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Five Things to Watch: Panthers vs. Lions

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It's crunch time. Get ready for game day, and don't forget the chips as the Panthers host the Lions on Sunday. Here are five things to watch for in the matchup.

POINTS AT A PREMIUM

The Panthers have their own uncertainty on offense this week, with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater questionable with a right knee injury and running back Christian McCaffrey out with a shoulder problem.

The situation isn't that much different on the other side.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is expected to play, but he's also listed as questionable because of a partially torn thumb ligament in his throwing hand.

But he'll be without his leading receiver and one of his top weapons Sunday, among other injury problems for Detroit's offense.

No. 1 wideout Kenny Golladay is out with a hip injury, along with running back D'Andre Swift, who suffered a concussion. A hip injury also has receiver Danny Amendola already ruled out.

The Lions are 1-3 without Golladay this year, and his absence takes away a deep threat as well as a dependable red zone option. He missed last week's game with a hip injury but practiced Wednesday before it became clear he wouldn't go. With Amendola out, they'll likely need to add to the group rather than just going with two Marvins (Jones and Hall) and rookie Quintez Cephus. Mohamed Sanu is on their practice squad, and he could become a factor.

Swift had a career-high 149 yards from scrimmage last week, so taking him out of the mix is a blow for the Lions. They have some guy named Adrian Peterson to fill in, but Swift's a dynamic player.

Of course, the Panthers aren't going to apologize to anyone for injury issues, but these two offenses are definitely in flux.

TAKE CARE OF THE BALL

The Panthers' coaches have been preaching all week about ball security, for a good reason.

In their four wins, the Lions have taken the ball away seven times. But in their five losses, they have just one takeaway (which came in their 35-29 loss to the Saints).

If Bridgewater's able to play, that would certainly help.

MIKE DAVIS HAS GOOD HANDS

Panthers running back Mike Davis spent his videoconference with the media this week speaking in the third person, having some fun with it (or having lost a bet).

But it's fair to say that more people ought to be talking about the season Mike Davis has been having.

Mike Davis is second among running backs in receptions with 47. Only Saints do-it-all back Alvin Kamara has more (67). In McCaffrey's absence, it was reasonable to wonder if the offense would flatline, but Mike Davis has done his job, and then some.

We think Mike Davis would agree.

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START QUICKLY

The Panthers would love it if everyone stopped talking about their third-quarter offense.

But because I'd rather light a candle than curse their darkness, it's worth pointing out how good they are to start games.

They've scored 66 points in the first quarter this season, the third-best total in the league at this point.

Unless they can arrange for a longer halftime, they're going to have to figure out how to extend that into the second half at some point, but not getting into holes early in games can't hurt.

IN THE ZONE

The Panthers went through their struggles in the red zone early in the year, but that has gotten better lately.

They're 9-of-9 scoring touchdowns the last four games, a significant improvement over all the field goal-settling from the first part of the season.

In a game that could be decided by a thin margin (and all of them have been, other than last week), that could matter in a big way.

Carolina leads the all-time series with Detroit, 6-3.

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