Falcons vs. Lions: 5 Matchups That Will Decide Saturday Night Clash
The NFL apparently decided to give me a Christmas present early, as there's no Thursday night game this week.
For the Falcons, this game is about locking up home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, while the Lions are just playing for pride and trying to stop a six-game skid.
Here are a handful of key matchups in a game that could get ugly quickly.
Matthew Stafford vs. Matthew Stafford
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No, that's not a typo.
In 2011 Matthew Stafford had a phenomenal season, throwing for over 5,000 yards and leading the Lions to the playoffs, but a 2012 campaign hit bottom last Sunday when Stafford threw three interceptions against the Arizona Cardinals, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
Stafford's regression this season has happened for a number of reasons, including occasionally horrendous mechanics from the fourth-year pro that have played a large part in his 15 interceptions.
If the Lions are going to have a chance to pull the upset, they need their quarterback to turn back the clock, even if it's only to a season ago.
Calvin Johnson vs. Asante Samuel
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The Lions and Falcons met in Week 7 last year in Detroit, and while the Falcons emerged with a seven-point win, Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson had a big game, reeling in five passes for 115 yards and the Lions' only touchdown.
However, cornerback Asante Samuel wasn't a member of the Falcons last year, and this week's showdown between the NFL's best wide receiver and one of the game's better shutdown corners will be one of the more exciting individual matchups to watch.
Given Johnson's recent tear of seven straight 100-yard games and his assault on Jerry Rice's single-season receiving yards record, a "victory" for Samuel may lie in keeping Johnson out of the end zone, as Patrick Peterson of the Cardinals did a week ago.
Cliff Avril vs. Tyson Clabo
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One of the main contributors to the Lions' loss to Arizona in Week 15 was Detroit's inability to generate pressure against one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL.
Give Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan all day to throw the ball and the Lions secondary will get shredded.
You can say the same thing for defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and the rest of Detroit's front four, but defensive end Cliff Avril is going to have to do a lot better than his one solo tackle last week if the Lions are going to stay in this one.
Mikel LeShoure vs. the Atlanta Front 7
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It's not how the Lions typically move the football, but another way they can stay in this one is to pound away at the Falcons' 24th-ranked run defense.
That means that the Lions will need better than the 3.8 yards a carry second-year running back Mikel LeShoure has generated this year, and the team needs both LeShoure and change-of-pace Joique Bell to keep the chains and clock moving.
After all, the prolific Atlanta offense can't score if they don't have the ball.
Detroit Secondary vs. Atlanta Wide Receivers
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Speaking of that prolific Atlanta offense, in Roddy White and Julio Jones the Falcons have one of the most explosive wide receiver duos in the National Football League, with both wideouts eclipsing the 1,000 yards mark already this year.
Never mind the presence of superstar tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Defending the pass against the Falcons is a tall task for any team, but for the Lions it's especially daunting, as injuries have decimated their defensive backfield.
Cornerback Chris Houston is going to have to play out of his mind, and the Lions are going to need to employ more zone coverages than they might otherwise utilize.
It's either that or get torched.