Detroit (-2.5) @ Carolina
Power rankings: Detroit 12, Carolina 29
Spread update: This line remains at 2.5.
Keys to the game: The Lions offense is rolling, ranking 6th in offensive DVOA and 9th in EPA/play. They'll face off against a Panthers defense that is 20th in DVOA and 12th in EPA/play. A big part of the Lions success is due to the sheer dominance of Amon-Ra St. Brown, who now ranks 2nd of all receivers in PFF grades and has at least 7 targets in every game since week 8. Carolina has mostly used Jeremy Chin and Myles Hatfield to cover the slot, which is where St. Brown runs most of his routes. Both Chin and Hatfield are safeties by trade, and both have been brutal in coverage this season. If there's a team to slow down Amon-Ra, the Panthers aren't it. As for the rest of the receiving core, both DJ Chark and Josh Reynolds have been decent complimentary options -- they wouldn't normally scare an opposing defense, but the Panthers are weak in the secondary (exception: CB Jaycee Horn). The Lions should be ok in the trenches -- they are an elite run-blocking unit, but they struggle in the interior pass blocking. Their tackles, Taylor Decker and Pennei Sewell, are both excellent. DT Derrick Brown has been solid both against the run and as a pass rusher, he could pose issues against the Panthers interior, but overall Carolina's pressure rates and run defense shouldn't be strong enough to scare Detroit. This should be helpful to Jared Goff, who consistently struggles under pressure relative to his peers, as well as the Lions running back duo of Jamaal Williams and D'Andre Swift.
Sam Darnold enters game 4 leading the Panthers offense, which sits at an abysmal 29th in DVOA and 27th in EPA/play. For Darnold's part, he's been playing decently -- he's throwing the ball downfield without putting it in harm's way, but he's completing just 59.1% of his passes. The completion percentage is more or less what we've seen throughout Darnold's career, but the biggest difference so far is he's usually a turnover machine. He plays behind a mediocre offensive line going up against a Lions pass rush that isn't impressive on paper, but are middle of the road in pressure rates due to a blitz heavy scheme. Detroit's blitz rate of 31.6% is 6th highest in the league, but only Aidan Hutchinson has over 40 pressures this season. Detroit's advantage comes from DJ Moore and Terrance Marshall, both are playing well and will be going against a struggling Lions secondary. Detroit ranks 23rd in defensive DVOA and 31st in EPA/play. The Lions secondary has been better vs short passes (13th in DVOA) then deep passes (28th), which doesn't match up well against Darnold so far this season. Darnold's 18.2% rate of passes that travel 20+ yards is highest in the league.
Seattle (+9.5) @ Kansas City
Power rankings: Seattle 14, Kansas City 3
Spread update: This line has moved away from the model. It's now at 10.
Keys to the game: Seattle's offense is 12th in DVOA and 10th in EPA/play, but they've been significantly better passing (5th in DVOA) then running (24th). Geno Smith has cooled off since looking like the god damn MVP, but he's still playing at high levels, ranking 9th in PFF grades, 5th in ESPN QBR, and 5th in Football Outsider's DYAR. Although Kansas City's defense isn't great -- 24th in DVOA and 18th in EPA/play (and 25th against the pass), there's a few problems in the matchup. For starters, it appears Tyler Lockett isn't going to play after needing hand surgery on a broken finger that he suffered week 15 against San Francisco. That leaves DK Metcalf as the lone quality receiver. Further, the Seahawks line has struggled as of late and Kansas City as an oddly productive pass rush. The Chiefs rank 8th in pressure rate (23.7%) despite modest blitz rates despite having a lack of talent along the line. DT Chris Jones remains one of the top interior pass rushers in football, but the rest of the line is suspect. Behind Jones, the leading Chiefs defenders by total pressures with their PFF pass rush grade in parenthesis: rookie George Karlaftis (57.2), Frank Clark (63.5), and Michael Danna (65.8). Regardless, we can't argue with results, and the Chiefs have been able to generate consistent pressure. Further, the weakness of the Seahawks line has been in the interior, where Jones will operate. The best player in the Chiefs secondary is L'Jarius Sneed, but Sneed typically lines up in the slot, which should allow DK Metcalf to avoid him. Rookie CB Trent McDuffie is also having a fine season since returning from a week 1 hamstring injury, but this is still a very beatable secondary.
The Chiefs offense is straight forward: Pat Mahomes and Travis Kelce are God-tier, the offensive line is elite, and they are 1st in EPA/play and DVOA. They'll have a big advantage over the Seahawks defense that is 25th in DVOA and 28th in EPA/play. Seattle is weak in the trenches -- Uchenna Nwosu is a decent pass rusher and DT Shelby Harris plays well against the run, but it isn't enough to contend with the Chiefs line. Seattle is also 28th in DVOA in coverage against tight ends, which doesn't bode well for slowing down Kelce. Seattle has at least been better against the pass (19th in DVOA) then the run (28th), which is where you want to be against the Chiefs, who are 2nd in the league in situation-neutral pass frequency. The key to the Seahawks pass defense is rookie corner Tariq Woolen and the safety tandem of Quandre Diggs/Ryan Neal, but it naturally isn't anywhere near enough to slow down the Chiefs. We need Seattle to keep it close -- if they get down big early, their horrid run defense could enable Kansas City to kill clock.