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What you need to know about Falcons - Lions in Week 7

It’s a 2-3 Lions team against a 1-5 Falcons team, but Atlanta’s likely to be favored to win this one.

NFL: SEP 24 Falcons at Lions Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Falcons grabbed their first win of the 2020 season against the Vikings, and with that victory under their collective belt, they’re on to Detroit. Entering the easiest stretch of schedule all year, Atlanta could actually put a run together if the improvement we saw against Minnesota is genuine.

Just how challenging will the Lions be, though? Let’s dive in.

Falcons - Lions comparison

Atlanta’s huge week against Minnesota lifted them in the league rankings in such a significant way that they now look considerably better than the Lions across the board. The problem is that we don’t know how much of last week was a heroic post-firing bounce against a middling Vikings team and how much of it was sustainable.

Week 7 Comparison

Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Allowed
Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Allowed
Falcons 1-5 13 4 2 19 28 31 31 5 13 8
Lions 2-3 15 24 22 15 22 21 15 29 17 4

The Lions have been a very mediocre team. They’re fresh off a strong win over their own over the hapless Jaguars, but otherwise every game has been a one score finish aside from an utter shellacking at the hands of the Packers. Matthew Stafford has been solid but unspectacular, no receiver aside from Kenny Golladay has been a standout (and he’s only got 14 receptions thus far, owing in part to injury), and the ground game has been solid but unspectacular outside of D’Andre Swift’s coming out game against the Jaguars. The defense has been thoroughly middle of the road against the pass and pretty bad against the run, raising the specter of another big day for Todd Gurley and Brian Hill.

The one thing the Falcons can’t count on is freebie turnovers, which will put more pressure on the defense to be solid across the board. Kirk Cousins has struggled with interceptions all year and gave the Falcons two easy and one difficult picks, which helped turn the tide of the game significantly. Stafford has thrown just 4 picks in 5 games, but at least he’s been sacked 12 times in 5 games, too. They have to be wary of Golladay getting loose, the always tough tight end matchup that T.J. Hockenson offers up, and an emerging Swift wreaking some havoc on a quietly good run defense. This is not the scariest offense this team has faced, however, and isn’t close to the scariest defense either.

The Falcons, meanwhile, finally crawled out of the deep hole they had gotten themselves into with a pretty well-coached, well-executed gameplan. You just won’t catch me saying they’ve turned the corner based on a single game, even if I’m a little hopeful in a secret, shameful part of my heart.

How the Lions have changed since the last time

This team looks a bit different than it did back in 2017. They were a better-coached squad under Jim Caldwell back then, in my humble opinion, and that alone is a massive difference maker. But the roster has been changed in many ways both subtle and unsubtle.

The 2017 team had Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, and Zach Zenner as leading rushers, while this version has a brutal 1-2-3 punch in D’Andre Swift, Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson. Years ago their leading receivers were Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and Eric Ebron, and now only Jones remains from that trio, with Hockenson and Kenny Golladay taking over the mantle from Tate and Ebron. The offensive line has been re-worked and fussed over, while the defense has been overhauled under Matt Patricia to an almost unrecognizable extent. Heck, they added Desmond Trufant this offseason, and guys like Darius Slay and Quandre Diggs who were underrated fixtures are now gone.

For all that work, I’m not certain the Lions are a recognizably better team than they were during their 9-7 2017. I’m much more certain they are not better, even if there are young and promising players here.

What you need to know about the matchup

The way this game will go hinges entirely on whether Atlanta’s performance against Minnesota was a one-off or a sign of things to come. A Falcons team playing anywhere near the height of their powers can handle this mediocre Lions team easily, but a Falcons team playing at the level we saw through the first five weeks of the season is going to find that Detroit is just good enough to beat them.

I’m worried about a quality three-headed rushing attack that features fresh legs in Swift, a dangerous player familiar to any Falcons fans who are also Georgia fans. I’m worried about Golladay’s ability to get loose and Hockenson because he plays the tight end position and the team’s fortunes against tight ends have become a running gag. I’m worried about promising pass rusher Romeo Okwara cutting in to the backfield and making life miserable for Matt Ryan, and I’m worried the Falcons will have a bit more trouble getting Stafford to make big mistakes like Cousins did. I’m broadly worried that the Falcons are going to make sloppy mistakes again, which of course has been one of the main reasons they’ve doomed themselves over and over again since...well, 2017, really.

What it comes down to, though, is what Falcons team shows up. I like to think that Atlanta will at least be more disciplined and motivated after finally getting that taste of victory, and that should at least keep this game close. Don’t sleep on this team’s ability to put together a decisive win against Detroit if all goes well, though, especially because this Lions team may become the latest squad to move on from an underachieving head coach soon enough.