Atlanta Falcons vs. Detroit Lions: Prediction, preview, pick to win

By The Sports Xchange  |  Sept. 21, 2017 at 2:24 PM
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ATLANTA FALCONS (2-0) AT DETROIT LIONS (2-0)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Ford Field. TV: FOX, Chris Myers, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin (field reporter).

SERIES HISTORY: 37th regular-season meeting. Lions lead series, 24-12. One memorable meeting between these two teams came in 2012, when Calvin Johnson caught 11 passes for 225 yards to break Jerry Rice's season receiving record. The Falcons won 31-18, but Johnson passed Rice's mark on a 26-yard pass from Matthew Stafford in the fourth quarter.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Both teams have started hot and will try to continue their success in Week 3. Atlanta has quieted any skeptics who wondered about the possibility of a Super Bowl hangover less than eight months after coughing up a championship to the New England Patriots. The Falcons have relied on a high-powered offense led by reigning MVP quarterback Matt Ryan and all-world wide receiver Julio Jones. The Falcons have the eighth-ranked offense in the NFL with 368 yards per game but will face a tough test on the road against Detroit, which boasts the No. 7 defense (289 yards per game).

As for the Lions, a main key will be to protect quarterback Matthew Stafford in the pocket and give him time to make plays with his arm or with his feet. Stafford is the league's highest-paid player this season, but he has not stumbled in the spotlight. He has completed 71 percent of his passes and thrown for 414 yards, six touchdowns and one interception in his first two contests. Atlanta's secondary has flaws, but that will not matter if the Falcons can attack Stafford with a consistent pass rush.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

--Falcons RB Devonta Freeman vs. Lions DTs A'Shawn Robinson and Haloti Ngata. Freeman has been a workhorse throughout his career, so it comes as no surprise that he has stayed busy to start 2017. The Florida State product has carried the ball 31 times for 121 yards and three touchdowns in two games so far. He also has caught four passes for 18 yards. It will be up to the Lions to prevent Freeman from finding the end zone for a third consecutive week.

--Lions WRs Golden Tate and Marvin Jones vs. Falcons CBs Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. Atlanta has surrendered 242 passing yards per game in 2017, which is a cause for concern but not a reason to panic so early in the year. That said, if Stafford hooks up with Tate and Jones for multiple passing plays downfield, the consternation among Falcons fans might intensify.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Falcons QB Matt Ryan. The QB keeps piling up mind-boggling statistics in his pursuit of a Super Bowl championship. Ryan has passed for a touchdown in 21 consecutive games, which is the longest active streak in the league. He is gunning for his seventh straight game with a passer rating of at least 100. He has passed for 507 yards, six touchdowns and one interception in his last two games against the Lions. The reliability of Julio Jones as a No. 1 wideout and the recent emergence of tight end Austin Hooper as a big-play threat has helped Ryan to succeed with such consistency. Jones (174 yards), Hooper (135 yards) and secondary wideout Mohamed Sanu (132 yards) all have cracked the century mark in yardage this season.

FAST FACTS: Detroit QB Matthew Stafford is 5-for-5 on passing attempts in the red zone this season. The Lions' signal-caller has thrown three TD passes on red zone attempts. ... Falcons K Matt Bryant has not missed a kick attempt this season. He is 5-for-5 on field-goal tries and 6-for-6 on extra-point attempts. ... Detroit is aiming for its first 3-0 start since 2011. The Lions went on to finish 10-6 that season but lost in the playoffs to New Orleans. ... Falcons DE Brooks Reed has two sacks this season and needs one more to post his best single-season effort since 2014 with the Houston Texans.

PREDICTION: What an intriguing matchup. Both teams feature star quarterbacks and versatile playmakers, and this game could come down to Ryan's ability to guide the Falcons against a tough defense in a hostile environment. We will not bet against him.

OUR PICK: Falcons, 26-24.

--Tom Musick

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