The Lions will travel to Atlanta for their last shot at a win. Detroit has won all three of its games at Ford Field and if playing inside is any kind of advantage for Detroit, they'll have it inside the Georgia Dome.
Detroit will be without defensive tackle Luther Elliss and safety Bracy Walker. Both join quarterback Joey Harrington on the injured reserve list, Elliss with a high ankle sprain and Walker with a liver laceration serious enough to warrant his being placed in the intensive care unit.
While you have to give the Lions players and coaching staff credit for playing hard in the face of a tough Tampa Bay team last week, they keep coming up short and the problem becomes getting used to losing.
The players seem to give it their all on the field, but they don't appear to be upset by the losing, they appear almost to be resigned to it.
Losing breeds losing and that is a problem for coach Marty Mornhinweg. Lions owner William Clay Ford, Sr. is on record saying, "these final few games will also play a factor."
That being the case, Mornhinweg probably needs to win at least one of the last three games to solidify his hold on the job and he will have to contend with one of the slipperiest players in the NFL, Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick, who yesterday was named to his first pro bowl.
Vick, who is nursing thumb and shoulder injuries, is still smarting over last week's critical loss to the Seattle Seahawks. That loss placed the Falcons in jeopardy of missing a playoff spot that appeared to be a lock a week ago.
"This is a playoff game for us," said Vick. "We realize that we are in a tough situation right now and we can't let too many opportunities slip away. We have to take advantage of what is in front of us and we really have to put our heads together in order to beat (Detroit)."
A loss to Detroit would likely knock the Falcons from any chance of making the playoff since the best they could do would be nine wins.
Detroit's Mike McMahon will be making his first start in three months. McMahon came into the season as the starter, but a loss to Miami and a blowout loss at Carolina changed all of that and Joey Harrington took over and guided Detroit to a 3-9 record as a starter.
McMahon played all but the opening series of Detroit's 23-20 loss to Tampa Bay and appeared to spark the team by avoiding Tampa's pass rush (he was not sacked) and making plays downfield.
"Some of [McMahon's success last week making plays downfield] is experience but some of it is being comfortable with the system and some of it is because I told him to do it. If you compare them, Joey has thrown the ball deep and has had some success. There are some times where we have called and the opponent has taken it away from us."
Mornhinweg also said he will not ramp up the playbook due to McMahon having more experience than Harrington.
"At halftime we were drawing up a few plays. Really, to be honest, they were plays that he had in the past and that most of the players have had in the past – just to get him on the move a little bit. Some of that will be more readily available to him. He's had a little bit more experience just with time in the offense and with the thought process and he's had more film studies and those types of things."
Atlanta linebacker Keith Brooking, also a pro bowl selection and the NFC's second leading tackler (125 tackles and 1 interception), noticed McMahon's ability to get out of the pocket and make plays, but also noticed some blunders.
"From what I have seen, McMahon is obviously a little bit more mobile. He can create things with his feet outside of the pocket. The coaches already pointed out to us that he can make poor decisions at times when he is outside the pocket running around. I think the Lions are the least sacked team in the league and that was with Harrington."
"We have seen," continued Brooking, "that Harrington was really trying to get rid of the ball, making some poor decisions and throwing a lot of interceptions. McMahon tends to hold it a little bit longer from the film we have watched. There are some subtle differences but they have run the same offense all year. We don't expect them to change the plays that much so we have to prepare from what we have seen."
ANALYSIS: As always, the ability to run the ball effectively while stopping the Falcons from establishing a run game is the key for a Detroit win. Detroit expects to have James Stewart back in the lineup and with the veteran just 38 yards shy of the 1,000 mark, expect him to make an attempt to get it this week.
"He looked better today," Mornhinweg said of Stewart. "I would expect him to play depending on how it (his knee) reacts this afternoon and tomorrow morning from his activity today. He's our best back and we would like to have him on the field."
Detroit needs to keep the slippery Vick off the field because few quarterbacks are capable of breaking a game open on one play as the former Virginia Tech star is.
Tampa Bay had success using speedy linebacker Derrick Brooks as a "spy" on Vick. The only linebacker Detroit has with similar speed is Barrett Green. But Vick is big and strong enough to get away from the smaller Green. Detroit will likely employ a "spy" by committee approach to Vick.
On offense, Mike McMahon may as well let it all hang out. What does he have to lose? After all when Harrington is healthy again he's going to be the starter, so McMahon may as well wing it.
That's a dangerous situation for the Falcons. If McMahon has a gunslinger's mentality and plays that way, he could lead Detroit to an upset.
PICK: The pressure's all on Atlanta and there is none on Detroit. You can see McMahon leading Detroit to an upset bid. Falcons appeared to be tightening up down the stretch.
Detroit 27- Atlanta 21