TSX Game Scout: Analyzing Carolina Panthers (6-3) at Detroit Lions (3-6)

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) runs after a catch against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first quarter at Heinz Field.Photo: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, Ford Field; FOX, Kenny Albert, Ronde Barber, Jennifer Hale (Field reporter)

SERIES HISTORY: 9th regular-season meeting. Panthers lead series, 6-2. The Panthers won 27-24 last season in October at Detroit. This will be the fourth time during a six-game stretch in the series that the teams play in Detroit.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Panthers have made it clear they're willing to ride running back Christian McCaffrey as he often has a large role on the team. He figures to be fresher for this week's game with the Panthers after having a few extra days to recover after a 52-21 loss at Pittsburgh on Nov. 8. Carolina is aware of the importance of establishing something credible on the ground and look for that to be a priority against a Detroit defense that ranks 28th in the NFL against the run.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is a big part of the ground game, rushing for at least 30 yards in seven of nine games. The Lions need to heat up their pass rush as Newton is completing a career-best 68.5 percent of his passes in Norv Turner's offense. They are hoping cornerback Darius Slay will return from a one-game absence due to a knee injury.

Detroit also needs to give quarterback Matthew Stafford more help. Stafford has been sacked 16 times in the last two games and he ranks as one of the most turnover-prone quarterbacks (eight interceptions, three lost fumbles) in the NFL. Wide receivers Marvin Jones Jr., TJ Jones and Kenny Golladay aren't winning regularly vs. man-to-man coverage, so it's up to offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter to try and scheme them open more. That hasn't been easy with the lack of pass protection, so if rookie running back Kerryon Johnson can get going early to loosen up the defense, it would be a boost for the Lions.



--OUT: WR Torrey Smith (knee)


--OUT: WR Marvin Jones Jr. (knee), TE Michael Roberts (shoulder), DT A'Shawn Robinson (ankle)

--QUESTIONABLE: DE Ezekiel Ansah (shoulder), DT Damon Harrison (shoulder)


--Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey vs. Lions LB Jarrad Davis. McCaffrey leads the Panthers in rushing and receiving yards and rarely comes off the field. He's an excellent pass-catching back, and he has home-run ability, something the Lions have struggled with stopping from the running back position all year. Davis leads the Lions in missed tackles, and he'll have some spy duties on Cam Newton. But he's one of the few sideline-to-sideline players the Lions have on their defense, and keeping McCaffrey in check will fall somewhat on his shoulders.

--Panthers LBs vs. Lions RBs Theo Riddick and Kerryon Johnson. The Panthers have active players in the middle with LBs Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson, whose growth has been notable in several areas this season. But the Lions will make this group work in pass coverage in ways some teams might not have done. Riddick and Johnson have 36 and 30 receptions, respectively, giving Detroit the only team with a duo of running backs with 30 or more catches. In total, Lions running backs have 74 receptions (of 223 total catches for the team).

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: RB Christian McCaffrey. He scored all the team's touchdowns last week at Pittsburgh. His seven-touchdown total across the past three games marks the most for a player with the team since RB DeAngelo Williams did it 10 years ago. Through 25 career games, McCaffrey has scored 15 touchdowns.

FAST FACTS: PANTHERS QB CAM NEWTON threw 2 TDs vs. 1 INT for 103 rating in Week 10. Has 2+ TD passes in 8 consecutive games, longest streak in franchise history. Aims for his 5th in row with 2+ pass TDs & 100+ rating. ... RB CHRISTIAN MC CAFFREY had 138 scrimmage yards (77 rush, 61 rec.) & career-high 3 TDs (2 rec., 1 rush) last week. Has 7 TDs since Week 8, tied for most in NFL over span. Aims for 4th in row with 2+ TDs. Is 1 of 3 NFL RBs (SAQUON BARKLEY & ALVIN KAMARA) with 50+ receptions (54) & 1,000+ scrimmage yards (1,018) in 2018. ... TE GREG OLSEN has TD catch in 3 of his past 4. Since entering league in 2007, ranks 3rd among NFL TEs in catches (661) & rec. yards (7,814). ... WR CURTIS SAMUEL has 4 TDs (2 rec., 2 rush) in his past 5. ... LB LUKE KUECHLY has 104 tackles (9.5 per game), 14 TFL, 2 FRs, 2 INTs & 1.5 sacks in his past 11 on road. ... DE MARIO ADDISON has 5 sacks & FF in his past 5. ... CB DONTE JACKSON ties for 2nd in NFL & leads all rookies with 4 INTs. ... LIONS QB MATTHEW STAFFORD since 2011, ranks 3rd in NFL with 34,332 pass yards. ... RB KERRYON JOHNSON (rookie) had 89 scrimmage yards & 2 TDs (1 rush, 1 rec.) in Week 10, his 1st-career multi-TD game. Aims for his 4th in row at home with 85+ scrimmage yards. Ranks 2nd among NFL rookies in scrimmage yards (757) & 4th in rush yards (554). ... RB THEO RIDDICK aims for 3rd in row with 6+ catches. ... WR KENNY GOLLADAY had 6 catches for 78 yards & TD last week. ... DE EZEKIEL ANSAH has 5 sacks & 6 TFL in his past 4 at home. ... Rookie DL DA'SHAWN HAND had sack last week. Is only rookie DL with 2+ sacks (3) & 2+ FFs (2) in 2018. ... CB DARIUS SLAY since 2016, ties for NFL lead with 12 INTs. ... DT DAMON HARRISON has 20 tackles, 4 TFL & sack in 3 games with Det.

PREDICTION: The Panthers were embarrassed by the Steelers, ending a run of three straight impressive wins. They should have enough on offense to sink the Lions, who have been limited to 45 points during a three-game slide.

OUR PICK: Panthers, 23-20