12-2 Atlanta Falcons at 4-10 Detroit Lions
Saturday night at 8:30 ET on espn
Two teams heading in opposite directions meet as espn moves their game from Monday to Saturday night. Detroit has nothing to play for but pride while Atlanta can wrap up homefield throughout the playoffs with a win. Detroit has been snatching defeat from the jaws of victory all year, creatively finding ways to lose four games by a total of 16 points before last week’s meltdown in the desert. Against Arizona Matthew Stafford threw three interceptions, including two pick-six’. Stafford now has nine turnovers in the last five games and a 17:15 touchdown to interception ratio; Atlanta DB Thomas Decoud (six interceptions) is surely licking his chops in anticipation. Overall Detroit has turned the ball over 26 times; only seven teams have more giveaways. Meanwhile Atlanta has 27 takeaways, 7th best in the NFL.
The Falcons are allowing 4.9 yards per carry, so the Lions should consider handing off to Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure more often than they have previously; Detroit has thrown the ball 642 times, 74 more than any other team. With WR Ryan Broyles on IR and TE Brandon Pettigrew doubtful the Lions don’t have the horses for an offense so heavily weighted on the passing game. Whether or not they do that remains to be seen; it doesn’t help that head coach Jim Schwartz and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan have allegedly been going at each other all year long, and can’t agree on anything.
On the other side of the ball an already soft Detroit defense is without Nick Fairley; he joins Corey Williams as their second starting defensive lineman on IR. Falcon QB Matt Ryan is having a superb season. He has completed 68.5% of his passes (best among NFL starters); passed for 4,202 yards (5th); has 7.80 yards per attempt (5th); and has 27 TD passes (5th)
Ryan has what could be the best trio of healthy receiving options in the NFL. Roddy White has 79 receptions (9th) in 123 targets for 1,156 yards (9th), 14.6 yards per catch, 5 touchdowns, 16 plays of 20+ yards (T-8th), and 64 first downs (5th). Julio Jones has 69 receptions in 112 targets for 1,071 yards (11th), 15.5 yards per catch (15th), 9 touchdowns (T-6th), 16 plays of 20+ yards (T-8th), and 49 first downs (T-12th). Tony Gonzalez has 87 receptions (7th) in 113 targets for 880 yards, 10.1 yards per catch, 8 touchdowns and 62 first downs (6th). Overall the Falcons rank 5th in total passing yards and touchdowns, but they are not as successful on the ground; only three NFL teams run for less than Atlanta’s 3.7 yards per carry.
So what we have is a 10-loss team that is without two starting defensive linemen, their starting running back, their number two, three and four receiver, and probably without their top tight end. They’re coming off a 38-10 loss to a team that had lost nine straight games, after previously tying an NFL record by blowing 10-point leads for a loss in three consecutive games. They’ll be playing a 12-win team that just demolished the defending super bowl champions 34-0, that just needs one more victory to secure the number one seed and home field throughout the playoffs.
If Detroit is to have any chance at all it will have to be due in large part because the Falcons are due for a letdown after last week’s big win over the Giants. Atlanta does have a tendency to play to the level of their opponent – look no further than two weeks ago in their loss to the Panthers – and all the close losses by the Lions would indicate that perhaps the Lions are much better than their record indicates. The bottom line however is that there is not only no reasonable expectation for them to win, but there is also no reasonable expectation for them to cover a 3½ point spread – even though they are playing at home.
Prediction: Falcons 34, Lions 21
Falcons -3½ (two units)
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