The Lions lost their first eight games. They lost 10 of their first 11, with a truly bizarre 16-16 tie with the Steelers mixed into that stretch. Detroit was expected to be woeful under first year head coach Dan Campbell—Matt Patricia’s tenure with the Lions left the roster gutted and the team demoralized, after all—and they were.
A funny thing has happened since then, though. The Lions have won two of their last three games, knocking off the Vikings in a squeaker and brutalizing a terrific Cardinals team 30-12 just this past Sunday. All the hard work Campbell and this team are putting in is finally bearing at least some fruit.
Now they’ll be an interesting challenge for this Falcons team, which has feasted on bad teams and lost over and over again to good ones. Are the Lions truly figuring this thing out and building toward something, setting them up to feel confident once the Brad Holmes-led front office pulls together a quality 2022 offseason? Was last week some what of a fluke?
The answer to that question will matter a lot as they face the Falcons, who are going through significant growing pains under first year head coach Arthur Smith. Atlanta’s won six games this year but well-coached, talented teams have tended to saw through them like cheap plywood, with capable short passing games and ground games getting the job done on offense and quality pass rushes killing them entirely. The Detroit run defense is shaky enough that the Falcons should be able to get back to running and balancing things out effectively, but a crisp Jared Goff, a solid stable of backs and an opportunistic defense figure to make the Lions awfully dangerous. A month ago I would’ve said the Falcons, bad team beaters that they are, would be stomping Detroit and earning a rare home win, but now it’s hard to be sure.
That feeling of progress is something that’s easy to envy. Atlanta has made modest strides in some important areas, including their ability to run the ball and get turnovers, but their loss against San Francisco featured all the hallmarks of the bad Falcons team that lost to the Eagles in Week 1, from allowing far too many short passes to struggling to convert rare scoring chances. Putting Detroit in the loss column this week and earning their first home win would be a nice outcome because the Falcons struggled so mightily last week and they could use a corrective, but also because the Lions no longer look like a pushover.
I think the Falcons can win this one—especially if Goff is out—but the fact that I’m far from certain is a credit to how far Detroit has come. The future may be brighter in Detroit at last, and we’ll just hope we can say the same thing about Atlanta soon enough.