guesswork out. Teasing down home favorites past the '7' and '3' has proved to be a very profitable approach in the NFL. Find another option on the board such as New Orleans -7 or Philadelphia -8.5 and you're good to go.
It's pretty dark in the room when it seems like I'm the only one supporting a team, but I maintain the Rams will be much improved in 2012. The problem is Week 1 is not a matchup that favors their strengths. There are three main advantages that I see for the Lions that should secure the home win.
A big issue for the Rams in 2011 was their pass protection. Granted, they ranked near the bottom in most meaningful statistical categories, but the inability to protect Bradford really derailed the entire offense.
Those questions linger this year with questions at LG, RT, and to a lesser extent, LT. Week 1 will mark the first time they play together as a unit this year. That's not what you want when guys like Cliff Avril, Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch, and Nick Fairley are on the other side.
Corey Williams and Willie Young are nothing to sneeze at either as this line comes at you in waves. Sam Bradford has to prove he's improved his decision-making and can get the ball out quicker in order to have success. They'll also rely heavily on the run game to nullify the rush.
I think the Rams' receivers are an underrated group. Danny Amendola is a reliable route-runner and pass catcher, Brandon Gibson has potential, and Steve Smith might regain his form. There is also hope on the horizon with their youth movement—Lance Kendricks, Brian Quick, Chris Givens, and Austin Pettis. They have some high hopes for Steven Jackson, Isaiah Pead, and Daryl Richardson out of the backfield, too.
The problem is, Jeff Fisher wants to have a run-heavy attack and that kind of philosophy may not work against the high-flying scoring machine in Detroit. In order for the Rams to win this game straight up, they'll need their defense to limit what the Lions do on offense.
Up front, Michael Brockers, Robert Quinn, and Chris Long can do some damage. This will be their best hope in slowing down the Lions. James Laurinaitis is a game-changer at the next level, and Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins can shut things down at the back.
That's the good news.
The bad news is their depth—especially in the secondary. After the starters, who starts in the nickel and dime packages? The Lions love to spread you out and pick you apart. Not many people talk about this, but Matthew Stafford threw for 5000 yards last year. Calvin Johnson is uncoverable. Brandon Pettigrew is primed for a big year and complemented by Tony Scheffler. Nate Burleson and Titus Young can take advantage of favorable matchups.
The running game is bleak, but Kevin Smith can mange his role in spot-duty while Mikel Leshoure sits out with a suspension.
The offense doesn't rely on dozens of "trickeration" formations to confuse you. For the most part, they line up and just beat you with execution.
Continuity vs Change
In the preseason, coach Jim Schwartz claimed they could call an entire game's worth of plays with the existing roster. There is so much continuity on both sides of the ball that there isn't much of a learning curve going on in this program.
In stark contrast, Jeff Fisher is at the beginning stages of implementing his approach. This factor might be overblown, but the Lions are going to feel much more comfortable in those "make or break" moments—and they're at home.
It wouldn't shock me if the Rams cover the spread, but winning straight up is a tall task given the mismatches. St Louis has a bright future, but they are young and likely not ready for prime time just yet.