Not many expected this game to be relevant to the NFC playoff picture, but it turns out that the Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers have a lot to play for this Saturday. The Lions continued their red-hot play in Week 15 by defeating the New York Jets by a final score of 20-17 on the road. Carolina had hoped to get an important victory at home last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but ended up losing 24-16.
We’ll take a closer look at three keys to the game for two teams hoping to keep their postseason dreams alive.
The Lions Don’t Care Where They Play
Detroit struggled to gain any momentum early in the season, stumbling out of the gate and setting up their fans to believe that they were in for another rebuilding year. Despite their initial difficulties, the Lions were pretty frisky at home, especially on offense. Even though they didn’t come out on top in many contests, the Lions put up points and were never out of the game.
Within the last month or so, the setting has mattered a lot less. During this impressive winning stretch, the Lions have found ways to win indoors or outdoors, which has been a testament to their mental makeup and their coaching staff led by Dan Campbell. Running back D’Andre Swift had a mini resurgence against the Jets last week, running for 6.5 yards a carry on eight totes.
D.J. Moore Has Come Alive
There’s no question that D.J. Moore is the most talented pass catcher on the Panthers, but his production has been largely muted thanks to the team’s revolving door at quarterback. It seems like he might be rounding into form a little bit more with Sam Darnold under center in the past few weeks.
He had a curious dud of a game against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 14 where he was held catchless, but has found the endzone two out of the last three weeks. Against the Denver Broncos, he posted four catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. Against the Steelers last Sunday, he caught five passes for 73 yards and a touchdown.
Panthers Backfield By Committee
When the Panthers moved franchise running back Christian McCaffery before the trade deadline, their backfield was expected to resemble a pretty even split to make up for the work handled by the star back. D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard were going to touch the ball a comparable number of times, which would keep each player fresh.
That division of labor didn’t end up happening immediately after the blockbuster deal, as Foreman ran away with the job as Hubbard battled an ankle injury. It seems like the tables have turned now. As Foreman has been battling ailments in recent games, Hubbard has re-emerged. Against Pittsburgh, Foreman still logged more carries, but Hubbard proved to be a notable factor in the passing game. He caught three passes for 57 yards.