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One reason to be confident, one reason to be nervous about Falcons vs. Lions

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The Lions are a beatable team and we feel good about the matchup, but let’s balance the scales.

Detroit Lions v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Tomorrow afternoon’s game is the latest test in what is sure to be a season-long string of tests aimed at determining whether Atlanta is for real or not. Some of us are already convinced they are, of course, but good luck convincing the skeptics until they’re playoff-bound, at minimum.

Detroit offers an interesting challenge. This is a road game, for starters, and they’re a reasonably balanced team that

Feel confident about: The Lions offensive output

The Lions are 2-0 and their offensive numbers look solid on the surface, but once you start digging into them a little bit, you realize they aren’t exactly blowing teams away.

Matthew Stafford is completing 71% of his passes this year, but he’s averaging a pretty anemic 6.7 yards per attempt because he’s throwing a lot of short passes. The Falcons are better-equipped to deal with that than they have been in years past because their defense plays so fast and they have so many excellent open field tacklers, and this Detroit ground game is solid enough but hardly initimidating, with nary a back averaging over four yards per carry. They’re 6th overall in scoring offense, but their 17th overall ranking in yardage is probably closer to where they’re going to fall when all is said and done in 2017. The Falcons are probably facing their weakest rushing attack yet—and that’s helpful given their relative struggles against the Bears and Packers—though both Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick can be genuinely dangerous through the air.

It’s part of the reason I felt comfortable projecting this Lions offense to score in the low 20s. They had a lot of success against a shaky-looking Cardinals defense, but a much better Giants D was able to hold them to 24 even with a putrid effort from the Giants offense leaving them on the field for long, long stretches of the game. Atlanta can, if they avoid missed tackles and big mistakes, hold this Lions offense in check.

Worry about: A sneaky good Lions defense

The flip side of the coin is a Lions defense that hasn’t been tested by a good offense just yet, but looks like the real deal thus far. They’ve held teams to under 300 yards per game, just 107 rushing yards on the year, and have snagged four interceptions and four sacks on the young season.

Their pass rush is keyed by the supremely athletic Ziggy Ansah, but the strength of this defense is probably its secondary, and in particular its quietly terrific cornerbacks. This is not a defense that is going to be as easy to move the ball on as the Packers, and their secondary is in better shape than Chicago’s even if their front seven isn’t as impressive.

Atlanta is a good enough offense to get by this group, but they’re playing with a bit of a shaky right side of the offensive line and don’t figure to be able to run super effectively right into the teeth of this front seven. I’ll be legitimately a little surprised if they crack 30 points, though they obviously have the talent to do so. I will not be surprised if Detroit picks up a turnover or two and manages to effectively harass Matt Ryan.