And this is a game where Atlanta needs to score points, considering the Falcons are allowing 28.4 points a game. The Lions have struggled on offense, but Atlanta has a porous enough defense that if the Lions did find an offensive spark during the final four minutes against New Orleans, it could be a long game for the Falcons.
The pick: Lions 31, Falcons 17
Against the league's top-ranked total defense, the Detroit Lions, Ryan might not have much of a chance, unless Julio Jones goes for 200 yards and three scores and Devin Hester makes a tremendous impact in the return game.
And despite the uncertainty about Calvin Johnson's playing status, the Falcons might have a tough time shutting down Matthew Stafford, Golden Tate and the Lions' offense.
Prediction: Lions 28, Falcons 24
Slay was in London earlier this week doing some touristy stuff when he was almost crunched by a car.
“We walking and I’m looking for cars to cross, and we walking and it was about ready to hit me. I’m like, ‘Ohh, goodness.’ If he hit me, I would have sued him, though.”
Luckily for the Lions and Slay, the car stopped short of hitting the Lions’ top cornerback, but it is just part of what Slay has called “an amazing trip, man.”
Slay had said earlier this year he wanted to start traveling during the offseason to see some of the world, but this is one of his first experiences abroad. So far, he’s learned about the multitude of Queen Elizabeths and all about how the British drive.
His first tourist experience, though, yielded some impressions because he said he “had to” get down to London as soon as possible.
“I saw a lot of tall buildings and red buses,” Slay said. “I saw the ugliest cabs they possibly got. They’ve got the ugliest cabs. The ugliest. But it’s a great experience.
“It’s like New York, almost.”
Tight ends Joseph Fauria (ankle) and Eric Ebron (hamstring) will not play, as expected. The third tight end in this group, Brandon Pettigrew, is doubtful with a foot injury. None of them practiced this week.
So at tight end, this leaves a mishmash of players for offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi.
He has recently-signed tight end Kellen Davis and last week’s practice squad call-up, Jordan Thompson. The Lions, if needed, could choose to promote Ifeanyi Momah, a wide receiver added to the practice squad Monday who has been practicing at tight end all week, but that seems unlikely.
So Detroit has been exploring different options.
“You just have to be ready to adjust,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. “You’ve got a plan that if you run out of tight ends, you've taught an offensive lineman that the tight end does. Obviously he's not going to be going out for many routes but, run game and some pass protection stuff. You can teach some wide receivers and fullback Jed Collins maybe to do some of the receiving stuff.
“You just have to cross-train a lot of guys that are going to be ready to go, maybe not with a whole bunch of practice reps but they'll know what to do."
Among the linemen who have been working in this capacity are rookie Travis Swanson, who has been the receiver-eligible lineman more often than not when he has entered the game. For pass patterns, the Lions can also move receivers and running backs into certain roles, depending on the formation and play call.
Detroit may also be without one of its top backs, too, as Reggie Bush is doubtful with an ankle injury.
Bush didn’t practice Thursday or Friday and has been dealing with an ankle sprain for three weeks. It limited him against New Orleans on Sunday and kept him out of the game against Minnesota the week before.
If Bush doesn’t play, that likely means a heavier workload for Theo Riddick, who has practiced fully most of the week as he recovers from a hamstring injury.
Calvin Johnson, meanwhile, is questionable for Sunday, as expected. He did practice on a limited basis all three days this week.
In a land where booting the ball with your foot is a celebrated commodity instead of almost an afterthought, Detroit Lions kicker Matt Prater and punter Sam Martin could end up with getting a lot more attention.
“It’s true,” Prater said. “Any extra point, field goal or punt, they get really excited and cheer louder than any other play. So it’s fun.
“It’s really weird, for me. It’s good. Hopefully we’ll make all the kicks and keep them happy.”
Considering that has been an issue for the Lions this season, that could lead to pleasant feelings on two continents. And for a little while this week, Prater had a slightly tougher job than normal.
