DETROIT — This is what I see when I look out of my hotel window . . .
This is what I see when I look out the back of my hotel coffee shop . . .
So yeah, I was tempted. But then I remembered I wouldn’t get a paycheck if I chose option No. 2. So here I am. (Besides, the casinos will still be there tonight. The challenge: Making a receipt for red and blue chips look like lunch with Thomas Dimitroff.)
The Falcons play the Detroit Lions today. I would never refer to a game in Week 7 as “must-win” but this comes pretty close. Here’s why: A win leaves the Falcons at 4-3 before the bye week, still in a contention to win the NFC South (which nobody is running away with) or a wild card berth. But a loss drops them further down in the division and playoff race, as they’ve already lost three conference games (Chicago, Tampa Bay, Green Bay).
A few weeks ago, it seemed the Falcons had little chance to win this game. They were struggling on both sides of the ball, the Lions were rolling and the team seemed to have no answer for stopping Matthew Stafford (a weak pass rush) or Calvin Johnson (a shaky secondary).
Stafford-to-Johnson still presents a problem. Those two have hooked up for 36 passes covering 564 yards and nine touchdowns already this season. But defensive end Ray Edwards finally is starting to make an impact on defense and Sean Weatherspoon has been strong the last few weeks.
Here’s Mike Smith on Edwards earlier in the week: “I really think that Ray is becoming more comfortable in our scheme. He’s been able to win the snap. When I say win the snap, his first step has been very quick and he’s been able to get on some edges. Sacks sometimes are overrated but we are seeing the type of pressure that we need to see from Ray.”
Another positive: The offensive line had its best game of the season last week against Carolina. Left tackle Sam Baker (lower back) is out this game and he’ll be replaced by Will Svitek. That’s only a major issue if you’re a huge Sam Baker fan but it does cut into depth. As expected, Julio Jones (hamstring) also is out. (I’ll list the rest of the inactives in the comments section.)
Detroit is struggling in two key areas: running the ball and stopping the run. They’ve lost Jahvid Best for possibly the season and will rely on backup Maurice Morris. That means the Lions will have to attack with their passing game. One huge key will be the Falcons’ defense on third down. They have the worst third-down defense in the NFL, having allowed opponents to convert 39 of 79 attempts (49.4 percent).
I’ll stick with my pick: Falcons win a close game, with Michael Turner and the running game being the difference. But I wouldn’t bet it.
Time to kick off the live blog. Then game time. I’m here to serve.
By Jeff Schultz