The Panthers enter the game on a three-game winning streak in the middle of a 4-1 stretch. They're coming off a terrible offensive game that produced many offensive players' career-worst statistical games. As a result, the defense had to win it for the offense, which it was able to do.
The Lions have lost 10 games in a row; dating back to the final week of last season, and 16-of-17 games since Week 10 of last year. Last week, the Jags spanked Detroit, 38-14.
There is every reason to believe that the Panthers' offense will have a field day.
For each poor performance Carolina's attack has turned in this season, it has come roaring back the next week for an explosive game.
In Week Six against the Bucs, the offensive unit only registered three points. It tallied 30 points on the Saints in Week Seven.
But for all the stagnancy that plagued Carolina's offense last week, running back DeAngelo Williams kept going strong. He averaged 7.37 yards per carry and scored a touchdown—a 69-yarder on a second quarter 1st-and-10.
The Panthers are getting healthy at the right time. Starting right tackle Jeff Otah will make his second consecutive start this week after he sat out three straight games with an ankle injury.
RB Jonathan Stewart, who battled a sore heel as he gained 21 yards on seven carries in Oakland last week, appears to be healthy again, too. His heel was likely a key reason for his struggles against the Raiders.
The only offensive player nursing an injury is starting center Ryan Kalil, who has ankle ailment.
The Lions have one defensive playmaker—DT Dewayne Wise, whose six sacks lead the team. Other than White, the most notable name on their defensive depth chart is Leigh Bodden because of that questionable pass interference he was whistled for that allowed the Vikings to win a tight game in Week Six.
Oh, and Chartric Darby, just because his name sounds cool.
Furthermore, six of the Lions' defensive starters are hurt, including every starting defensive lineman. Three more backups are injured.
Linebacker Ernie Sims leads the team in tackles with 65. White not only leads the team in sacks, but also in forced fumbles, with three. But White hasn't participated in practice this week, and he looks as though he won't be able to play.
Plus, the Panthers' offensive line is in the top ten in sacks allowed despite playing with a makeshift line in all halves but one. Last but not least, the Panthers have only given up eight fumbles all year, a feat that has them tied for third in the NFL in that regard.
Detroit's defense is so bad that White's presence—or lack thereof—in the game won't make any noticeable difference.
The Panthers' defense will have an even easier task at hand this week than last week against Oakland.
Daunte Culpepper, whom the Lions brought out of retirement to sign out desperation, will start for Detroit. Culpepper went 5-of-10 for 104 yards in mop-up duty against the Jags last week in his 2008 debut, but he also threw a pick.
Receiver Calvin Johnson, who has the fifth-most receiving yards among NFL receivers (774), will be Culpepper's best friend come Sunday. But I question how effective they can be together, considering they've had limited mutual game action and at most two weeks of practice to get used to each other.
In addition, the Panthers' pass defense is one of the top five in the league, and Johnson will have his hands full getting open against a stacked secondary.
RB Kevin Smith should provide some offense for the Lions. The rookie halfback's five rushing touchdowns lead the team and tie him for second among NFL rookies with Tennesse's Chris Johnson, Houston's Steve Slaton, and Carolina's Jonathan Stewart.
His five scores are second overall on the team only to Johnson's six touchdowns.
Culpepper may find himself on the ground quite a bit Sunday. Starting left tackle Jeff Backus and center Dominic Raiola are hurt. However, Backus, who would be lined up across from DE Julius Peppers Sunday if he was to play, has participated in practice this week. Regardless of which Lions offensive lineman plays across from him, Peppers should have another monster game.
Even with Culpepper, Johnson, and Smith, the Panthers' defense should dominate the Lions' pathetic offense.
As for special teams...
Panthers placekicker John Kasay has only missed one field goal attempt this season. Same with Lions placekicker Jason Hanson. The difference is that Kasay has kicked seven more.
Carolina punter Jason Baker rules in most aspects of his position, except one. He has a 45.5 yards per punt average to Detroit's Nick Harris' 43.8, each has three touchbacks, 18 punts inside the 20 to Harris' 16, and a long of 63 yards to 58 yards.
He only trails in number of punts—44 to 54. But he also has had three punts blocked to Harris' zero. But blocked punts are the blockers' faults, not the punter's.
Panthers punt returner Mark Jones averages 12.3 yards, with his longest return being 55 yards. Lions punt returner Shaun McDonald only averages 10.3 yards per return, with a long of 27 yards.
Jones also returns kickoffs for the Panthers. He averages 27.8 yards and his long is 59 yards. Detroit's kick returner, Brandon Middleton, averages 22.2 yards with a long of 42.
With their spot-on ability to rebound well from poor games, and the fact that their opponent is deserving of every bit of their 0-9 record, the Panthers really should win this game big—there shouldn't be any form of a repeat of last week's game this Sunday.
Carolina leads the all-time series, 3-1.
Last time the Panthers and Lions faced off, it was Week Six of 2005, the year the Panthers advanced to NFC Championship game but were defeated there 34-14 by the Seattle Seahawks.
The Panthers won 21-20 as Chris Weinke led a game-winning drive and Steve Smith caught six passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. Down 20-14 with 5:08 left in the game, Weinke came in for the ineffective Delhomme and led a 79-yard drive that he capped off with a three-yard touchdown pass to then-receiver Ricky Proehl, with 32 seconds left.
The win improved the Panthers to 4-2 and was the third straight victory in the midst of a six-game winning streak.
The Panthers have outscored the Lions in all-time meetings 81-65.
Carolina has outgained the Lions in yards 1406-737.
The Panthers and Lions have fumbled eight times apiece. But the Panthers have only lost three—the Lions have lost five.
Lamar Smith is the Panthers' best all-time rusher against Detroit; he has 60 yards for two touchdowns and 12 points.
Steve Smith is Carolina's all-time leading receiver against the Lions; he has 275 yards for two touchdowns and 12 points.