Alright, alright, alright. We are 24 hours away from the biggest December kickoff the Detroit Lions have had in quite some time. We've covered the Detroit Lions vs. Carolina Panthers matchup at length, but it's time to tie a bow on it all and make a doggone prediction. Having won six of their last seven, the Lions will look to keep the momentum rolling against a sub-par Carolina Panthers team, who somehow at 5-9 are still in the playoff hunt.
Preview of the Detroit Lions vs. Carolina Panthers Week 16
So far we have already gone Inside the Numbers, given keys to victory, and made some bold predictions. There's no need to rehash those articles, but we'll take a different approach. We'll look at the teams as a whole and their production so far this season and how the Lions can take advantage of deficiencies within the Panthers' play style that'll allow for a Week 16 victory and a trip to the playoffs (which I already said was going to be the result come Monday morning).
The Panthers' offense lacks identity
The quarterback room of the Carolina Panthers has been a veritable “Who's on Second?” for the entire 2022 NFL season. It started when they made a deal for the Cleveland outcast Baker Mayfield. Pairing him with Sam Darnold, whom they'd made a deal for a year prior with the Jets, seemed like a good idea to get former first-round picks to battle each other for the job. But, well, it did not go as planned. Mayfield was cut from the team, former XFL MVP P.J. Walker started a few games for the team and now Darnold is running the show. Who's on second? What's on first? and Sam Darnold is the starting quarterback.
As a unit, the Panthers' offensive team ranks 4th worst in the NFL in DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. According to that statistic, they are -16%, meaning they as a unit are 16 percent below the league average, with the 2nd worst (unweighted DVOA) passing offense. They have tried to establish an identity, ranking first in rushing attempts over the last three games (36 per game), this coming after they traded Christian McCaffery. Let that sink in for a second.
Now, on the other side of the ball, the Detroit Lions, whose weakest unit was their defense, has been improving. Since Week 10, the Lions rank third overall in DVOA, being 28.4% better than the league average. They have created turnovers in 13 straight games, and are the #1 rushing defense over the last three weeks, only allowing 55.7 yards per game.
The Lions' passing attack should reign supreme Saturday
I've already written that I think this is the game where Jared Goff gets the away game monkey off his back, and there's little reason to believe he will not have a huge day for the Lions. The Lions' passing offense is the sixth-best unit in the league according to DVOA. The Panthers in turn are the 21st-best passing defense, according to DVOA (10.6%, which favors the offense). While Goff has been a worse quarterback on the road, compiling an 83.07 QBR on the road as opposed to a 105.7 at Ford Field, this is the perfect opportunity for him to take advantage of a weaker secondary and rely on his weapons to get the job done.
Carolina also has the 23rd-ranked rushing defense according to DVOA. This could not play into the hands of the passing game better. If the Lions can utilize their stout backfield to grind and pound away yards, it is going to open up passing lanes in an already Swiss Cheese secondary. Look for there to be a pretty decent offensive explosion for one of the best offenses in the league, with the best offensive coordinator, taking advantage of the below-average defense of the Panthers.
Detroit Lions vs. Carolina Panthers Prediction
I've already laid out some pretty bold predictions here. I see no reason why most of them won't come to fruition. Jamaal Williams will vulture a couple of touchdowns and tie Barry Sanders for the franchise's single-season record. Goff will play well, as he does at Ford Field, and help put this one in the bag. And, the defense will continue to improve against a lackluster offensive attack from the Panthers. Here's how it's going to go down:
The Lions will score on nearly every drive, punting only twice in the game
I expect this game to have a number of opportunities for Goff & Co. With the way the defense has played since Week 10, and the lack of identity for the Panthers, don't be surprised if the Lions scored early and often against a tired defensive unit for the Panthers. The Lions have scored over 30 points in seven of their games this season and will do the same this week. Early and often should be the battle cry this week, with a foot on the throat of a lesser opponent the entire game.
If the Lions possess the ball eight times during the game, I expect them to come away with points on six of those drives, with Michael Badgley only being needed twice for field goal attempts. That means the Lions will score four touchdowns, adding two field goals for a total of 34 points. The Touchdowns will come from Jamaal Williams (twice to tie Barry), D'Andre Swift, and Jameson Williams will get the second touchdown of his career.
The Lions' defense will create havoc and relinquish only three scores
The early season disaster that was the Lions' defense seems to be a thing of the past. While they still have some improvements to make in the secondary, their front seven have been stellar lately. They've held the likes of Saquon Barkley and Dalvin Cook to less than 100 yards, having not given up a 100-yard rusher in four of the last five weeks. That trend will continue this week against the Panthers. However, they will not shut out the Panthers and give up two touchdowns and a field goal, netting the Panthers 17 points.
Final Score: Lions 34 – Panthers 17