The Detroit Lions opened as 1.5-point underdogs for Sunday’s matchup against the Carolina Panthers. But uncertainty with Carolina’s key offensive playmakers have seen sports bettors steam the line the other way, and Detroit is now favored by 2.5 points.
Carolina quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been limited in practice throughout the week after an injury in Sunday’s loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Backup quarterbacks Will Grier and P.J. Walker have been splitting the reps in practice as Bridgewater is hindered.
During his media appearance on Thursday, Bridgewater was coy about the extent of his injury.
"We haven't decided on anything,” Bridgewater said. "Just taking it one day at a time. I'm very happy that it wasn't as serious. And then I'm just taking it one day at a time.”
Carolina is even less optimistic about running back Christian McCaffrey’s chances to play. He has yet to practice since suffering a shoulder injury on Nov. 8 during a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. If McCaffrey doesn’t play against the Lions, it will be his second missed start due to a shoulder injury. He previously missed six straight contests with a high ankle sprain.
The Panthers will also be without starting left tackle Russell Okung and cornerback Donte Jackson. These major Carolina injuries have played a key role in the Lions becoming 2.5-point favorites on the road.
Lions escape after blowing lead last week
Lions fans in Michigan were sent through a whirlwind of emotions during Sunday’s 30-27 win over the Washington Football Team. Detroit dominated the first two-and-a-half quarters, with Matthew Stafford throwing three touchdown passes as the Lions led 24-3 midway through the third quarter.
But it’s usually never that easy for Lions fans, and they understand that. It’s how SOL became a thing and the acronym was likely recited in the minds of Detroit backers as Washington made a second-half rally: Same Ol’ Lions.
Washington quarterback Alex Smith and the rest of the offense came alive to score on touchdown drives of 82, 84 and 66 yards to tie the game at 24. Between Washington’s three scores, the Lions had two three-and-outs as the offense stalled.
With 6:09 remaining in the game, Detroit finally answered with an 11-play, 56-yard drive that culminated in a Matt Prater 37-yard field goal for a 27-24 advantage. Washington would respond with a 41-yard field goal, tying the game at 27 with just 16 seconds left. Overtime seemed imminent.
Despite the limited time remaining, Detroit decided to try to put itself in position for a last-second field goal. Stafford started the drive from his own 25 with a 10-yard pass to Quintez Cephus. On the next play, a roughing the passer penalty on Washington moved the ball to midfield with 12 seconds on the clock. Stafford then completed a 9-yard pass to Marvin Jones. The Lions called a timeout with 3 seconds left and sent out Prater to attempt a 59-yard field goal.
After numerous momentum swings over the course of the second half, Detroit finally put away a game it was meant to win when Prater connected on the 59-yard attempt. He was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his 3-for-3 performance against Washington and now owns the best conversion rate in NFL history for field goals of 50-plus yards (57 of 76, 75%).
Lions in the playoff hunt
Thanks to the newly expanded NFL playoff format, the Lions are in contention for a wild-card spot. At 4-5, the Detroit sits 10th in the NFC and is 1 ½ games out of the seventh spot that is currently held by the 6-4 Arizona Cardinals. Two division rivals, the Minnesota Vikings (4-5) and Chicago Bears (5-5), are ahead of the Lions in the standings.
Detroit still has one matchup each with the Vikings and Bears on its schedule, meaning the Lions could control their own playoff fate going forward.