Earlier this week, the Atlanta Falcons traveled across the pond to London, where they have been preparing to host the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Wembley Stadium in a Week 8 clash. The Falcons and Lions have played each other 44 times, with the Lions holding a 23-21 advantage in the all-time series. Atlanta has won each of the last three matchups between the two clubs, including a 31-18 victory at Ford Field in Detroit in 2012.
Top Matchup: Falcons Secondary vs. Lions Wide Receivers
One week after logging two interceptions against the Baltimore Ravens, cornerback Robert Alford and his teammates in the Falcons secondary will have their hands full with a Lions receiving corps, regardless if wide receiver Calvin Johnson (ankle) is cleared to play. With or without Johnson, fellow Lions wide receiver Golden Tate has proved why the team signed him as a free agent in the offseason, logging 48 receptions for 649 yards and two touchdowns in 2014.
Under the Radar Player: Falcons C James Stone
The Falcons rookie was thrust into the spotlight last week against the Ravens, when center Peter Konz suffered a knee injury and did not return to the game. One week later, Stone will have his hands on every offensive snap. Falcons head coach Mike Smith described Stone as an intelligent player, who has an impressive ability to identify fronts and change protections. The former Tennessee star will be heavily tested by a Lions front line that includes defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.
On the Radar Player: Falcons WR Julio Jones
Many across the league believe Calvin Johnson is the best wide receiver in the league and with very good reason. Jones, however, is also an all-world talent and is looking to step up his game in Week 8 to help his team land its third win of the season, remaining in the hunt, near the top of the NFC South. Currently leading the Falcons with 49 receptions and 676 yards, look for Jones to make the most of his opportunities in Sunday's early-morning contest.
Number of the Game: 290.3
Sunday's matchup is a clash of a high-octane Falcons offense, ranked sixth-best in the NFL with 387.7 yards-per-game average, and a dominating Lions defense, ranked first in the league, allowing an average of 290.3 yards per game. If the Falcons offensive can provide quarterback Matt Ryan time to set his feet and throw, they'll have a much better shot at matching that season average for yards, and hopefully some touchdowns to go with it, ideally leaving Wembley Stadium with a victory.
3 Keys to Victory
1. Time is of the Essence: Ryan's wide receivers have said they're prepared for quick, short routes to help get the ball out of his hands early, with any extra time provided by the offensive line a big plus, leading to some downfield throws that could potentially light up the scoreboard.
2. Third-Down Defense: Atlanta's defense did a much better job last week, forcing the Chicago Bears into long second and third-down situations, before enabling first-down conversions; one week later, following another focused week of practice, look for Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's crew to be better disciplined on third downs, helping to get the ball back to "Matty Ice" and company.
3. Exceeding Expectations: Each of the Falcons coaches and players has taken accountability for the current 2-5 record, admitting the team hasn't played up to its abilities and/or expectations; now is the time. Following a strong week of practice, the Falcons may get an extra boost from wide receiver Harry Douglas (foot), who is listed as a game-time decision for the Week 8 contest. Look for the team to come out on Sunday, playing in a way that shows it refuses to return home without win number three of the season.