The goalposts he would be practicing with were a bit off-kilter.
“When I went out there [Wednesday], I was looking and was like, ‘Hey, [special teams coach John Bonamego], those aren’t real straight,’ “ Prater said. “He pushed them up and they were pretty close to straight.”
Prater said that shouldn’t mess with him on Sunday in Wembley Stadium -- where the posts will be straight -- because as long as he kicks it straight, he should make the field goals.
Martin, who has turned into one of the top punters in the NFL in his second season, said there won’t be more pressure to hit his punts harder and farther than he typically does.
“Whether I get a ton of cheers or no cheers, I still got to do my thing,” Martin said. “But it’ll be interesting to see. It would be cool to see if the place erupts on a punt.”
Waddle, who missed practice Wednesday and Thursday, returned to practice Friday for the first time since suffering the injury.
"I'm feeling good," Waddle said. "Came out here, did some stuff today. Go back, do some more tests and stuff like that and see how it feels later on in the day and we'll see where we go from here."
Waddle said he did everything in practice Friday but was not sure whether he would play Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons at Wembley Stadium. He is officially listed as questionable.
Neither Brandon Pettigrew (foot), Joseph Fauria (ankle) or Eric Ebron (hamstring) practiced Friday for the Lions, meaning none of the tight ends that were on the team’s initial 53-man roster in August took a practice snap this week in England.
And not one sounds like a lock to play on Sunday, either. If anything, there’s a better chance none play.
“It just depends on what happens here in the next day or so,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said Friday before practice. “Brandon is still a big question mark to be honest with you. We’ll see where that goes here in the next 24 hours, 24-48 hours can make a tremendous difference, so we’ll see what happens.
“… [Ebron and Fauria] are a very slim chance to be honest with you. It’s very slim for those two guys.”
This would leave the Lions with practice squad call-up Jordan Thompson and recently-signed free agent Kellen Davis as Detroit’s two tight ends against Atlanta. There would be a small chance the team could promote receiver Ifeayni Momah, who has been working with tight ends this week, in an emergency.
The Lions were also without running back Reggie Bush (ankle) for the second straight day of practice.
Detroit had some better news in other injury departments.
Wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who has not played since aggravating his high-ankle sprain against Buffalo in Week 5, practiced for the third straight day Friday.
“He did work yesterday,” Caldwell said. “I thought he did a pretty good job, but we’ll see where he is (Friday).”
Also, right tackle LaAdrian Waddle was back on the field and with a helmet, likely meaning he has at least passed part of the NFL’s concussion protocol. It is unclear if the Lions expect him to play Sunday.
“You know it’ll be doctor’s protocol that’ll make that determination as well as with the rest of the guys that are on that injury report,” Caldwell said. “If not, obviously we have had a couple guys that have had some playing experience there, fortunately. It’s not a brand new experience for us to work with those particular individuals in both (Garrett) Reynolds and (Cornelius) Lucas who play that spot.”
Caldwell did not say whether it would be Lucas or Reynolds, the former Falcons offensive lineman, who would start in that situation.
BAGSHOT, England -- Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell has been so impressed with Atlanta Falcons returner Devin Hester throughout his career, he says Hester has changed the way returns and returners are viewed.
"He's made it an art form and cut a niche in there like no one else in the game," Caldwell said Friday. "There's been some great returners in the game, there's no question about that. Deion Sanders was one of the guys that was dangerous in that regard.
"[Hester] is equally so and I think he will be one of the first guys to ever carve that niche out."
That niche, according to Caldwell, is a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The 31-year-old Hester holds NFL records for special teams touchdowns in a career (20) and punt return touchdowns (14). He also helped revolutionize the position in the NFL.
Caldwell should also know his abilities well from Super Bowl XLI, when Caldwell was part of the Indianapolis Colts' staff. Hester ran the opening kickoff back 92 yards for a touchdown against the Colts in a game Indianapolis won 29-17.
“I don’t know,” Stafford said. “Maybe I’m a Lord somewhere. I have no idea.”
