Detroit Lions @ Atlanta Falcons
Sunday October 26th, 13:30
Live on Sky Sports 2
Game Two of Three in the NFL's International Series sees Detroit making their longest road trip of the season, to play Atlanta in London. Technically this is a home game for the Falcons. But if you think Atlanta might have even the slightest advantage from playing at Wembley, then think again. A map sent out by the Falcons on social media showed their team flying to a game located somewhere in Spain.
If Atlanta's support team don't even know where England is, then you have to question what else they might be getting wrong. For example, preparation.
It's reported that after completing their transatlantic flight on Tuesday morning, the Falcons drove straight to a community day at a north west London school. Great for the kids. But is it the ideal way to deal with fatigue, time difference and an unknown venue?
But then that's what the NFL is really about. It's a business. More than 83 thousand fans turned up to the last of these Wembley games, when Miami beat Oakland in Week Four. Have no doubts, this entire expedition is first and foremost about promoting America's number one sport in a promising new market.
Individually, both teams will be doing their best to win over new fans - from pretend-training with schoolkids, to making nice with the local press, to having cheerleaders show-off their pom-poms at every opportunity. But of course the most effective way for either side to gain followers is the simplest - and that's to win.
With Detroit (5-2) top of the NFC North and Atlanta (2-5) struggling in the NFC South, it would easy to jump to the conclusion that this will be a one-sided affair. A look at the team stats though reveals that while the Lions have by far the better defense, it's the Falcons who are superior on offense, both on the ground and through the air.
And Atlanta's advantage in possession is only furthered by the likely absence of Detroit's star player Calvin Johnson, who's set to miss a third straight game with a high ankle injury. Megatron is in London, but probably only for holidaymaking and marketing purposes.
In his absence expect Golden Tate to be Detroit's leading receiver here. A Superbowl winner with the Seahawks last season, Tate is a top quality wideout who should get the vast majority of targets from quarterback Matthew Stafford. But at the same time, expect Stafford to be throwing under a lot of pressure, having already been sacked 24 times this season - the third highest in the league.
But Atlanta have given up more yards this season than anyone else. So we could see Detroit playing some risk/reward football, by taking big shots downfield and chancing that Atlanta's modest pass rush can't get to Stafford before he can pull the trigger.
Expect Tate to be the go-to man for any such big plays, making him an all-round good bet, both to make big yards and to find the endzone in this game.
Elsewhere, Stafford will be either handing-off or looking to throw screen passes to his running backs Joique Bell and Reggie Bush. Detroit's running game has been woeful though to date, averaging just 3.1 yards per carry, the second lowest in the NFL. So it's more likely we'll see them trying to convert short passes into big plays.
Atlanta are also predominantly a passing team. And the fact is they are a better one than Detroit. Despite their losing record, the Falcons are still ranked the fifth best passing team in the league, with QB Matt Ryan and wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White considered one of the most experienced and fearsome triumvirates in the NFL.
With the Falcons likely to struggle against the league's second best run-defense, we can once again expect to see Ryan making a ton of throws, with Jones his go-to guy.
But don't rule out Atlanta's running backs altogether. Because in Antone Smith they have unearthed a rare find - a runner who has shown a knack for turning a minimum of game touches into big yards and even scores. Despite getting just 16 carries to date, Smith has spun them into 136 yards of silky running, including a 48 yard touchdown romp. And he's proved equally devastating with the short pass, turning just 12 receptions into 219 yards and three touchdowns, including a bulldozing 74 yard score.
Smith doesn't get the ball often, but when he does, more often than not, something big happens. That begs the question as to why he doesn't get given the ball more often, instead of the ineffective Steven Jackson. But that's pro football for you. Names matter. And Smith isn't yet a name. But if he does get given the rock at Wembley, don't be too surprised if he comes up with the kind of play that could make a name for him in the UK.
The Lions like to blitz, a tactic that's worked so far, giving them the third most sacks this season. But it could also prove costly for them here, by providing Smith with space to run into on screen passes.
Both sides have weapons here. But with two go-to receivers to Detroit's one, Atlanta could find more options further downfield. We could well see a few boom-bust type plays with big gains, mixed up with big hits on the quarterback, in a game which has the potential to become the NFL's most memorable Wembley outing yet.
Back Atlanta Falcons (+3.5) to beat Detroit lions @ 1.981/1
Back Atlanta Falcons to beat Detroit Lions @ 2.727/4
Back Atlanta Falcons points to be Over 21.5 @ 1.9110/11 or better
Back Total Points to be over 46.5 @ 1.9210/11