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Carolina Panthers vs. New England Patriots Preview and Pick

Carolina Panthers (5-7, 5-7 ATS) vs. New England Patriots (7-5, 5-6-1 ATS), Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Sunday, Week 14 NFL, Dec. 13th, 1 PM Eastern, Fox
By Z-Man of Predictem.com

Point Spread: Patriots -13 1/2/Panthers +13
Over/Under: 44

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The suddenly-vulnerable New England Patriots look to get back on the path toward another division title when they host the Carolina Panthers Sunday afternoon.

This game opened at many online sportsbooks with New England favored by from 13 to 14 points, with a total of 44. And as of Wednesday night most NFL betting outlets were listing the Patriots at -13 , with the total having remained the same.

The Pats are also chalked at right around -800 on the various moneylines, with Carolina getting about +600 to win outright.

The Panthers opened this season 0-3, got to 4-5, then lost consecutive games at home to Miami and at the Jets. Last week, with Matt Moore starting at quarterback in place of Jake Delhomme, the Panthers beat Tampa Bay 16-6 as four-point home favorites. Carolina actually got outgained 469-307, but intercepted Bucs QB Josh Freeman five times, three times in the red zone.

So at 5-7, the defending NFC South champion Panthers are out of the race in their division, which is led by 12-0 New Orleans, and almost out of the NFC playoff situation.

The Patriots sat at 6-2 about a month ago, but have hit the skids. They blew that game at Indianapolis, and after a win over the Jets, are coming off back-to-back losses, 38-17 at New Orleans and, last Sunday, 22-21 at Miami.

So at 7-5, New England's lead in the AFC East is down to a single game over both the Jets and Miami. If the playoffs started today, the Patriots would host the 8-4 Denver Broncos in an AFC wild-card match-up.

It looks like QB Jake Delhomme's time in Carolina may be coming to an end. After that disastrous playoff loss to Arizona last January, and a lousy first 11 games this season, and a broken finger, the Panthers look like they'll go with Moore, a three-year vet out of Oregon State, as the starter for the rest of this year. In his first significant playing time of this season last week vs. Tampa, Moore went 14-for-20 passing for 161 yards, although 66 of those yards came on one big play to WR Steve Smith, with an interception.

Patriots QB Tom Brady has had some problems this year, even though his numbers are solid. For example, his two interceptions last week cost New England dearly. On the season, Brady has completed 66% of his throws for over 3,600 yards, with 22 TD passes and 10 INTs, and a 96.9 passing rating.

Carolina ranks 22nd in the league this season in offense at 321 YPG but third in rushing at 152 YPG. On the other side of the ball the Panthers rank 13th in defense at 326 YPG and 26th vs. the run at 133 YPG.

New England ranks second in offense at 415 YPG, 17th in rushing at 113 YPG, 11th in defense at 322 YPG and 15th vs. the run at 108 YPG.

The Patriots also lead the league this season in average time-of-possession at 33:45, while the Panthers rank 15th at 29:44.

New England's problems on the road this season are becoming well known, but the Patriots are still tough to beat at home; they're a perfect 6-0 straight up and 4-2 ATS in Foxboro this year.

The Panthers, meanwhile, are 2-4 SU and 3-3 vs. the numbers on the road this season.

These two teams last met in a game that mattered four seasons ago, when Carolina beat the Pats 27-17 in Charlotte.

On the injury front, Carolina RB DeAngelo Williams has missed recent action with a sprained ankle, and his status for Sunday is uncertain.

These two teams have played six common opponents so far this season. The Panthers beat the Bucs twice, by scores of 28-21 and 16-6, while the Pats beat Tampa in London 35-7; Carolina lost to Buffalo 20-9 while New England edged the Bills in the season opener 25-24; Both teams lost to the Saints, the Panthers 30-20 and the Patriots 38-17; and both teams beat Atlanta, Carolina by 28-19, New England by 26-10; and while the Panthers lost to both Miami 24-17 and the Jets 17-6, the Pats split their season series with both those teams.

After going 2-1 straight up but 0-3 against the pointspreads last week, NFL double-digit favorites are now 40-4 SU and 23-20 ATS this season.

The totals are 5-7 in Carolina games this season, as the Panthers are getting outscored, on average, 22-18. And the O/Us are 4-7-1 New England games, as the Pats are outscoring opponents 27-19. Of course, the totals are always a little higher on Patriots games, and this year they're averaging 46.

The Sagarin PURE POINTS ratings at USAToday.com rate the Patriots at 28.9, the Panthers at 15.7. With Sagarin's updated NFL home-field advantage figure at 2.5, New England is favored by 15 points over Carolina on the Sagarin line.

Z-Man's Pick: The Patriots don't have any business laying 13.5 to anybody right now with the way they've been playing. Take the Panthers plus the points.

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