Nolan Bianchi, John Niyo, Justin Rogers and Bob Wojnowski of The Detroit News offer predictions for Saturday’s Lions-Panthers game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina (1 p.m., Fox/97.1).
▶ Nolan Bianchi: How can you doubt the Lions at this point? Almost every major metric suggests that what you’ve seen from this young group is sustainable and very, very real. The most incriminating stat from last Sunday’s game was Detroit’s 0-for-3 run in the red zone, which becomes far less concerning when you remember a pair of holding penalties doomed one of them, Detroit still owns the league’s third-best red-zone efficiency, and the Lions still won the game. Clean all that up, and we’re not talking about a 51-yard miracle catch and run by Brock Wright. At this point, it’s fair to expect the Lions to win Sunday — and after last week’s close call, maybe even handily. Pick: Lions, 34-21
▶ John Niyo: The Lions have won six of their last seven games and covered the point spread in all seven. The last time they won seven in a row for the bettors, by the way, was the last time they won a playoff game — in 1991. Carolina is 4-1 as a home underdog this year, but these aren’t the same Lions that went to Charlotte and got blanked, 20-0, at the end of Matt Patricia’s tenure in 2020. They’re not the same Lions that lost to Sam Darnold in his NFL debut back in 2018, either. They’ve got a defense that can stuff the run, force Darnold into a critical mistake or two, and an offense that’s passing every test lately. Pick: Lions, 27-21
▶ Justin Rogers: A road game against an opponent with a strong defense, anchored by a sluggish offense, led by an ineffective quarterback once selected with a top-three pick in the draft? Didn’t we do this last week, when the Lions bested the New York Jets? Well, the Panthers have the feel of a store-brand version of the Jets. That’s not to say Carolina doesn’t present a potential pitfall with Detroit’s late-season push for a playoff spot, but the formula to coming away with a seventh victory in the past eight games is relatively simple — stop the run and don’t turn the ball over. Those are two things the Lions have been doing better than any team in the NFL in recent weeks. As long as the Panthers don’t get their ground game going behind its two-headed backfield rotation of D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard, and quarterback Jared Goff doesn’t abruptly revert to his early-season, mistake-prone ways, the Lions should be able to stay on track. Pick: Lions, 26-19
▶ Bob Wojnowski: This looks like last week’s Jets test, and the Lions should be prepared for another final-possession slugfest. The Panthers are solid defensively, with a talented front and a pass-rushing specialist in Brian Burns (10.5 sacks). Their offense is pedestrian with quarterback Sam Darnold, who doesn’t do much to scare you, but does avoid interceptions. The Panthers are 5-9 but have plenty to play for, one game out of first in the feeble NFC South. As long as Jared Goff continues to get outstanding protection from the offensive line, he should be able to spread the ball around to a growing array of receivers. Maybe a little more Jameson Williams action? This will look familiar as Jamaal Williams runs for a pair of 3-yard touchdowns and the Lions hang on. Pick: Lions, 20-17