Detroit Lions (7-7) at Carolina Panthers (5-9)
The Lions started the season 1-6, but have since won six of the past seven games to get back to .500, putting themselves very much in the mix for a playoff spot. In some ways, their improvement was predictable. Four of their first six losses came by one score, despite having significant injuries on offense and a defense that was the worst in the league, which tends to be less consistent week-to-week than poor offensive play. In recent weeks, their offense has been significantly healthier, their defense hasn’t been quite as bad, and they’ve won three of four one-score games, leading to them winning six of their past seven games.
There are some reasons to believe they won’t be quite as successful going forward as they have been in their past seven games though, as they have had a +9 turnover margin over those seven games, which is not predictive week-to-week. In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, which is much more predictive, the Lions rank a middling 16th on the season and, even though they’re healthier than they were earlier in the season, the Lions are also a middling team in my roster rankings, about a half point above average.
This week, the Lions face the Panthers, who have also been significantly better in recent weeks, particularly since switching to Sam Darnold at quarterback, who has been by far their best option under center this season. After being one of the worst few teams in the league in schedule adjusted efficiency earlier in the year, the Panthers have moved up to 24th (-3.88), and, with Darnold under center, they are only about one point below average in my roster rankings.
Given that they’re only slightly below average with Darnold under center, the Panthers should have a good chance to win this game at home against the middling Lions, who are probably not going to have the same turnover success they have had in recent weeks. Despite that, the Panthers are 2.5-point underdogs in this game. I would need a full field goal for the Panthers to be worth betting against the spread, but the money line is a good value at +125, as the Panthers should be considered no worse than 50/50 to win this game,
Carolina Panthers 24 Detroit Lions 23 Upset Pick +125
Pick against the spread: Carolina +2.5