NFL 2017 Week 5: Carolina Panthers vs. Detroit Lions preview and prediction

Two strong postseason candidates in the NFC meet up in a clash of 3-1 teams.

The Panthers awoke from their offensive slumber in a 33-30 victory on the road over the defending champion Patriots. Cam Newton had been scuffling in the passing game, leading to questions about his arm health. He answered the doubters with 316 yards and three scores through the air, while also putting up his best running numbers of the season with 44 yards and a touchdown. Devin Funchess caught two of the scoring passes while Kelvin Benjamin bounced back from injury with 104 yards receiving. Graham Gano kicked the game-winning field goal.

Detroit’s defense stepped up with an outstanding performance in  4-7 victory on the road over the Vikings in a divisional clash. The Lions now stand at 3-1, in large part because of the three turnovers they forced from Minnesota. Defensive end Anthony Zettel was a one-man wrecking crew with two sacks and a fumble recovery. One of the turnovers set up the lone Detroit touchdown of the game, a one-yard run by Ameer Abdullah. Abdullah had one of his finest performances against a rugged Viking defense, rushing for 94 yards.

Strength versus strength

The Lions defensive statistics might not show it, but they’ve been excellent in the early part of the season on that end. They’ve faced excellent passing games and held them in check, and they’ve also been much more adept at creating pressure thanks to ends Ziggy Ansah and Anthony Zettel. But the Panthers come in with renewed confidence in their offense, especially their passing game, following an explosive performance against New England.

A star in the making

Little by little, the Lions are putting more and more faith in Ameer Abdullah to help carry the offensive load. Against Minnesota with their fierce pass rush and excellent back line, the Lions trusted Abdullah to soften the defense with his running. He responded with 94 yards and a score. Carolina can also rush the passer with abandon, which means that Abdullah might need to do it again to take pressure off quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Turnover tussle

Turnovers could be the difference in the game, which, if the early season trends mean anything, point heavily in Detroit’s favor. The Lions lead the league so far with a +9 in the turnover department, while Carolina is next to last at -5. Fumbles and interceptions can be hard to predict sometimes, but there’s no doubt that Newton and company will have to be very careful with the ball in this one.

Matchup to watch: Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey vs. Lions OLB Tahir Whitehead

McCaffrey still hasn’t had the breakout game many have been waiting for, but the rookie could come into play often against Detroit with Newton trying to stay away from the Lions excellent cornerbacks. Whitehead is about the only healthy Lion linebacker, and he’s been excellent this season so far, with 25 tackles, an interception and two fumble recoveries. He’ll likely be tasked with controlling McCaffrey on routes out of the backfield.

Fantasy football tip: Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart

There are much flashier options at running back, but Stewart is a dependable one, especially in standard scoring formats. In a road game against a tough defense, a good running game is a way to counteract the home team’s edge. Stewart has averaged nearly five yards per carry the last two games, so he could hit the century mark with a heavier workload.

Betting tip

The Panthers seem to have righted the ship offensively, and they should win this game, which makes them the play as a 2 1/2 point underdog.

Prediction: Carolina Panthers 24-20 Detroit Lions

Newton plays best when he’s angry and healthy, and he seems to be both right now.

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