Following their most impressive victory of the season the Atlanta Falcons can clinch home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a win tonight in Detroit. While Atlanta (12-2) needs just one win in their final two games to lock up the number one seed in the conference playoffs, the Lions are reeling. Detroit (4-10) has dropped six straight. Sunday's 38-10 loss in Arizona was the low point in what has been a disappointing year in the Motor City.
Atlanta controlled the Giants in every way possible on Sunday. The defense picked off Eli Manning twice, and held Victor Cruz to just 15 receiving yards. On offense the Falcons tallied nearly 400 yards, went nine of 13 on third down, did not turn the ball over, and let Matt Ryan gash the New York secondary. Ryan was 23 of 28 passing for 270 yards and three touchdowns.
In the desert things did not go smoothly. Losers of nine straight, the Cardinals had not scored a touchdown in 10 straight quarters entering the match-up with Detroit. After a scoreless first quarter, Detroit had the ball in the final minute of the first half trailing 14-7. The game turned when Rashad Johnson intercepted Matt Stafford and returned the mistake for a touchdown to make it 21-7 at intermission. That was the first of two Stafford touchdowns to the wrong team. Greg Toler put the game away with a 102 yard interception return for a TD in the fourth quarter. Stafford completed less than 50-percent of his throws and was picked off three times. Arizona cruised to victory despite only 98 passing yards.
At times this season the Falcons have been criticized for playing a weak schedule. Atlanta's opponents have won an NFL low 42-percent of their games. It is a virtual certainty that 11 of the Falcons' 14 opponents this season will not qualify for the playoffs and it is possible as many as 13 of them will be done with the season two weeks from now. Finishing with Detroit and Tampa Bay will not improve their strength of schedule. Furthermore, the only road game Atlanta played against a playoff contender came in a battle with Washington where Robert Griffin III was injured. However, you can only play the teams that are on your slate, and when Denver and New York visited Atlanta the Falcons were ready.
It is reasonable to ask if Atlanta will be up to the task come the playoffs. After going 13-3 in 2010 the Falcons hosted Green Bay in their first playoff game and were humiliated 48-21. Last year Atlanta was 10-6 before the Giants butchered them in New York 24-2. The Falcons have not won a playoff game since 2004. The only time they have won multiple postseason games in the same season was in 1998.
The Lions look to play spoiler and at times have competed with quality opponents. Detroit beat Seattle and played one possession games against Minnesota, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, Indianapolis, and Green Bay twice. The Lions have passed for more yards than any other team in the league, and Calvin Johnson leads the NFL in receiving yards.
Win or lose this will be Atlanta's final road game of the season. Detroit must win to avoid their first seven game slide since their winless 2008 campaign.