The Carolina Panthers couldn’t have been more polarizing in the past two weeks. After getting dominated by the Saints on their home field, they rebounded in a huge way, upsetting the Patriots in New England in a shootout, 33-30.
That leaves opponents wondering: Which is the real Panthers team? Carolina sits at 3-1 through four games, but they’ve hardly been convincing in any of their wins. Their offense struggled in every game before last week, their defense has had its ups and downs and Cam Newton remains far from his 2015 self.
So who is this Panthers team and how do the Detroit Lions stack up against them? Let’s take a closer look at the 2017 Carolina Panthers
Key additions: DE Julius Peppers, CB Captain Munnerlyn, OT Matt Kalil, S Mike Adams,
Key losses: WR Ted Ginn Jr., OT Mike Remmers, FB Mike Tolbert, DT Paul Soliai, LB AJ Klein
Key draft picks:
- RB Christian McCaffrey (Round 1)
- WR Curtis Samuel (Round 2)
2017 season results (3-1)
Reasons the Lions should be optimistic:
This could finally be the week that Matthew Stafford breaks out and posts numbers we all became quite familiar with last season. Through four games, he’s averaging just 222 passing yards per game, over 50 yards less than his career average.
The Panthers have faced two very good quarterbacks over the past two weeks and haven’t been able to stop either. Drew Brees and Tom Brady combined to complete 73.0 percent of passes for 527 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions (115.1 passer rating).
Additionally, the Panthers’ starting safety, Kurt Coleman, suffered a sprained MCL and will miss Sunday’s game. Carolina signed veteran Jairus Byrd to potentially start in his place.
Offensively, it’s hard to get a read on Carolina. Through three games, they averaged just 15 points per game, but against an admittedly vulnerable Patriots defense, they had a breakout performance.
Still, Cam Newton is a quarterback prone to making mistakes, and the Lions defense has forced plenty through four games. Newton has already thrown five interceptions this year (t-third most), while the Lions defense has picked off seven passes (second-most).
Reasons the Lions should be pessimistic
The Panthers are a team that can both run the ball and stop the run. Carolina could potentially control the tempo of the game that way, giving the Lions fits on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, Christian McCaffrey is just one piece of their talented backfield. Jonathan Stewart remains their bullheaded back, while the Panthers aren’t afraid of using Cam Newton and even receivers like rookie Curtis Samuel in the backfield.
The Panthers’ running game is predicated on misdirection plays like end-arounds, reverses and options plays. For a young defense like the Lions’, that could result in some big-yardage plays.
Defensively, Carolina’s front seven is one of the best in the league. Linebacker Luke Kuechly is undeniably one of the best in the league. He already ranks ninth in the league in tackles, and has an early interception, to boot.
But the Panthers can bring some heat. Veteran Julius Peppers is undergoing yet another revival to his career, tallying 4.5 sacks through four games.
The Panthers may be 3-1 and coming off a huge road victory over the Patriots, but they’re still not as good of a team on paper as the Vikings or Falcons. This is a team that is absolutely beatable from the Lions’ standpoint.
Carolina doesn’t sport the defense that dominated the league in 2015, and Cam Newton just doesn’t have the offensive weapons to play at the MVP level he was at a few years ago. Considering Newton’s accuracy issues and the Lions’ talented secondary, it seems more than likely Detroit will continue to force more takeaways this week.
That being said, the Panthers are no pushover. They proved last week they can put up points when all things are clicking and their defense can come up big in spots. The key for the Lions is to hold McCaffrey in check, both in the running and passing game. Force Newton to air the ball out, and Detroit’s ball-hawking secondary should be in good shape.