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Lions vs. Panthers 5 Qs preview: Carolina is chaotic, unpredictable

We chatted with Cat Scratch Reader to help us break down the Week 16 matchup between the Lions and Panthers.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Carolina Panthers Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

A month ago, who would have thought that Detroit Lions vs. Carolina Panthers would have some serious implications? Not only are the Lions trying to pull off a huge turnaround and get into the playoffs, the Panthers are too. Yes, the 5-9 Panthers could still be a playoff team by winning their horrible division. What a crazy season this has turned out to be.

The Panthers have been a quiet team. It wasn’t too long ago that they fired their head coach Matt Rhule, and it seemed like their season was lost. Since then, they’ve gone on to get some impressive wins, and they look like a team that has talent.

We wanted to know more about the Panthers, so we reached out to Walker Clement from Cat Scratch Reader to get the scoop. Here’s what he had to say:

1. The Panthers have quietly had a crazy season, but they seem like they’re on the right side of things in terms of talent. Do you think they can turn this around fast?

“That all comes down to the coach. They were in a similar position, talent wise, when they hired Matt Rhule. Then, long story short, a couple of retirements and a whole lot of narcissism later, the shelves were bare enough to cover up how poorly Rhule was actually performing as a coach. Keep Wilks or hire an actual offensive brain, and the Panthers could be cooking with gas by next season. Hire a Matt Patricia-type or miss badly on a quarterback pick? Well, then there’s always the 2030’s. They aren’t that far away.”

2. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Panthers?

“Can chaos be my answer to both? The Panthers this season have been impossible to predict. Interim head coach Steve Wilks has steadied the ship some, but he can’t completely negate this team’s destiny without a full off season to prepare his way and the current lack of talent at the quarterback position.

“As for tangible answers, the renewed reliance on the running game has turned into a significant strength for the Panthers when it works. They ran the ball 16 times for 21 yards last week against a Pittsburgh Steelers team on life support. It doesn’t always work. But when it does, this team gets to stay at second or third-and-manageable on offense and well rested on defense. It’s a better time.

“The main weakness comes from their lack of flexibility, which is not ideal for a team who walks so closely to a path of unadulterated chaos. Somehow, Sam Darnold hasn’t thrown an interception in three starts. That’s going to change soon. How the team responds to that will tell us a lot about how much an achilles heel their one dimensional identity really is.”

3. What under-the-radar player should the Lions be watching out for?

“Chuba Hubbard is a much maligned running back who has caught flak for ball security issues in the past two years. Over the past couple of games however, he has really come along as a complement to D’Onta Foreman. Look to see his name start popping up in the second half as they bring him in to pace Foreman.

On defense, there are the ever present Myles Hartsfield and Frankie Luvu. Luvu is only under the radar if you (understandably) haven’t watched the Panthers play at all this season. Luvu starts as a linebacker, primarily a pass rusher, opposite Brian Burns. He has recorded 86 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, six sacks, eight quarterback hits, three passes defensed, an interception, a forced fumble, and a defensive touchdown. You won’t hear his name every play, but when you do it is usually after he makes a big play.

Hartsfield is the jack-of-all-trades defensive back who actually provides quality depth at every position instead of just being fast and positionless. He has been starting at safety while Xavier Woods has been dealing with a variety of injuries this season. Woods is expected to play this week.”

4. The Lions are currently 3-point favorites. Are you taking that bet?

“No. Not because I think they can’t cover or even win, but just because I would never bet money on a game involving the Carolina Panthers. I’ve seen too many unexpected, unpredictable things happen too often to ever take part in that kind of farce. That said, it seems safe on the surface. The Lions are on the upswing from how they started the season and the Panthers are, to be polite, less dependable. What we don’t know, however, is how this team is going to respond to this coaching staff coming off a loss and facing a meaningful stretch of December/January games. It’s all new.

“On a pure talent level, I think the Panthers can hang with the Lions. The coaching level is less certain from both a scheme and motivation perspective. The Panthers at this unique stage of their season are simply too surrounded by questions to be forecast accurately.”

5. Who’s winning this thing?

“Yeah, well. The fans?

“Honestly, I think this game is a coin flip. But if it were a many-sided coin being flipped. Too many things can happen and, as I outlined above, it’s hard to get a read on just what things the Panthers are capable of. For my part, I’m keeping my rooting interests simple: I want a tie. There’s nothing like a silly, hilarious game or new neckwear for the holidays.”

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