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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Matthew Stafford has earned a reputation for being tough and playing through injuries.

The Detroit Lions are going to need their franchise quarterback to be tough - and to stay on the field - if they hope to rebound from a 4-5 start and make a run at the NFC playoffs.

If the Lions are going to make a run, it probably needs to happen now.

Detroit is preparing to face three struggling teams in the Panthers, Texans and Bears, given them a golden opportunity to build some momentum heading into the final four games of the season.