Carolina Panthers (6-3) at Detroit Lions (3-6)
The Lions look on their way to a lost season at 3-6, in their first year under head coach Matt Patricia. The Lions went 9-7 in each of the past two seasons, but did not play like a 9-7 team in either season, finishing 28th in first down rate differential in 2016 and 26th in 2017. Now ranking 25th at -3.54%, the Lions have not been able to pull out late, close victories this season like they have in years past and it shows in their record.
They’ve also had injury issues. Franchise tagged defensive end Ezekiel Ansah is going into his 3rd game back after missing 6 games with injury earlier in the season, while #1 cornerback Darius Slay returns from a one game absence, but they placed talented right guard TJ Lang on injured reserve and will also be without starting wide receiver Marvin Jones and key run stuffer A’Shawn Robinson in this one. They also traded key slot receiver Golden Tate for a third round pick at the trade deadline, which hurt this offense significantly.
The Lions have never had much success against good teams like the Panthers anyway, going 19-38-2 ATS and 19-40 straight up against teams with winning records since Matt Stafford’s first full season as starter in 2011. Most recently, they went 1-11 between 2016 and 2017 against eventual playoff teams. They beat the Patriots and Packers this year, but the Patriots were not in mid-season form at that point (they lost to the Jaguars the week before), while the Packers would have won if Mason Crosby hadn’t had the worst game of his life (and the Packers might not end up as a playoff team anyway).
All of this being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lions kept this game close at home. This line is pretty high at -4.5, given that about 30% of games are decided by 4 points or fewer. The Panthers’ only win on the road this season came in a game in which they trailed by 17 points in the 4th quarter and I think this line is just a little bit too high. I can’t take the Lions with any confidence, but they are my pick for pick ‘em purposes.
Carolina Panthers 24 Detroit Lions 20
Pick against the spread: Detroit +4.5