As the NFL season draws to a close, ESPN gets Monday Night Football on the weekend as the Atlanta Falcons travel to Michigan to take on the Detroit Lions.
The Falcons are coming off of a dominating win over the New York Giants, while the Lions are playing for pride as they have been eliminated from playoff contention with a 4-9 record. The team ended a streak of futility by making the playoffs last season, but regressed this year defensively.
Scoring for this article is based on a Yahoo fantasy league with one point per reception, one point for every 30 passing yards, one point for 10 rushing yards, one point for 10 receiving yards and six points per touchdown.
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Ryan started off the season as an MVP candidate, but that race has fallen to Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson. That doesn't mean Ryan has been bad, in fact he has been one of the best fantasy quarterbacks this year. He is the ninth-ranked player in football and has posted 266 points while throwing for 4,202 yards and 27 touchdowns. The 14 interceptions are a bit high, but Ryan gets a pass since his other stats are so good.
Over the past four games Ryan has posted double-digit fantasy points and faces an injured and depleted Lions secondary that gives up the 16th-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. This season the Lions are giving up 218 yards per game and are ranked 11th in the league in passing. Ryan plays better at home than on the road, but that's usually because he isn't playing in a dome. Luckily for Matty Ice and the Falcons, the Lions also play in a dome.
This season Ryan has thrown for 2,326 yards and 13 touchdowns indoors and is completing over 65 percent of his passes. Last week against the Giants he passed for 270 yards and three touchdowns while posting 23.90 points. Although the Falcons have their division locked up, it is still not guaranteed they ill have home field advantage in the playoffs yet and they will not take the Lions lightly.
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Stafford is the 14th-ranked player in fantasy and has had a solid season after throwing for 5,000 yards last year. He has thrown for only 17 touchdowns, which is a huge decrease from last season when he had a career-high 41. Stafford had an awful game last week against the Cardinals, but posted double-digit fantasy points in his five previous games, including 30.40 against Houston three weeks ago.
Against the Cardinals on Sunday, Stafford only completed 24-of-50 passes for 246 yards and had three interceptions with zero touchdowns. He has thrown at least one touchdown pass in every gene this year but three and posted a season-low 2.20 points.
The Falcons defense gives up the eighth-fewest fantasy point to quarterbacks, but they don't have a shutdown corner that can take Calvin Johnson out of the game. Stafford and the Lions will likely be throwing a lot and he plays better at home, giving him a slight advantage over the defense.
This season Stafford has thrown for 4,252 yards, but has completed just 59 percent of his passes. Part of the reason for his struggles has to do with the offensive line, but also the running game. The Lions are ranked 23rd in rushing this season, allowing defenses to focus on Stafford and the passing game. That has also allowed for the Lions to have the top-ranked passing offense, averaging 302 yards per game.
Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons
The rushing game as a whole has been a disappointment for the Falcons and especially Turner. Fantasy owners drafted Turner with the expectation he would perform as well as last season, but that has not happened. The expanded role of Jacquizz Rodgers hasn't helped either, but the issues have been with Turner. He has only gained 741 yards this season and has scored nine touchdowns just one year after posting 1,340 yards and 11 rushing scores.
This year Turner has posted 155 fantasy points and is ranked just inside the top 50. He has a solid matchup against the Lions this week, since the team is giving up the fifth-most fantasy points to running backs over the past five weeks. Turner has yet to have a breakout game this season and has posted only 20-plus points once. He is coming off of a solid 12.80-point performance against the Giants, but had only 7.40 points two weeks ago against the Panthers.
The Lions have a solid rush defense, allowing 119 yards per game, but have struggled recently. Turner has only had two 100-yard rushing games this season and is desperately looking for one on Saturday, which is a boon to fantasy owners. He has scored a touchdown in each of the past four games and will be the redzone back if the team decides to try to punch it in on Saturday night.
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
Where would the Detroit Lions be without Calvin Johnson? This season Johnson has been absolutely stellar, coming in second behind Brandon Marshall in fantasy points with 250. He has 106 receptions on the season and is leading the NFL with 1,667 reception yards and also has five touchdowns.
Although Atlanta gives up the third-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers in fantasy this season, Johnson is coming off an 18.07 performance against the Cardinals and has had seven straight games with double digit fantasy points. He had 30.40 two weeks ago against the Colts and has scored at least one touchdown in three of the past five games.
The Lions are stuck in a free fall after losing six straight games and Johnson will be the catalyst if the team hopes to win on Saturday. He has been a consistent and valuable option for fantasy owners this year and there's no reason to think he won't have another solid game on Saturday night.