The Detroit Lions are coming off their biggest win of the season (okay, sure, there’s only been two) after decimating the Arizona Cardinals in shocking fashion. It was the most complete game the Lions have played in several years, and it has some people seriously believing the Lions are headed in the right direction.
This week, the Lions are literally headed south for a game against the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons, too, are in Year 1 of a new head coach and a new general manager. Unlike the Lions, however, the Falcons have managed to keep their head above water and find themselves technically in the NFC Playoff hunt with just three games remaining in the season.
However, I’m here to tell you that is fool’s gold. This is not a good Falcons team, and you can even make a fairly decent argument that the 2-11-1 Detroit Lions are a better team than the 6-8 Atlanta Falcons.
I’ll explain more in our Week 16 Lions scouting report.
2021 season thus far (6-8)
Week 1: Lost to Eagles, 6-32
Week 2: Lost to Buccaneers, 25-48
Week 3: Beat Giants, 17-14
Week 4: Lost to WFT, 30-34
Week 5: Beat Jets, 27-20
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: Beat Dolphins, 30-28
Week 8: Lost to Panthers, 13-19
Week 9: Beat Saints, 27-25
Week 10: Lost to Cowboys, 3-43
Week 11: Lost to Patriots, 0-25
Week 12: Beat Jaguars, 21-14
Week 13: Lost to Buccaneers, 17-30
Week 14: Beat Panthers, 29-21
Week 15: Lost to 49ers, 13-31
- 26th in points scored (18.4 PPG), 31st in points against (27.4 PPG)
- 32nd overall in DVOA (30th on offense, 31st on defense, 28th on special teams)
- Offensive DVOA: 25th in pass offense, 31st in run offense
- Defensive DVOA: 30th in pass defense, 26th in run defense
If you look at these stats, you’d wonder how the heck this team has won six games. And that’s a fair question to ask, because this team has no apparent strengths. They’re particularly bad in the trenches. Just take a look at some of their advanced statistics:
- 27th in pass block win rate
- 26th in PFF grade
- 29th in run block win rate
- 12th in PFF grade
- 26th in pass rush win rate
- 32nd in PFF grade
- 28th in run stop win rate
- 26th in PFF grade
They don’t fare much better in traditional stats either. They’re 22nd in yards per attempt (6.8), 29th in yards per rush (3.7). Defensively, they’re 22nd in yards per attempt (7.3) and 18th in yards per rush (4.3).
The one thing they appear to do somewhat well this year—which is a complete turnaround from previous years—is close out games. They are 6-1 in one-score games, including three wins that have come on a game-winning field goal as time expired.
But if you look at the overall scores of some of these games, you can tell this is not a great team. Their most impressive win came against the Panthers, and when it comes to teams with a record above .500, the Falcons have gone 0-5 and been outscored 58-177 (an average of 23.8 points per game). As a result, the Falcons actually have a worse point differential than the Lions for the season, despite having four more wins.
But, hey, the Falcons are somehow still in the playoff race, so they still have serious motivation to win.
Key injuries: S Erik Harris (IR), NCB Isaiah Oliver (IR), WR Calvin Ridley (NFI), OLB Dante Fowler (calf)
The Falcons are remarkably healthy given how deep into the season we are. They only have six players on IR, and only two were considered starters. Injuries to Harris and Oliver definitely leave the Falcons’ secondary shorthanded, but it’s nothing like what the Lions are dealing with.
Their biggest loss this year has been to WR1 Calvin Ridley, who stepped away from football in November to take care of his mental health.
Edge defender Dante Fowler has been battling a calf injury for a couple weeks now, but he’s tried to play through it. However, he only played in 13 snaps last week, suggesting it’s still bothering him.
Biggest strength: Pass catchers
The Falcons’ receiving corps isn’t as good as it has been, with Julio Jones with the Titans and Ridley away from football, but they still have some pretty darn good options. Kyle Pitts is arguably having the most productive season ever for a rookie tight end. Russell Gage has stepped up in recent weeks, tallying 347 yards and two touchdowns in the past four games. And while Cordarrelle Patterson has been mostly a running back, he’s still a big threat in the passing game, hauling in 48 catches, 524 yards, and five receiving touchdowns this year.
Biggest weakness: Pass rush
The Falcons only have 16 sacks all season, which is six fewer than any other team in the NFL. In fact, T.J. Watt (17.5) and Robert Quinn (16.0) have just as many sacks as the entire team. The team is also dead last in pressure rate, so this isn’t an instance of misleading sack numbers. This is truly the worst pass rush in the NFL. Could really use a guy like Charles Harris right about now.
Vegas odds for Sunday: Falcons by 5.5