The Detroit Lions will try to stay red hot in chilly North Carolina today against a Carolina Panthers team who control their own path to the playoffs and an NFC South title. Both these teams have a lot of the line.
Here are five things to watch out for later today at Bank of America Stadium as the Lions try and make it four wins in a row and seven in their last eight:
Always the most important statistic in any football game, the Lions have done a tremendous job over their current 6-1 streak of limiting the turnovers on offense and generating some on defense. Jared Goff is the only quarterback in the NFL who has started the last six games and not turned the ball over. Goff has attempted 219 consecutive passes since his last interception, which establishes a new franchise record and serves as the longest active streak in the NFL.
Defensively, the Lions have at least one takeaway in 13 consecutive contests, the longest active streak in the league. Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold is 2-1 since taking over as the starter in Carolina and hasn't thrown an interception in any of those three games. Carolina has lost just one fumble over that stretch.
2. DEFENSIVE PLAYMAKERS
The Panthers don't have as stout a defense as the Lions faced last week against the Jets – Carolina ranks 17th in points allowed and 15th in total defense – but they've got some pretty good players on that side of the ball who can affect the game in a big way if the Lions allow them to.
"This opponent, it's a good opponent," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said this week of Carolina. "They've been in a lot of close games. I think coach (Steve) Wilks is doing a great job. I've known him from afar, for a while in that division when he was defensive coordinator, secondary at Carolina when I was at New Orleans, and they were always a pain in the ass. This defense is stacked. They play hard. They run after the ball."
Defensive end Brian Burns is one of the better pass rushers in the league. He leads the Panthers with 10.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss and 18 QB hits. Linebacker Shaq Thompson recorded 12 tackles for them a week ago and has 110 on the season, his fourth straight year with at least 100 tackles. Fellow linebacker Frankie Luvu has 13 tackles for loss and 6.0 sacks. Cornerback Jaycee Horn has three interceptions on the season and opponents are completing just 54.8 percent of their passes when targeting him with a 39.4 rating.
3. SACK STREAK
Lions rookie pass rusher James Houston has gotten off to a historic start since coming up to the active roster from the practice squad on Thanksgiving, recording at least one sack in each of his first four games played. He's established a new franchise rookie sack streak and has tied the team's overall sack streak record.
Darnold has been sacked six times over the last two weeks, including four times in last week's loss to Pittsburgh. On the year, the Panthers have allowed 32 sacks total, which is tied for 13th best in the NFL.
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Wednesday, December 21, 2022.
4. FINDING EXPLOSIVE PLAYS
The Lions found a way to win last week in New York by playing complementary football in all three phases. Special teams came up with a touchdown, the defense held tough at the end, and the offense found a way to make an explosive play late on tight end Brock Wright's 51-yard touchdown in the final two minutes.
But offensively, Wright's touchdown was the only play over 20 yards for the Lions in that contest. By comparison, the Jets' offense had seven 20-plus yard plays. A win is a win, especially on the road against a good opponent and defense like the Jets, but this Lions' offense has to find a way to make it a little easier on themselves today. A good way to do that is to sprinkle some explosive plays into the mix.
The bomb cyclone that has affected a majority of the country over the last couple days will have an impact in today's contest as well. The record low at kickoff for a home game for the Panthers is 30 degrees and today's game could threaten that record. It's forecasted to be right around 32 degrees at kickoff, but with no precipitation.
The Lions have played a couple chilly contests recently in New York against the Giants and Jets, so the cold shouldn't impact them too much.