In a pivotal game that significantly impacts playoff chances, here are 3 key matchups for the Detroit Lions against the Carolina Panthers in Week 16.
In a wild turn of events, the Detroit Lions have a solid chance to be in a playoff spot after Week 16’s games are done. If Detroit wins and the Commanders and Seahawks both lose, the Lions would slide into the seventh seed in the NFC.
Meanwhile, Carolina is mystifyingly still in the playoff race as well. The NFC South as a whole has been dreadful this season, with the Buccaneers leading the division with just a 6-8 record. The Panthers, at 5-9, sit just a game out of first place.
So it’s an important game for both teams. Here are three key matchups for Saturday’s Christmas Eve contest.
Detroit Lions vs. Carolina Panthers: 3 key Week 16 matchups
Matchup 1: Lions RT Penei Sewell vs. Panthers DE Brian Burns
The last time the Lions played the Panthers, they lost 20-0 in what effectively was the last nail in the coffin of the Matt Patricia era. In that game, Brian Burns absolutely dominated the Lions’ offensive line. He registered seven tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss, four quarterback hits and even defended a pass for good measure. He was all over the field.
Sewell hasn’t really been tested in a major way since facing off against Micah Parsons in Week 7. While Burns certainly isn’t on that level, he’s still a very dominant defender off the edge. One that will test Sewell in pass protection due to his natural athleticism and bend.
With how Detroit’s run game has been trending over the past month and change, there is reason to expect the passing game to be relied upon once more. Containing the Panthers’ best pass rusher will be key to maximizing the passing game’s effectiveness.
Matchup 2: Lions DE Josh Paschal vs. Panthers LT Ikem Ekwonu
Paschal has had an underrated impact in his rookie year. His pass rush moves aren’t quite as refined as other edge defenders on the team. However, what he does well is defend the run. Paschal has done a very good job of setting the edge and funneling running backs into the arms of his teammates. His explosiveness and power off the line have helped him to avoid getting pushed back in the run game.
The Panthers absolutely love to run the ball. Sam Darnold has been the Panthers starting quarterback in the last three games, and he’s averaged just 22 passing attempts per game. The Panthers lean on their offensive line and running backs to try and wear opposing defenses down.
This makes for an interesting strength-on-strength matchup because Detroit has been quite good at stopping the run lately. In the past three weeks, the Lions have allowed just 55.7 yards per game on the ground.
If the Lions can slow down the run game and force Darnold to throw, it’ll bode well for their chances to win. Paschal has been an underrated part of the run defense in recent weeks, but he should see the field more against a run-heavy team like Carolina.
Matchup 3: Lions WR Jameson Williams vs. Panthers CB CJ Henderson
In Week 14 Williams caught his first NFL pass for a 41-yard touchdown. Last week, Williams should have had another, as he broke wide open in the end zone past the Jets’ secondary. Unfortunately Jared Goff underthrew the pass, but the play highlighted how big a threat Williams is. With his snaps steadily being built up over the past few weeks, it’s time for the rookie out of Alabama to start getting more work in the form of targets.
The Panthers’ top cornerback Jaycee Horn will likely be tasked with covering DJ Chark most of the game on Saturday. As a result, Henderson will draw secondary matchups against the rotation of Williams and Josh Reynolds. Henderson hasn’t been awful, but he’s far cry from the best corners the Lions receivers have faced this year.
This feels like the week we start to see Williams involved more in the passing game. He’s still going to run his fair share of deep routes, but he should get a couple of targets closer to the line of scrimmage just to get the ball in his hands. Given the threat of his speed, Ben Johnson could also dial up a handoff on a jet sweep to keep defenses honest going forward.