Carolina seeks to rebound from a dreadful display a week ago, when the still-developing Panthers were routed at home by the Tennessee Titans. A troublesome defense allowed 172 rushing yards to the NFL’s bottom-ranked ground attack in the 30-3 undressing, while Newton had one of the least productive days of his brief and so-far spectacular pro career.
The loss dropped Carolina to 2-7 in head coach Ron Rivera’s debut season and was the team’s fifth defeat in its last six games, and was also easily the most uncompetitive outing for a Panthers squad that had gone toe-to-toe with such marquee opponents as Green Bay, Chicago and New Orleans earlier in the year.
“I would have taken any of those eight games in the first half of the season opposed to what I saw [last week],” Rivera said. “It’s disappointing. Taking that step back hurt, because we had made such progress.”
Carolina has indeed made strides under Rivera’s watch, having already matched its entire victory total of an awful 2-14 season in 2010 that enabled the Panthers to nab the dazzling Newton with the first overall choice of this past April’s draft.
Winning on the road has still remained an issue, however. The Panthers are 0-3 in enemy venues this season and have lost 11 straight as the visitor since a 41-9 throttling of the New York Giants on Dec. 27, 2009.
Here’s our keys and prediction for Sunday’s affair in Motown.
1. Don’t Let Matt Stafford get Settled – Though Lions coach Jim Schwartz blamed the adverse weather conditions for his quarterback’s poor performance from last week, it was evident that Stafford’s finger injury contributed to his rough day. It’s something the hard-nosed youngster’s going to have to manage over the course of an important stretch run, and another multi-interception outing would greatly enhance the Panthers’ chances of pulling off the upset on Sunday.
2. Run the football – This is an area in which Carolina seems to have an advantage it can exploit, as the Lions haven’t been very good in run defense and the trio of Williams, Stewart and Newton are all capable of consistently moving the chains with their legs. On the Detroit side, having Stafford throw 63 times with a broken finger isn’t exactly the best method for success, and better offensive balance would surely make the Lions that much tougher for a Panthers team with a long list of defensive issues to stop.
3. Turnovers – The Lions didn’t give themselves much of a chance with their incredibly generous ways last week, but they’re a tough team to beat when they take care of the ball. Detroit didn’t have more than one giveaway in a game prior to the Chicago loss, and went 6-2 over that stretch. Likewise, Carolina hasn’t had a turnover in either of its two 2011 victories, and it’ll need Newton to play like a veteran against an opponent that’s shown a knack for forcing mistakes out of its challengers.
Prediction – If both Stafford and Best were completely healthy, the Lions probably wouldn’t have much of a problem handling a young and undermanned Carolina team that hasn’t won on the road in 23 months. They’re not, however, and that should level the playing field somewhat. Detroit still shouldn’t encounter a whole lot of difficulty moving the ball on a ravaged Panthers defense, and Carolina’s odds of winning dwindle if it’s forced to come from behind on a Lions stop unit that excels at harassing the quarterback and is sound in coverage. Look for Detroit to not perform sharp enough to prevent the Panthers from hanging around, but still come up with enough plays to keep its playoff hopes on solid footing. Lions 27 Panthers 20