Now, Detroit was eliminated so long ago that it will struggle to find the motivation to compete the remainder of the season. If Calvin Johnson weren’t pursing Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving yards record, it wouldn’t have been shocking if the Falcons beat the Lions by 20 points or more.
But Megatron is laughing in the face of the Madden Curse, so fans should get at least somewhat of their money’s worth.
Here’s everything you need to know about this Week 16 matchup.
When: Saturday, December 22 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Watch: ESPN, NFL Redzone
Live Stream: Sirius XM Radio: 93 or online at Audio Pass
Will Atlanta cover the spread?
The Falcons average 26.5 points per game and allow just 18.5. For those mathematically challenged, that’s eight points.
Against a Lions team that would rather get Johnson the single-season receiving yards record than win, Atlanta won’t struggle to cover.
Over/Under: 41, according to Odds Shark
Detroit’s defense surrenders 27.1 points per game. Matt Ryan could easily lead four touchdown drives. The only question is, will Matt Stafford turn the football over too many times for the Lions to eclipse the 20-point mark?
Who knows? But he’s fourth in the NFL in passing yards, so I wouldn’t bet against him being able to march. Over is the safer bet.
Atlanta WR Roddy White is questionable with a knee injury.
Atlanta S William Moore is questionable with a hamstring injury.
Detroit RB Mikel Leshoure is questionable with a knee injury.
Detroit WR Calvin Johnson is probable with a knee injury.
Detroit TE Brandon Pettigrew is out with an ankle injury.
Detroit S Louis Delmas is questionable with a knee injury.
Detroit CB Chris Houston is probable with a hamstring injury.
Detroit DT Nick Fairly was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.
Detroit CB Jacob Lacey is doubtful with a knee injury.
Fantasy Big Plays
Atlanta: RB Michael Turner
Turner isn’t racking up rushing yards like he used to.
The 30-year-old bruiser is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry this season compared to his 4.5 average last year. In the past two games, he’s rushed for just 66 yards on a pitiful 2.9 yards a pop.
What Turner is still doing, though, is finding pay dirt. He’s now scored a touchdown in five straight games, and the Lions surrendered three on the ground last week to Beanie Wells.
Detroit: RB Mikel Leshoure
Leshoure, like Turner, isn’t rushing for a strong average this season at 3.8 yards per carry. But also like the Falcons veteran, he has a nose for the end zone.
The former Illinois halfback has rushed for eight touchdowns this season, and seven of them have come in the past seven weeks. Atlanta’s run defense is ranked just 24th in the NFL, so Leshoure has a matchup which he can exploit, if he's active, of course.
Keys to an Atlanta Win
If the Falcons score off the Lions’ turnovers, they’ll cruise to an easy W.
And Detroit will indeed turn the football over. Matt Stafford alone has turned the football over five times in the past two weeks. If Atlanta fails to take advantage of his almost inevitable gaffes, it’ll give the Lions the momentum they need to make it a game.
Keys to a Detroit Win
As one can imagine, protecting the football is the Lions’ one and only key to victory.
Stafford’s struggles are somewhat understandable. Megatron is the only respectable receiver he has to throw to right now. But there are quarterbacks out there who’d cut off their non-throwing arm just to have Johnson.
If Stafford doesn’t play smart, the Lions are going to look silly.
Detroit will be able to put some points on the board and keep it close into the fourth quarter. But the Falcons are too talented and too hungry to get upset by the apathetic Lions.
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.