SharpClarke's Best Week 15 NFL Bet: DEN @ DET

Dec 16, 2023
SharpClarke's Best Week 15 NFL Bet: DEN @ DET

It's time for some Saturday Night Football, as the Denver Broncos visit the Detroit Lions with all kinds of playoff implications on the line. The Broncos have played their way into the playoff mix in the AFC, while the Lions are trying to hold off two challengers to their stranglehold on the NFC North. Influential bettors love the Lions here, playing at home again after a tough road trip to Chicago. But I'm pushing against this resistance because I see value on the Broncos. Let's dive in.

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Matchup Breakdown

DET offense v. DEN defense

The simple way to handicap this side of the ball Is to point to the Lions' home/road splits with Jared Goff, pointing out how much more comfortable he is when he can play indoors with a home crowd at his back. There is some validity to that, and it's possible that the Detroit home field should carry more than average weight. But this Broncos' defense is underrated. Since Week 5, when they got their key defensive players back from injury, the Broncos have allowed the 6th-lowest EPA/play to opposing offenses. Granted, a lot of this has been generated on turnovers, as they have allowed the 17th-lowest success rate during that span. But turnovers aren't simply luck. They are generated when teams play good defense, get pressure, and play tight coverage. The exact number can be lucky at times, but this Broncos defense creates turnovers. Even more impressive, this stretch has seen them play against Patrick Mahomes twice, Josh Allen, C.J. Stroud, Justin Herbert, Jordan Love (turns out he's pretty good), as well as some duds in Joshua Dobbs, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, and Zach Wilson. Overall, impressive.

Of course, this defensive performance has primarily stemmed from the Broncos stopping the pass. They are relatively better against the pass than the run, which may seem like a problem against the Lions, who prefer to run the ball effectively and hide Jared Goff. But while this sounds like a good angle, running the ball well has very little to do with winning NFL games. For context, the team that runs the ball better than anyone else in the NFL (the Ravens) would rank as the 10th-best passing offense if its runs were classified as passes. The third-best running team (the Bills) would have the 20th-best passing offense. The point is, that successfully running the ball is still suboptimal. They'll need Goff to carry his weight, and against this pass defense, I have some serious doubts. The Lions have not had a decent offensive showing against any of the good defenses they have faced, and I don't see that trend ending here.

DEN offense v. DET defense

Russell Wilson and the Broncos' offense have not blown the doors off anybody recently, and I don't expect them to blow up here. But they have done enough. Javonte Williams is the type of running back who is less susceptible to being stopped by a good run defense because he consistently fights through contact, and good run defenses usually indicate getting to the running back quicker than other defenses. We saw this against the Browns, where he was able to have a little bit of success against one of the NFL's best defenses. Without Alim McNeil in the middle, the Lions won't be able to consistently stuff the run game and put Wilson in bad situations.

Wilson has played much better this season than last season, under the tutelage of Sean Payton. He also has shown more agility and mobility, creating plays on the run. He's not quite prime Russell Wilson, but he has shown glimpses. He still has an overreliance on the deep ball, but against this porous Lions' secondary, that will likely mean a few big shots that connect. That should be enough to keep them in the game on the scoreboard, and their reliance on the run game and short passes outside of the bombs should slow the game down. If both teams run the ball, the clock will keep ticking, and shorten the number of possessions in the game. That typically favors the underdog when the spread is higher than 3. And if the Lions do build a lead, the Broncos can throw the ball effectively to get back in the game.

Market Evaluation

My model predicts a median outcome in this one of Lions by 3.3. Yet the market influencers have been all over the Lions, pushing the spread up to -5 on game day. That's a strong signal and must be respected. There is a chance my model is wrong because all models are wrong. But, even wrong models just need to beat the market better than 52.4% of the time (or less, with line shopping). When I face market resistance, I look for uncertainties, and my model may be mis-pricing. In this case, I see none and am confident in my process, despite the strong signal against me. But anyone following along should be aware of the healthy resistance, which could mean I'm on the wrong side of this one.

Best Bet

The board is split between DEN +5 and DEN +4.5, and I would prefer a cheap +4.5 (say, -105) over a +5 -110. But given that most books have -110 on either number, I'll officially advocate for DEN +5 -110.

DEN +5 (-110) (Caesars, Circa, DraftKings, Bookmaker, etc.)

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