Saturday, 22 December 2012

Atlanta Falcons (12-2) @ Detroit Lions (4-10)

At the start of the season in my NFL Preview ( I predicted these two would be playoff teams.  I'm happy with my prediction for the Falcons as most people were taking the Saints in the NFC South but I went with Atlanta and they have done the job.  Unfortunately, I was way off with the Detroit Lions.  I projected a 12-4 season for the Lions and a wildcard place.  I was miles off and they will be closer to a 4-12 finish than 12-4. 

Atlanta have had a good year and a win here would secure the NFC's number one seed which would mean someone would have to come to Atlanta and beat them or the Falcons will be in the Superbowl.  They are 7-0 at home this season, so they won't be beaten easily.  A lot of doubters will say that Matt Ryan has never won in the playoffs which is true but when you look at it, the record isn't as bad as it sounds.  In his first year in the NFL, Ryan guided the Falcons to a playoff place and lost to the Arizona Cardinals who went on to narrowly lose in the Superbowl.  That's not bad for a rookie.  They missed the playoffs the following year with a 9-7 record.  The next year they won the NFC South with a 13-3 record and opened their playoff campaign against the Green Bay Packers.  In that game, Aaron Rodgers played one of the best games I have ever saw and the Falcons lost to a Packers side who went onto win the Superbowl.  Last year, the Falcons reached the playoffs again with a 10-6 record and went to New York in the wildcard round and suffered a heavy defeat to the Giants.  That same Giants team went onto win the Superbowl.  The fact that most people want to talk about is that Matt Ryan is 0-3 in the playoffs but when it's looked at further, he is actually 0-3 against the teams who went on to represent the NFC in that years Superbowl, two of which won the whole thing.  That is more about bad luck than a bad quarterback. 

This year's Falcons have a very strong passing game.  Matt Ryan is a very good quarterback and with targets like Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez his job is made easy for him.  White and Jones have already passed 1000 receiving yards for the season and Gonzalez needs 120 yards from the last two games to pass 1000 yards for the fifth time in his career and for the first time as a Falcon.  The running game isn't great but it's doing enough to keep defenses honest which creates space for their trio of receivers to exploit.  On defense, they are giving up a lot of yards.  They are giving up an average of over 350 yards per game which is 19th in the league.  However, they are making up for that by keeping teams out of the end zone.  They are conceding an average of 18.5 points per game which is the 4th best record in the NFL.  If the Falcons can carry those sort of numbers on defense into the playoffs, they will have every chance of being in the Superbowl as their offense is capable of troubling any team in the league. 

The Lions have been the most disappointing team in the league this season.  They finally ended their long slump by reaching the playoffs for the first time since 1999 but they have not built on that success.  They have a lot of very good players but it just hasn't worked out for them this season.  Matthew Stafford is a good quarterback.  His numbers last year were excellent.  He threw for over 5000 yards, 41 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.  This year he has 4252 yards and could very well end the year with another 5000 yard season.  His interception numbers are similar as he is currently on 15 interceptions for the year.  The one big difference is touchdown passes.  He has only got 17 touchdowns this year which is way below his record last year.  With two games remaining he is 24 touchdown passes behind his record from last year.  That is a massive difference and it is without doubt the reason why the Lions are heading for an early draft pick instead of the playoffs. 

The big plus for the Lions has been the form of superstar receiver, Calvin "Megatron" Johnson.  Megatron has emphatically dismissed the "Madden Curse" and is just 182 yards away from breaking the record for most receiving yards in a regular season.  The record has stood for 17 years and is currently held by Jerry Rice who had 1848 receiving yards in 1995.  I expect Megatron to break that record and there's every chance it might even happen tonight. 

The match ups in this game are quite tight.  Both sides will look to pass the ball.  The Lions are 1st in passing and the Falcons are 5th.  On defense, the Lions are 11th against the pass and the Falcons are 17th.  Neither side are particularly good on the ground.  The Lions are 23rd and the Falcons are 28th.  On defense the Lions are 18th against the run and the Falcons are 24th. 

Prediction -
If this game was between two 8-6 teams who were chasing a playoff place, I would take the Detroit Lions based on the match ups.  However, with the records as they are, I have to side with the Atlanta Falcons as they need this one to secure the NFC's number one seed. 

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