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LONDON – It's a long flight to England, and it'll be an even longer flight back for whichever team loses at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.
The Detroit Lions lead the NFC North with a 5-2 record and boast the best defense in the league. They'll face the Atlanta Falcons (2-5) in the second of three regular-season NFL games in the British capital.
"They always say the plane ride home after a loss is awful," Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said Thursday. "This is a long plane ride, so it'll be really that much worse."
The Falcons have been awful on the road and are the "home" team. They'll be playing far from the Georgia Dome when they take the field at Wembley, the home of England's national soccer team.
And they'll be taking it with an offensive line depleted by injuries and riding a four-game losing streak.
"They look like a hungry defense, but I'll match our talent against their talent any day. This is a war every Sunday," Falcons rookie running back Devonta Freeman said. "They're grown men but so are we, and we all bleed."
On Monday, the Falcons placed center Peter Konz on injured reserve with a left knee injury, the fourth starting offensive lineman to suffer a season-ending injury.
The Lions also have injury problems, but they have still won their last two games even while playing without star wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Megatron aggravated his right ankle injury against Buffalo on Oct. 5, but he began practicing again this week, albeit on a limited basis.
It was still unclear if he would be able to play Sunday.
"It gets better and better. Like, right now it's getting better on a daily basis," Johnson said. "We haven't pushed it too much. We don't want to push it to that point where we get a setback.
"I want to push it, but we're trying to be smart about it."
Stafford has other offensive options, including receivers Golden Tate and Corey Fuller, and running back Reggie Bush, against the 30th-ranked Falcons defense. But the main matchup in the game is likely to be when Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan has the ball.
"That defensive line has a penetrating style," Falcons coach Mike Smith said of the Lions. "They want to create negative yardage plays, either by them penetrating and making the play, or by them penetrating and forcing the running back to run sideways."
Bye weeks await each team after the game, with the Lions next up against Miami on Nov. 9 and the Falcons at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the same day.
In an experiment by the league, this Sunday's game will make for an early start for fans back home. The 1:30 p.m. start time in London means the game will kick off at 9:30 a.m. on the East Coast and 6:30 a.m. on the West Coast.
Both teams, however, arrived in Britain early in the week and will be adjusted to the time difference by game time.
"I'm a morning person anyway, so I believe the body functions better in the morning than it does late afternoon," Lions cornerback Rashean Mathis said. "We're looking forward to it."
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