Falcons look to protect fading playoff hopes against Lions

DETROIT (2-11-1) at ATLANTA (6-8)

Sunday, 1 p.m. EST, Fox

BETTING LINE: Falcons by 6, according to FanDuel SportsBook.

AGAINST THE SPREAD: Lions 8-5-1; Falcons 6-8.

SERIES RECORD: Lions lead 25-13.

LAST MEETING: Lions beat Falcons 23-22 on Oct. 25, 2020 at Atlanta.

LAST WEEK: Lions beat Cardinals 30-12; Falcons lost to 49ers 31-13.

LIONS OFFENSE: OVERALL (25), RUSH (17), PASS (25), SCORING (28).

LIONS DEFENSE: OVERALL (29), RUSH (28), PASS (25), SCORING (26).

FALCONS OFFENSE: OVERALL (24), RUSH (27), PASS (18), SCORING (26).

FALCONS DEFENSE: OVERALL (26), RUSH (22), PASS (24), SCORING (31).

TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Lions minus-4; Falcons minus-5.

LIONS PLAYER TO WATCH: RB Craig Reynolds. With D’Andre Swift (sprained shoulder) inactive for the third consecutive week and usual backup Jamaal Williams on the COVID-19 reserve list, Reynolds ran for a career-high 112 yards in the shocking win over Arizona last week. Swift returned to practice on Wednesday and Williams is off the COVID-19 list. Reynolds may have earned continued playing time, especially if Swift is brought back slowly.

FALCONS PLAYER TO WATCH: TE Kyle Pitts. The rookie tight end had a 49-yard catch last week, his longest of the season. Pitts has 58 catches for 847 yards and only one touchdown after entering the season with high expectations as the No. 4 overall selection in the NFL draft. A big game could leave Pitts on track for 1,000 yards.

KEY MATCHUP: Lions WR Amon-Ra St. Brown vs. Falcons CB A.J. Terrell. St. Brown has set a Detroit rookie record with 65 catches. Terrell, in his second season, is rated by Pro Football Focus as the top cornerback for cover skills in the league. Offenses are far more likely to attack Fabian Moreau, Atlanta’s other starting cornerback.

KEY INJURIES: Lions QB Jared Goff tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. Goff could still play Sunday if he clears the NFL’s new protocols. … The Lions activated S Jalen Elliott from the COVID-19/reserve list on Wednesday. … LB Alex Anzalone was placed on injured reserve Monday, after he hurt his shoulder in the win over the Cardinals, ending his season. … Tackle/tight end Matt Nelson was also placed on the COVID-19 list. … Falcons WR Tajae Sharpe missed Wednesday’s practice after leaving last week’s loss at San Francisco with a foot injury. Sharpe started the last two games. LB Deion Jones and DL Tyeler Davison missed practice with non-COVID-19 illnesses.

SERIES NOTES: The Lions are 10-6 in games played in Atlanta. The road team has won the last five meetings between the teams, with Atlanta winning in 2011, 2012 and 2017, and the Lions in 2014 and 2020. … Detroit won the first nine meetings in the series. … The Falcons had won four of five before last season’s loss.

STATS AND STUFF: The Lions are 0-6-1 on the road. The Falcons 0-5 in Atlanta. The Falcons beat the Jets in London when they were the designated home team. … Reynolds has rushed for 195 yards the last two weeks, second most by a Lions player in his first two games with the team. Billy Sims is only other Lions player to rush for at least 80 yards in each of his first two games. … St. Brown already has the franchise rookie mark for most games with seven or more catches (four), and is one away from matching Dorne Dibble’s 1951 mark for most games (five) in a rookie season with 70 or more receiving yards. … Through Week 15, the Lions sport the highest-scoring two-minute offense with 38 points (four touchdowns, three field goals). … Goff is in the top five in the NFL in fourth-quarter passing yards (1,061), and 1,700 of his 3,007 yards have come in the second half of games — when Detroit often is trailing … Thanks to an improved offensive line, Lions running backs have rushed for 493 yards before contact, sixth best in the NFL, and — despite all the personnel changes — are averaging 4.5 yards per rush for the first time since Barry Sanders’ final season in 1998, and just the 14th time in franchise history, with eight players having a run of 20 or more yards this season. … Falcons QB Matt Ryan’s 365 career TD passes are one behind Eli Manning’s 366 for ninth place. … Pitts (847) is the fifth rookie TE with at least 800 yards receiving. … WR Russell Gage has at least 60 yards receiving in his last four games and at least four catches in his last five games.

FANTASY TIP: Falcons RB Cordarrelle Patterson will be looking for a bounce-back game after being held to 18 yards rushing on 11 carries last week. Patterson has 465 scrimmage yards and four TD catches in five home games. He also leads Atlanta with five TD catches. The Lions rank 28th in rushing defense and might struggle to replace Anzalone, who was the defensive captain and leader of the linebackers.

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