Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons face each other as both search for long-awaited playoff berths
DETROIT — The Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons are desperately hoping to have enough success this season to end long playoff droughts.
Detroit hasn’t played beyond the regular season since 2016 and Atlanta’s last postseason appearance was in 2017, ranking among the longest streaks behind the New York Jets’ 12-year run of futility.
The Lions (1-1) and Falcons (2-0) will meet Sunday at Ford Field in a potentially pivotal game.
While it may seem way too early to peek ahead at the playoffs two games into a 17-game season, history suggests how teams fare early can indicate their chances of making it to the NFL’s tournament.
Each of the six teams that started 2-0 last season made the playoffs and 64% have since 1990. Eight of the 14 teams in the 2022 NFL playoffs lost at least one of their first two games and 42% of 1-1 teams over the last 23 years have earned a spot in the postseason.
Three-fourths of the teams that start 3-0 have advanced to the playoffs since they were expanded to 12 teams in 1990, while just 25% of teams that were 1-2 rallied for a spot in the postseason.
“Our team’s mindset is that every game is a must-win game, especially after last year when we started so slow,” Lions center Frank Ragnow said.
FAIR TO COMPARE
The Falcons caught some grief for selecting a running back with the No. 8 choice in the NFL draft, but those critics have been quieted by Bijan Robinson’s start.
The former Texas star has become only the second rookie in franchise history, joining William Andrews in 1979, to reach 200 yards from scrimmage in his first two games.
Lining up all over the field, Robinson has averaged 6.2 yards per carry and has 10 receptions for 75 yards and a touchdown.
“They’ve done a great job, using him with his skill set,” Detroit running back Jahmyr Gibbs said. “He can do pretty much everything. With his size being 220 (pounds), and to move like that is special.”
The Lions could have drafted Robinson with their No. 6 pick overall, but traded down six slots and selected Gibbs out of Alabama.
Detroit has eased Gibbs into his first two games, giving him 14 carries for 59 yards and nine receptions for 57 yards. Starting running back David Montgomery has a thigh bruise, giving Gibbs a chance to show what he can do.
“You’re always going to be excited when you get to play some more and touch the ball more,” Gibbs said. “I’ll be pretty amped up.”
The Falcons outscored Carolina and Green Bay 27-0 in the fourth quarter, holding those opponents to a combined 55 yards while they completed just 5 of 20 passes.
“It just speaks to the conditioning and the way our guys want to operate, and the way we want to finish games,” Atlanta coach Arthur Smith said.
The Lions ratcheted up unusually high expectations with a season-opening win at Kansas City and with Ford Field as loud as it has ever been for a game, they lost to Seattle in overtime.
“It definitely humbles you,” offensive tackle Penei Sewell said. “I hope the guys come in with the same mindset of what we were a year ago. It’s different now. There’s too many people riding the wave. There was too many people talking.”
Jeff Okudah may be making his Falcons debut against the team that drafted and traded him. Okudah didn’t play in Atlanta’s first two games due to a foot injury, but was a full participant in practice Wednesday.
Detroit drafted the former Ohio State star No. 3 overall in 2020 and he didn’t pan out. Injuries limited him to a total of 10 games over his first two seasons and he had one interception in 15 starts last season, leading to the Lions dealing him for a fifth-round pick.
“Jeff’s in a good spot,” Smith said.