Lions creeping closer to playoffs ahead of Panthers matchup

The Carolina Panthers did quite a bit to move into playoff contention.The Detroit Lions have done even more. While their playoff prospects don’t necessarily look quite as bright, there’s still a solid chance to reach the postseason.The prospects for both teams hinge heavily on the outcome of Saturday afternoon’s matchup in Charlotte, N.C.The Lions (7-7) are 6-1 in their last seven games, but their only path to the playoffs will come via a wild card.The Panthers (5-9) are assured a fifth consecutive losing regular season. However, they’re just one game out of first place in the NFC South, trailing the 6-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and tied with the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons.”Our focus right now is on the Detroit Lions and the Detroit Lions only,” Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks said.In pumping up Carolina’s physicality, Lions coach Dan Campbell admitted concern that his team avoids putting too much stock in what happened to the Panthers on Sunday when the Pittsburgh Steelers pushed them around in a 24-16 decision.”They’re going to try to bully us,” Campbell said of the Panthers. “We have to be able to absorb it and answer back.”While Carolina has demonstrated a punishing rushing attack, it doesn’t always work out that way. The Panthers rushed for 21 yards against Pittsburgh for the team’s fifth-lowest total in franchise history.Detroit, which has a three-game winning streak, has done a good job along the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The Lions have protected quarterback Jared Goff, allowing just 19 sacks to tie for the fewest in the NFL this season.The Lions are finding various ways to win, perhaps coming from their improved mindset.”We fully believe in each other and just know somebody’s going to make a play to do something right,” Goff said.Detroit’s defense has set the tone for much of the team’s success the past couple of months.”They fly around, especially these last few games,” Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold said of Detroit’s defense. “It’s going to be a really tough challenge for us.”Carolina’s offense has been spotty even as it appears to be settling in with Darnold at quarterback.