The Carolina Panthers have bounced back admirably from a 1-3 start to win 5 straight games and are one of the hottest teams in the NFL.
A 10-9 win over the 49ers last week in San Francisco, where Carolina’s defense held Colin Kaepernick to just 92 passing yards, is leading many to think the Panthers are for real.
Cam Newton’s less than stellar numbers this year though seem to be the teams achilles heel. A win over the New England Patriots under the bright lights will certainly end those doubts.
The Patriots are coming off a bye and the teams best offensive game of the year where Tom Brady threw for over 400 yards and 4 touchdowns against the Steelers.
It took awhile, but the Patriots offense finally appears to be ready to explode. In New England’s last game against Pittsburgh, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Dobson, and Danny Amendola all had over 120 yards receiving. Gronkowski’s 143 yards led the team, and there’s no question that he’s 100 percent back following forearm and back injuries. The rushing attack is better than people think and ranks 8th in the NFL. The combination of Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount have gotten the job done. They’ve taken significant pressure off of Brady. Carolina’s defense though has been dominant and it will be intriguing to see how Brady fairs in this one.
It’s no secret what the strength of this Panthers team is, and it’s not the offense. Carolina’s pass offense ranks 3rd worst in the league averaging 195.8 yards per game. On the season, Newton has 13 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, and has only thrown for over 300 yards once. Newton is more than capable of being one of the game’s most explosive quarterbacks, but at this point needs to be more focused on simply taking care of the football. In the running game, DeAngelo Williams is quietly having a bounce back season. Williams scored the only Panthers touchdown in last week’s game, and is averaging over 4 yards per carry. Newton and Mike Tolbert also make contributions on the ground.
Patriots – You take Tom Brady over Cam Newton, and the offensive continuity is finally there for New England.
Led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Luke Kuechly, the Carolina Panthers sport the NFL’s 2nd ranked defense allowing 12.8 points per game. Only the Kansas City Chiefs have been better allowing 12.3 points per game. The Panthers have the NFL’s 2nd ranked rush defense, and 5th ranked pass defense. Carolina is also tied for the league lead with 13 interceptions. Surprisingly, it’s Keuchly who leads the team with 3 interceptions. Not surprisingly, his 75 tackles also lead the team. The defensive line is getting the job done. Rookie Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short are stuffing the run, and are giving edge rushers Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy the necessary room to get to the quarterback. Hardy and Johnson have a combined 13.5 sacks. Carolina’s defense is clearly clicking on all cylinders, but Tom Brady could be the Panthers toughest task yet.
The Patriots are without the teams two best defensive players, Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo who are both out for the season. As a result, opposing teams have been able to run all over the Patriots. New England is giving up 128.2 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 30th in the league. It’s going to be crucial to contain DeAngelo Williams and force Cam Newton to beat you with his arm, since he hasn’t proven he can do that this year. The secondary has been better, but starting safety Stephen Gregory and starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard will both be out for this game. Kyle Arrington and rookie 3rd round pick Duron Harmon will be asked to step up.
Panthers – Carolina has the 2nd ranked defense in the league. There’s not one area of weakness.
Kicker: Stephen Gotskowski vs. Graham Gano
Punter: Brad Nortman vs. Ryan Allen
Return Man: Julian Edelman vs. Ted Ginn Jr.
Graham Gano and Stephen Gotskowski have both only missed one kick in 2013. Gotskowski though has attempted and made 9 more kicks. The kicking game isn’t much of an issue for either side.
In the punting game, Ryan Allen and Brad Nortman are both averaging right around 46 yards per punt. Allen though has 8 touchback to 4 for Nortman.
In the return game, Julian Edelman holds the NFL record for punt return average. Ted Ginn Jr. has the ability to take it the distance on any kickoff, but has yet to find the end-zone this year.
Panthers – The kicking and return games are virtually even, but Brad Nortman is having a better season than Ryan Allen.
If there’s anything I’ve learned being a Jets fan, it’s don’t doubt Tom Brady, especially in the regular season. Carolina will give it all they got, but anytime Bill Belichick gets 2 weeks to prepare, it’s usually a recipe for victory.
Patriots 24 Panthers 19