Hard as it may be to believe, the Detroit Lions are a win away from the .500 mark.
On Sunday in Carolina, they are favored to do just that.
Playoff scenarios will be the talk of the week if the Lions are able to get a road victory but that’s still 60 minutes of NFL football away.
Here’s five things to watch as the Lions travel to Charlotte to play the Panthers (1 p.m., FOX):
1. Fast start
The Lions are playing a team on a five-game losing streak that could have a green quarterback in Will Grier, who is 0-2 in his career as a starter. The Lions are favored to win this game for a reason, and if they are serious about a December push for the playoffs, this is simply a must-win game. They can’t fall behind early like at Minnesota or lay an egg like the home loss to Indianapolis. Get out early, rattle the young QB, and be an NFL playoff contender, if you are one.
2. Hall passing
Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola are out, which opens up opportunities for other Lions’ pass catchers. One to keep an eye on is Marvin Hall, who has very much shown his value as a deep threat. But is he more than that and someone Detroit can keep around in the long-term? He’s averaged five targets over the last three games and should get looks in the passing game Sunday.
3. D-line depth?
Defensive linemen Austin Bryant and Da’Shawn Hand were downgraded to out on Saturday because of injuries, joining Trey Flowers on the sideline. This is where Bob Quinn needs to show off that defensive line depth. Whether its elevated practice squad guys may have to be the answer here. Stuffing the Carollna running game (without Christian McCaffrey) and forcing Grier (or Teddy Bridgewater, if he plays) into tough passing downs will be key.
4. Moore or less?
Speaking of the Carolina passing game, slowing DJ Moore is the key for the Lions’ defense to get off the field. You know Detroit is playing man-to-man, which means rookie Jeff Okudah could draw the tough assignment of the speedy wide receiver. Okudah has already matched up against some of the league’s best receivers and could have another chacne to prove how far he’s come on Sunday.
5. Big swing
Because of the assortment of injuries on both sides, betting lines posted slowly this week, according to PlayMichigan. The Panthers opened at 2.5 points and it shifted all the way to Lions at 2.5 points on Saturday afternoon. That’s significant but not as significant as if it would’ve moved over 3 points for either side.
Case in point: Last week’s win over Washington crossed under 3 to 2.5 points in favor of the Lions by kickoff. Late Lions’ bettors earned a win as Matt Prater’s field goal gave Detroit a 30-27 win.
Matt Schoch is a writer for PlayMichigan.com and freelances for The Detroit News.