by Sharon Thorsland

Pittsburgh Steelers v Carolina Panthers

The Panthers close out their regular season home slate with a Christmas Eve match up against the Lions. It’s going to be a cold one, with the kickoff temperature expected to be around 26 degrees! This Lions team is hot though – after a 1-6 start to the season they’ve won six of their last seven games and are now 7-7 on the year. They’re in the hunt for the playoffs, and so are the Panthers, who have to win this one to stay in contention in the NFC South.

The Lions are getting surprisingly good quarterback play from Jared Goff, he’s thrown for over 3600 yards with 23 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. He’s got the Lions offense clicking, they rank in the top five in the NFL in total yards and points per game. “I think Goff is playing at a high level,” said Panther linebacker Shaq Thompson. “Throwing the ball, making good reads, he’s even taken off with it a few times. He’s playing at a high level.”

So is receiver Amon-ra St. Brown. The second year player has 973 receiving yards on 89 catches, six of them touchdowns. The Lions are also getting solid play out of their running backs – all three of them. Jamal Williams is tops in the NFL with 14 rushing touchdowns, D’Andre Swift is a dual threat with six combined scores, and Justin Jackson has chipped in 169 yards and one touchdown. The Panthers got gashed by the Steelers rushing attack last week, and will need to shore things up to contain this Lions offense.

The Panthers also need to get their own ground game going after last week’s paltry 21 rushing yards against the Steelers. But the Lions defense has really picked things up recently – they’re allowing just 112 rushing yards and under 20 points a contest in their past seven games. They’ve also got 12 takeaways during that stretch. The Lions are getting some excellent play from several rookies. Defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson is a stud, he leads the Lions and all rookies with seven sacks and also has two interceptions. Rookie linebacker James Houston has five sacks since being promoted from the practice squad in week 12, and rookie safety Kerby Joseph has three interceptions. “They do a great job of pushing the pocket and making the quarterback uncomfortable,” said Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold. “They’ve got really good players on defense.”

These teams last faced off in 2020, a 20-0 Panthers win. Carolina leads the all-time series 7-3, and has won five straight against the Lions at home. Can they keep that streak going? It will no doubt take a near-perfect effort. “It just comes down to execution,” said Darnold. “All 11 guys doing their job and everything else will fall into place.”