Dave Choate: Matthew Stafford is off to a great start this year, from what I've seen. What's different about this offense that is allowing him to thrive, and why is he throwing so much short passes with that big ol' arm?
Chris Perfett: Like any good large adult son, Matt has a lot of toys. There's nobody on the Lions that can match who Calvin Johnson was, but there's just more of it to go around. Golden Tate is magnificent and very flexible, playing wideout, slot and out of the backfield. Theo Riddick is an excellent receiving back. Marvin Jones can make big plays and Eric Ebron should probably have himself a far better year. Stafford can find who he wants and really gets a lot of options to run his imaginary party.
You mention the short passes, and yeah, the deep bombs are the one thing the Lions really do miss without Calvin Johnson. While Marvin Jones can go long sometimes, most of the Lions receivers aren't going to get down the field that far. But that's okay. Jim Bob Cooter's offense is predicated on those short passing routes and making a lot of little cuts that pick up first downs and keeps the offense on the field and rolling. As long as Stafford is accurate, that all works out just swimmingly.
Dave Choate: The offensive line looks much better. Where can the Falcons attack it, though, and which linemen are the weakest links? Asking for a friend.
Chris Perfett: While it looks better, the loss of Taylor Decker before the season has put the Lions in a very difficult spot with the left side of the line. Greg Robinson is starting at tackle, and it hasn't exactly been a good ride for my boy there.
Meanwhile, center Travis Swanson is questionable, and if he doesn't play on Sunday there's a massive vacuum as the Lions try to move Graham Glasgow from left guard to center and probably plays Joe Dahl at Glasgow's original position. Joe Dahl only earns praise from former Lions linebacker/current Fox Sports E-team color commentator/legitimate crazy person Chris Spielman.
(I can't get a Spielman jersey in the new Lions jersey styles. The system for custom jerseys won't let you pick retired players. I'm very upset about this, distraught, and it's legitimately ruining my ability to be a fan. I will face God and walk backwards into hell.)
The whole left side of this line is vulnerable, which is amazing given how it looked to be set with Decker during the offseason and the Lions spent all this money getting the right side upgraded. If Travis doesn't play it's a wash, but even if he does there's havoc to be had attacking the left edge.
Dave Choate: The Falcons will be without right tackle Ryan Schraeder, which is a concern. Does Ziggy Ansah switch sides, and if not, who will backup Ty Sambrailo be facing off against?
Chris Perfett: Ziggy goes where he goes. He's a wandering soul, he has no map to guide him.
Last Monday was an aberration, but a pleasant one. It's good to see that kind of play from Ezekiel Ansah again, which was wholly absent from 2016. Sure, he was doing it against Eric Flowers, who could be replaced by an actual turnstile and the Giants line would do better, but it's progress! I like when he hits people. It's very fun and he'll probably try to do it again, because that's good.
The other edge rusher has always been a bit of a surprise. You'll probably see a mixture of Cornelius Washington and the tree-tackling Anthony Zettel. The Lions like to rotate their defensive line personnel quite often.
Dave Choate: How will this Lions' secondary contain Julio Jones while balancing the need to slow down other weapons on this Falcons offense? It's something few teams do effectively, and I'm always interesting in hearing a novel plan.
Chris Perfett: Very carefully.
Dave Choate: I gotta ask: Does Detroit win this one, what's the score, and what's your season outlook? Was 2016 just a warmup for a playoff-caliber squad?
Chris Perfett: I have no idea what the Lions are. I have no idea where they are going. Latent patterns tell us there is a remarkable crash immediately following a playoff year, followed then by another playoff season; even that is a remarkable and strange development in the history of Detroit football. It's strange and delicious new territory, and it brings great fears and joys.
The offense is getting better, but without Taylor Decker this line will continue to struggle all year. On the defense, I don't think we've seen this team's biggest set pieces mature yet; we haven't even talked about Jarrad Davis yet, and while he's a rookie his absence on Sunday is going to be a huge blow for the linebacker corps.
To that end, I think we won't see any progress towards that mythical promised land of At Least One Damn Playoff Win Already Guys, and even a playoff berth isn't guaranteed, but the future is there. This blueprint looks mighty fine, and if Stafford keeps playing this way, if the young talent on defense pans out, then it's going to be a pretty fun future for the Honolulu Blue Kool Aid drinkers of the world.
All my score predictions this year are scorigamis or just idiotic, non-integer numbers. Some commenter got really mad at me for doing those in the past, but in general I disdain the whole prediction practice because it's vapid and forgettable, only fuel to get people to call me a homer or something. All my actual predictions are in service of better gambling odds and the pursuit of straight cash.
Catch me at the blackjack table and I'll whisper her name in your ear, and take the over.