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The Cheat Sheet: Lions should ride the run game vs. the Panthers

Detroit Lions vs. Carolina Panthers game preview and prediction.

Detroit Lions v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

With a win on Sunday, the Detroit Lions could somehow be at .500 record with six games left—including three division games. They have another opportunity to string together winnable games and make a run at the playoffs (albeit a slim run).

We’re going to learn a lot about the Lions, and their future, over the next two months. And it all starts Sunday with a battle between teams with injured quarterbacks.

For the Panthers, Teddy Bridgewater is dealing with a reported “minor” MCL sprain. And while he did practice in a limited capacity on Wednesday, that is the main thing to keep an eye on heading into this week’s matchup.

For the Lions, Matthew Stafford is dealing with an injury as well. The thumb injury kept him out of practice on Wednesday and could mean a lot more D’Andre Swift, even if Stafford does play.

Swift is coming off of one of his best performances as a pro—16 rushes, 81 yards, and 5.1 yards per carry. Not bad for his first NFL start.

The Lions will be wise to use Swift all over the offense. With Kenny Golladay still dealing with a hip injury, Swift is quickly showing he deserves to be a focal point in the offense.

On the other side, the Panthers have struggled mightily against the run this season.

  • 4.8 yards per carry (29th)
  • 124.5 yards per game (20th)
  • 1246 total rush yards (27th)
  • 14 rushing touchdowns (t-30th)
  • 8 20+ yard carries (t-25th)

Even if Stafford is a full-go on Sunday, the Lions should focus on another heavy dose of D’Andre Swift.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Opponent snapshot

The Panthers are experiencing a modernized rebuild. That is, they’re rebuilding, but they’re not tanking.

The offense has been serviceable with Bridgewater at the helm, but he’s been far too inconsistent week to week to help the Panthers string together wins.

The biggest problems have to do with the defense. The run defense has been bad, and the pass defense hasn’t helped much either.

Seattle Seahawks v Carolina Panthers Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Panthers’ biggest threat

Curtis Samuel

After watching The Washington Football Team pick the Lions defense apart with J.D. McKissic last Sunday, I could see the Panthers trying to do something similar with Samuel. He hasn’t been spectacular as a receiver this season, averaging under 42 yards per game, but he’s been a threat as a runner out of the backfield. He has two rushing touchdowns on the season and has 3.2 rush attempts a game over the past five weeks.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Panthers’ weak link

Offense

Even if Teddy Bridgewater plays, a limited version of him is less than ideal for the Panthers. Without him, things could get real ugly. The Panthers would have to start PJ Walker or Will Grier. That would spell disaster for a team that is already missing their star running back and left tackle.

Bottom line

This feels like another nail-biter. Both teams are fighting for relevance, but only one will come out on top. At the end of the day, I like Matthew Stafford more than I like Teddy Bridgewater. Give me the Lions in a close one.

Prediction

Lions 27 Panthers 24