When the 2012 NFL schedule was released, Saturday night’s game between the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons had the looks of a big game. As a result, the Monday Night Football crew will be in town to broadcast the game to a national audience. Too bad the Lions haven’t held up their end of the bargain.
The Falcons are one win away from wrapping up the NFC’s number one seed while the Lions have lost six straight and are thankfully only two games away from ending this disastrous season.
The Lions have been reduced to playing the role of spoiler while Calvin Johnson tries to break Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving yards record. I caught up with Greg Huseth, Falcons blogger and editor at Blogging Dirty, to get a feel for the Falcons side of things.
1. The Lions are reeling and the Falcons still need a win to clinch the top seed in the NFC yet the betting line opened at just four points. Is this a trap game for the Falcons?
Greg Huseth: I don’t think so at all. The Falcons found themselves in a similar situation in Week 14 when they faced the Panthers. They had just won the division, they needed to beat a division team who had been miserable all season long, and they clearly underestimated them. I think that loss in Carolina woke up the Falcons, and made them realize that having the best record doesn’t mean teams will lay down for you. Atlanta will take this game extremely seriously, as they should. No way they get ‘trapped’ in Detroit.
2. How much are previous playoff failures on the minds of Falcons fans as this year’s playoffs get closer?
GH: I think fans and players both know what happened in the past, but at this point everyone involved or invested in this team realizes the past is the past. Nothing that happened in the past has any bearing on this team. They will still need to execute to be able to win in the postseason, no matter who they play. There’s no curse over this team’s playoff hopes.
3. Matt Ryan took another step towards elite status this year, what has been the difference in his play this year?
GH: I think it’s Ryan’s decisiveness at the quarterback position. In past seasons, he handed the ball off a lot, mostly because he was a young QB. He was hampered by offensive play-calling the past couple seasons. Now, he has an offensive coordinator who he works very well with, Ryan has full command of the offense and is given operation of the no-huddle, and when he make throws, he does so decisively. When he makes deep passes, he doesn’t throw the ball with the mentality ‘let’s throw the ball up and hope the receiver comes down with it.’ He has the mentality ‘I’m going to hit this receiver down the field, in stride, and he is going to make the play.’ And I can say as a fan, my confidence in Ryan as a quarterback has been boosted.
4. What do the Lions need to do to pull off an upset on Saturday night?
GH: Run the ball, and hit Calvin Johnson in the endzone. It sounds pretty logical, I know, but I have Calvin Johnson on my fantasy team. He always puts up a boat load of yards, like he always has, but the touchdown catches just haven’t been there. If Johnson doesn’t get into the endzone, it won’t necessarily matter how many yards CJ gets. Also, the Falcons have struggled defending the run. I know it’s not necessarily something the Lions do well, but every little bit of help they can give the passing game by running the ball, especially in the red-zone, will help.
5. What is your prediction for the game?
GH: I think the Lions tough interior defensive line will give the Falcons some problems, but eventually they will work out the kinks in the offense, and get rolling against Detroit’s secondary. Ryan likely won’t have a gaudy amount of yards, but he’ll probably throw for three scores, and the Falcons won’t run the ball very much. I think the Falcons do give up a big day to Calvin Johnson, but find a way to keep the other receivers and elements of the Lions offense in check. Atlanta 27, Detroit 24