Division Leaders Meet

Intriguing Game- Week Five

Carolina Panthers (3-1) at Detroit Lions (3-1)

Panthers: Around this time last year, they were the biggest shocker in the NFL. This was a defending conference champion with the reigning MVP along with his top receiver and prior to last year, they went 15-1. They didn’t lose a game until week 16 in 2015, last year, they started 1-6 and ended up finishing 6-10 and missed the playoffs. Now, they’re 3-1 and in first place in the NFC South and are coming off a big time and statement win over the New England Patriots in Foxboro. When I watched that game on Sunday and saw how Cam Newton was playing, I saw flashes of the guy that was awarded the league MVP in 2015 and this may sound crazy, but I think he plays better when he doesn’t have a key receiver on the field with him. Remember two years ago, he didn’t have Kelvin Benjamin because of a torn ACL and now, he’s without Greg Olsen. It’s been a collective team effort and Ed Dickson along with Devin Funchess have stepped it up to give Cam some added weapons and as those threats over the middle. The offensive line has also improved and they’ve allowed Cam to buy time in the pocket and throw the ball. He hasn’t been running for his life and taking unnecessary hits. He’s still been able to be that mobile quarterback that he was when he broke into the league in 2011. Newton’s running ability keeps the defense off balance, and forces them to respect his ability to escape the pocket, something that teams the first three weeks of the season didn’t really have to worry about. After a year of struggling on defense in 2016, they are back and better than ever now. They’re the number one ranked defense in the league right now and they’ve improved all over. First, it helps when your leader is healthy. They really missed Luke Kuechly last season and the secondary is finally back and I remember saying they’d be fine once all these guys got a full year of playing together underneath their belts. They’ll look to keep it moving and it’s time for another road battle with the Lions in Detroit.

Lions: I”ll be completely honest here. They should still have a zero in that loss column. They were cheated out of a win when they played the Atlanta Falcons, but that’s just me. People are really starting to believe in the Detroit Lions now. They’re a different team than what we’ve seen the last six years and the biggest takeaway is the balance they display. They finally have a running game to lean on and that can help any quarterback because it takes an enormous amount of pressure off of Matthew Stafford. Look at these numbers so far. In their opener against the Cardinals, he threw it 41 times, in week two against the Giants, 21 times, in week three, 45 times and last week against Minnesota, he threw the ball 31 times. The Stafford all those years back would finish games with over 50 pass attempts, but not now. The Lions are 19th in the league in passing offense with an average of 202.8 yards per game through the air and 19th in rushing with 97 yards per contest on the ground and they are ranked 10th in the league in scoring with 24.8 points per contest. Let’s not sleep on their defense. Early on, they’ve become one of the best units in the NFL and they don’t have household names which is fine, but they’ve certainly made some noise. The Lions defense has been forcing turnovers like they are going out of style. Tied with Baltimore for first in takeaways with 11 (Seven interceptions and four fumble recoveries), the Lions know how to force offenses into making bad mistakes. It should be taken into account that the Lions have only faced one team so far that has a winning record, and that was a losing effort against the Atlanta Falcons and in that game, they intercepted Matt Ryan three times and he’s the reigning MVP. Another challenge will be in town on Sunday with the Panthers in Detroit.

Panthers Player To Watch: Devin Funchess– He’s quietly put together a very nice season for the Panthers as their number two receiver. With Greg Olsen out, he’s become Cam Newton’s safety valve. He played with a lot of grit and determination last week. If he can play the way he did last week against the Patriots for the rest of the season, it will help Kelvin Benjamin and his game.

Lions Player To Watch: Anthony Zettel– We hear about Ziggy Ansah so much and rightfully so, he’s the catalyst for that entire Lions defense, let’s meet Anthony Zettel, another defensive end that can get to the quarterback. He actually leads the team in sacks with four. He’s always looking to get to the quarterback and when you try to limit one pass rusher, you have to worry about the other guy. He’ll have to be all in when it comes to containing Cam.

Final Analysis: This is a very important game for both teams. This one could determine seeding come playoff time. The two biggest keys for the Panthers will be to of course keep Cam protected at all times especially with facing such an active defensive line. It’s also key that the Panthers take care of the football. The Lions will be pumped up for this one but keeping the emotions in check will be important. I think defense will determine the outcome of this game.

Prediction: Lions 23 Panthers 20