Falcons have been able to win the close games that have eluded the Lions

Posted Dec 18, 2012

Though the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons have records at opposite ends of the spectrum, the two teams may be more alike than meets the eye.

Looking strictly at the standings, the Atlanta Falcons (12-2) and Detroit Lions (4-10) seem like completely different football teams heading in two entirely different directions.

The Falcons are trying to clinch home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs with a win in Detroit Saturday night.

The Lions are trying to snap a six-game skid and just trying to end a season they'd soon like to forget with a signature win ... or two.

But are the Falcons and Lions really that different of football teams? Are the records indicative of who these teams truly are?

Lions head coach Jim Schwartz has said a number of times that, 'you are what your record says you are'. And he's right, to a degree.

The Falcons' 12-2 record is the best in the NFL, along with the 12-2 Texans.

But of those 12 wins, eight have come against teams currently under .500. Of those 12 wins, seven have been by a touchdown or less. Some would argue that the Packers (10-4) and 49ers (10-3-1) are the two teams to beat in the NFC.

Are the Lions as bad a football team as their 4-10 record would suggest? Are there only two teams in the NFL actually worse than the Lions (Jaguars and Chiefs at 2-10)?

The Lions' record isn't indicative of how well they've played at times this year. They've simply been unable to maintain a good enough effort for a whole 60-minute game to win a lot of those close ones.

"The world we live in in the NFL, between 55- and 60-percent of the games are one-score games, historically," Falcons head coach Mike Smith said in a conference call this week.

"If you look it up this year I'm sure it's been very close to that. About 25-percent of them are three points or less, so it's very close. It's a fine line.

"We've been fortunate to find different ways to win games and we've won a lot of different ways. I think that helps your football team when you're able to get the outcome that you want when you're playing these tight games."

The Lions, on the other hand, have been unable to win close games. Of the 10 losses the Lions have suffered this season, eight of them have been by one score. That usually comes down to a handful of plays in each game.

Smith, who brought his Falcons team into Ford Field Week 7 last year and beat the Lions 23-16, said he doesn't see a whole lot of difference between this year's team and last year's squad that was 5-1 when the two teams played.

"It's a fine line in the NFL. We all know that," he said. "That's a very talented football team on both sides of the football. They've got one of the best defensive fronts in all of football and when you watch the tape … this is a very good football team on both offense and defense."

The schemes are the same for the Lions, but the personnel certainly looks a lot different this time around. Three of their top four receiving threats are on injured reserve. The secondary has been decimated by injury and looks a lot different.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said in a conference call Tuesday that his team has simply been able to find a way to win close contests more often than not.

"I think one of the best parts of what we've done this year is we've found different ways to win week in and week out," he said. "And all three phases of our football teams have stepped up at different times to help us win football games."

The Lions simply haven't made enough of those plays. All three phases have had a hand in winning games for the Falcons, just as all three phases have had a hand in the losing games for the Lions.

The margins aren't very great in the NFL, as Smith explained, the playoff teams find a way to win the close ones.

We'll see Sunday how much of difference there really is between 12-2 and 4-10.