Five things to watch: Lions vs. Panthers

By Matt Schoch
Special to The Detroit News

Well, that de-escalated quickly.

Lions’ fans had their hopes up after three wins in four games recently until a three-game losing streak dashed any hopes of a playoff push.

The Lions play their next three games at home, where they'll likely play in front a fan base that's mostly become disgruntled following a three-game losing streak.

But before Lions’ fans shift all their focus to the draft, there’s three straight home games in front of the team right now.

Plus, Carolina and the Los Angeles Rams suddenly appear more beatable than they did a couple of weeks back, and a Mitch Trubisky Thanksgiving visit is sandwiched between those games.

As this Lions’ season has taught us: Sometimes expect the unexpected.

Here are five things to watch Sunday against Carolina (1 p.m., FOX, WJR 760):

1. Ford Field feeling

An angsty crowd will be coming downtown on Sunday, probably ready to boo lustily if things go sideways early.

Matthew Stafford and the defense would be well served to have a good first quarter for the Lions’ faithful to keep the faith.

More: Lions' Patricia explains outdoor practice to 'head coach' reporters

More: Lions mailbag: Sizing up Detroit's biggest draft needs

2. Can corners cover?

Lions cornerbacks have had all sorts of problems during the current three-game losing streak.

However, things could be trending better, as Darius Slay (knee) should return this week, and Carolina’s receivers certainly aren’t Adam Thielen or Allen Robinson.

Devin Funchess (Michigan), D.J. Moore and Jarius Wright aren’t scaring anyone, and could give an embattled group some confidence.

The Lions secondary should get a boost Sunday with the return of cornerback Darius Slay, who missed last week's game in Chicago with a knee injury.

3. The other McCaffrey

Detroit fans might care more about Dylan McCaffrey, who just might be Michigan’s starting quarterback next season.

But his older brother is one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the NFL.

Christian McCaffrey is actually Carolina’s leading receiver with 54 receptions. He also has a team-leading four touchdown receptions and already is over 1,000 yards in total offense.

He’ll challenge the linebackers in space and could break off some big gains, which the Lions have struggled to contain.

More: View from the other side: Lions vs. Panthers

4. Corralling Cam

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is 2-1 all-time against the Lions, with his only loss coming during his rookie season in 2011.

In the two victories since, Newton is 48-of-67 passing (71.6 percent) for 636 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.

Newton was sacked seven times in those two games, though, a trend that the Lions should continue in making his life as difficult as possible.

5. Fun and fantasy

Teams getting ready for a short Thanksgiving week have been taking care of business lately.

The 18 teams that have played on Thanksgiving day in the last three years have went 14-4 outright in their previous games, and 15-2-1 against the spread. The Lions (gasp!) could be a nice bet this week, especially as underdogs by more than a field goal.

In addition, the Panthers have the second-worst red zone defense in the league, meaning Kenny Golladay could be a good fantasy play, though Marvin Jones is out.

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.