With Stafford joking about his new potential Lordship, his teammate, Sam Martin, was asked what he would do if Stafford picked up a British royal title.
“That’s an interesting question,” Martin said, laughing as he answered. “I guess I would bow down to him.”
So if Stafford were to go to Stafford, what might he see?
According to the Stafford tourism website, Stafford might be able to look at the Broad Eye Windmill, which was built in 1796. Or he could see the Stafford Castle, which has been around since the Middle Ages.
He would also be able to tour the Shire Hall Gallery -- an art museum -- and eat at The Bear Grill.
All of this could be visited if Stafford chose to do so, although it would seem unlikely on this trip since London is a long ways away and he won’t have as much time.
But unfortunately for Stafford, he has no idea if the town is in his family’s history or what his family's history is.
“I don’t, sorry,” Stafford said. “I probably should. That’s bad.”
In all seriousness, though, this trip has been somewhat different for Stafford, who often gets recognized whenever he goes somewhere.
On Tuesday, Stafford took the train from Bagshot to London to eat dinner with some teammates in almost complete anonymity. He said no one recognized him on the train, something the NFL quarterback deemed “cool.”
In Detroit or many other cities in the United States, that would never happen. For Stafford, who values his privacy and fiercely protects his personal life, it’s a nice change. Not that many people are gawking at him right now anyway.
“I haven’t really given anybody the chance to recognize me a whole lot, which is nice,” Stafford said. “It’s a little bit of a change-up and I’m all for it.”
What could have happened if he had committed himself to being in shape sooner?
The fourth-year Detroit Lions defensive tackle knows why the question is asked, too. For the first three seasons of his career, Fairley was inconsistent and unable to stay on the field for long stretches, either because of being out of shape or injured.
His play yo-yoed between flashes of dominance and stretches of invisibility – a long way away from the dominant defensive lineman who helped Auburn win a national championship in 2010, becoming a first-round draft pick in 2011.
In the past seven games, that foot has been a large reason why the Lions have the top-ranked defense in the NFL. While Ndamukong Suh often demands double-teams from opposing offensive linemen, teams now have to be more wary of Fairley.
Even though Fairley’s numbers are down from the past two seasons statistically (14 tackles, one sack this season), he has become a far better and more consistent player for the Lions in 2014. He is the No. 9 defensive tackle in the league according to Pro Football Focus – ranked sixth in rushing the passer and ninth against the run.
He’s becoming what general manager Martin Mayhew hoped when he declined Fairley’s option for a fifth season during the offseason, making him a free agent following this year.
“He’s playing well,” Mayhew said. “I think the coaching staff has done a great job working with him, teaching him the right way to go. His linemates, or teammates, have high expectations for him.
“He’s obviously taking the lead on getting his weight down and getting in better condition and hired a chef and helped with that process. I think Nick gets a lot of credit for that. I think it’s great what he’s doing and I’m glad he’s doing that and I want him to keep doing it.”
Mayhew talks with Fairley often about a gamut of things, but said not about his contract. Even though Fairley is having a good season, Mayhew said he is not talking about future contracts with anyone, including Suh and Fairley.
Fairley is at least doing what Mayhew hoped he would, so it puts him in the conversation for a contract if both players want it.
And with Fairley, there might be room to improve, too, as this is the first time in his career he has been playing with consistency. And even though he thinks about it, it doesn’t bother him he didn’t get into better shape sooner because he believes he is at the beginning of a long career.
“I can’t call how it would be,” Fairley said. “But I think I would be up there in the top [among defensive tackles], you know what I’m saying, be recognized a lot more.”
One of his biggest supporters – from the time he was struggling until now – has been the guy he lines up next to play after play, Suh.
“He’s a guy that’s going to be a dominant force in this league for many years to come,” Suh said. “I don’t expect anything less from him.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: He has the talent to be better than me and he’s just got to continue to work and take care of business like he’s been.”
For the first time in six years, he went to see his sister.
