The Detroit Lions will be looking into a mirror on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, from their quarterbacks and offensive weapons to their defenses.
When the Detroit Lions meet up against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, they will be squaring off against a foe who looks eerily similar. The Panthers offense is catalyzed by their franchise quarterback, Cam Newton.
As Newton goes, so goes Carolina. Though they have a decent running attack, everything hinges on the play of the former NFL MVP. This clearly parallels the Lions offense: if quarterback Matt Stafford plays well, the Lions can out score anyone.
Neither team seems to have loads of explosive playmakers beyond the man at the helm, so even more playmaking falls to the quarterbacks in this game.
On the defensive side the ball, the styles are a little different—the Panthers are led by star linebacker Luke Kuechly , who run-stuffs and pass covers with equally outstanding effectiveness.
The best aspect of the Lions defense has been their back end: oft-underrated safety Glover Quin and the flashy corner Darius Slay. Both teams are among the top ten defenses in the league. Both teams are especially stingy against the run—each allowing opponents less than 90 yards a game.
The coaches are a little different, however—Jim Caldwell, the Lion’s coach, is known as a stoic leader—rarely even cracking a smile on the sidelines. Panther coach Ron Rivera is a little more outgoing, and even took to calling himself “Riverboat Ron,” for gambling so much on the field.
Personalities aside, however—both coaches have their teams playing hard, and playing well. And most importantly, this weekend, both teams will be playing for at least a share of the driver’s seat in the NFC.
The Panthers have recently been in this situation, making it all the way to the Super Bowl only two years ago. Newton was the NFL MVP that year and won lots of big games on the way to the Super Bowl.
In contrast, Matthew Stafford’s career has been spent mostly watching big games at home, or maybe even getting beaten in big games. He hasn’t played great in the few games he has played in that have mattered over his career, nor has he had the weapons needed to help him out.
So what is different this year?
This year, the Lions have won by pulling their offense along. That has never happened in Stafford’s tenure. He’s played just okay—maybe even shaky—the last two games, but his defense and special teams have kept the team in close games.
All Stafford will be asked to do on Sunday is game manage: keep the clock rolling, hand off the Ameer Abdullah, and throw short stuff to Theo Riddick and Golden Tate. This will let his playmakers—another thing that, aside from Calvin Johnson, has been missing in his time in Detroit—to work their magic.
Stafford has the luxury of just being serviceable on Sunday, and his team can help keep him around. Playing in what is sure to be a raucous Ford Field, I’m not sure the Panthers have that luxury. My prediction? Detroit Lions 21, Carolina Panthers 17.