Elizabeth Giddings is a stay-at-home mom in North London, watching her two children. She knew her younger brother was headed to England with the Lions, but she figured she wouldn’t see him until later this week or this weekend.
“She just like fell on the floor,” Ansah said. “Like overwhelmed.”
That’s what happens when family that lives a world away surprises one another. Giddings and Ansah are two of five siblings, and while Ansah saw the rest of them on a trip back to Accra, Ghana, in March, he had not seen his sister seven years older than him.
They stay in touch by email, Facebook and Skype, but have not been in the same room together for more than half a decade. Ansah said they haven’t seen each other because he works in the United States – and before that went to college there at BYU – and she has lived overseas and not in Ghana. So when he showed up, they spent around five or six hours together and Giddings made her brother a traditional African meal featuring chicken and rice.
He also spent time with her two children, including a 10-month old he had never met. Another of Giddings' sons wore the Spiderman costume Ansah bought him for Halloween the entire time.
“He was excited about it,” said Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who had not spoken with Ansah specifically about the trip.
As an added bonus, Ansah also got to see his mother, Elizabeth, because she has been in London staying with his sister.
Ansah said his sister is planning to attend the game against Atlanta at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.
So while Ansah had to come to England for work like the rest of his teammates, he was able to also have a long-awaited family reunion before most of the football work got started. While it has been disappointing to not see her more often, he understands why.
“There’s nothing I can do about it,” Ansah said. “I just have to live with it.
“But I’m happy I was able to see her.”
Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said Thursday they plan on Jones practicing soon to evaluate whether to activate him or shelve him for the season.
"We're going to bring him off some time in the next few weeks, bring him off the PUP and let him practice and we'll see what he does," Mayhew said. "Obviously injured pretty early in the process, so it'll just depend how he performs when he comes off PUP."
If the Lions do activate him, he would be joining a crowded wide receiver corps with Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Jeremy Ross and Corey Fuller in somewhat established roles. Then there is Ryan Broyles, who Mayhew said "will get an opportunity," but has largely been a non-factor when he has been active.
So even if Jones is able to play, there might not be much room for him to do so.
He told ESPN two weeks ago that his grip strength -- the last thing to come back following a nerve issue -- is "making improvements," but he didn't want to give a timetable of when he would be available.
Once the Lions do let him start practicing, the team will have a three-week window to activate him or end his season.
General manager Martin Mayhew said Thursday during a meeting with reporters that he has no plans to trade any players before the deadline this season, and that includes star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who is in the final year of his contract.
“I don’t have any plans to trade anybody,” Mayhew said. "Leave it at that."
Mayhew said he has taken calls from teams around the NFL -- as most general managers do. Last season around this time, there was speculation the team might try to move running back Mikel Leshoure, a second-round pick who fell out of the rotation with the emergence of Joique Bell.
But the team held on to Leshoure, who barely played last season before being cut prior to this season.
And this is a departure from early in Mayhew’s tenure, when the Lions were doing anything they could to acquire talent during and after an 0-16 season that represented the bottoming out of a franchise.
“Going back to 2008, 2009, we were continually trying to acquire just fundamentally sound, solid NFL players,” Mayhew said. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that over the last few years so we have fewer holes on the roster, I think, than we had back then.
“So we’re probably not as actively involved in that process.”
One name besides Suh that could have been a logical trade candidate is receiver Ryan Broyles. Despite injuries across the entire offense, Broyles has been unable to find significant playing time after making the Detroit roster following an impressive training camp.
He has both tweeted and spoken about his frustration with not having a role in the offense and while Mayhew said Thursday that Broyles has never voiced any of this to him, he believes he will contribute at some point.
“I like Ryan Broyles,” Mayhew said. “He’s an outstanding football player. The fact that he’s not playing as much is just indicative of our skill level at that position, you know. I think a lot of teams he would play quite a bit for.
“I think we have good quality receivers, good offense and Ryan will get an opportunity. It’ll happen. That’s why he’s on the team.”