Carolina Panthers (1-2 SU, 2-1 ATS) vs. New England Patriots (2-1 SU, 1-2 ATS)
NFL Week 4
Date/Time: Sunday October 1st 1:00 PM EST
Where: Gillette Stadium
by Mike M, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread:CAR +8 / NE -8
The Carolina Panthers head north to Foxboro to take on the New England Patriots for an early afternoon battle in what will be the seventh all time meeting between the teams. They have split the previous six matchups evenly with their most well known game back in Super Bowl XXXVIII, which the Patriots won 32-29 on a last second Adam Vinatieri field goal. One player from each of those squads remains on their respective teams, with defensive lineman Julius Peppers back on the Panthers after previously having gone to the Bears and Packers in free agency and legendary GOAT Tom Brady still leading the way at quarterback for the Patriots.
It would be difficult to find a more unbalanced matchup of NFL teams based upon their early season offensive and defensive statistical success than with the Panthers and Patriots. Looking at their offensive rankings amongst the 32 NFL teams, New England ranks 1st in yards, 2nd in passing and 2nd in scoring while on the other end of the spectrum Carolina comes in at 29th in scoring, 30th in passing and 29th in scoring. Defensively the difference is just as vast, with New England at 32nd in yards allowed, 32nd against the pass and 32nd in scoring and Carolina ranking 1st in yards allowed, 3rd in passing and 2nd in scoring.
Carolina heads into this week looking to bounce back after a demoralizing 34-13 beatdown suffered at home against the New Orleans Saints, a team with a very similar make up to the Patriots (great offense, bad defense). The Panthers offense has only managed three touchdowns all season, and while its easy to point to quarterbacks Cam Newton struggles being caused by offseason shoulder surgery, unfortunately for Carolina fans his and in turn the teams issues seemed to have started with their loss to the Broncos back in Super Bowl 50. They have gone just 8-11 since that game, with only one of those wins coming against a team that ended their season with a winning record. Newton himself turned the ball over in nine of those eleven losses, has finished with a QB rating over 90 just three times in his past nineteen games and in while he does bring the ability to make plays with both his arm and legs, the Panthers have lost their last six games in which Newton has run for a touchdown.
How the Panthers can generate a consistent offense remains to be seen, as they already lost their best receiving option for the season in tight end Greg Olson, and now have to deal with questions surrounding wide receiver Kelvin Benjamins knee after he twisted it last week while being tackled. Initial tests revealed no structural damage, but his availability of Sunday remains in doubt as he was unable to practice on Wednesday and considering that their leader in receptions on the season is rookie running back Christian McCaffrey, they can ill afford to lose another major cog in their offensive machine, especially with Newton recent struggles in the passing game.
While the Carolina offense continues to face issues, the defense has no such problem and looks to have the ideal makeup to the challenge the Patriots offense, especially against their struggling offensive line. The Panthers have the necessary powerful defensive line featuring standouts such as Julius Peppers, Mario Addison and Kawaan Short along with two of the best linebackers in the game playing behind them, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. So far this season both the Chiefs and Texans were able to follow the so called blueprint for success against the Patriots by exploiting their offensive line and creating consistent pressure on Brady, and there is no doubt that Panthers have the exact personnel to be able to deploy that same strategy.
To prevent that Carolina success the Patriots will need offensive line guru Dante Scarnecchia to come up with some sort of strategy to turn around their porous play up front so far. Left tackle Nate Solder has especially struggled to start the season and was beaten again last week for two more additional sacks allowed and in total quarterback Tom Brady was hit eight times during last weeks game again along with being sacked five times. While Bradys talent and ability are well known, there is only so much he can do if not given any time or room in a pocket that seems to be collapsing at near record speed on a play by play basis so far this season.
Thankfully for Patriots fans Brady has continued to play at his usual elite level, which was on full display last week as he led his team to a come from behind, fourth quarter victory against the Texans thanks to a last minute drive orchestrated to near perfection and was capped off by a 25 yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks with just 25 seconds in the left game. The score was one of five thrown for on the day by Brady and one of three touchdowns on Sunday that came on a pass of over 20 yards in the air, and over his last 19 regular season games Brady has thrown for an astounding TD/INT ratio of 49 touchdowns compared to only 2 interceptions. The success of their passing game was especially important considering the Patriots struggled to get the rushing game going, and on the season thus far do not have a single running back averaging over 4 yards per carry with Mike Gilislee remaining the only player to have scored on the ground.
The offensive line and running game may need some fine tuning, but its the Patriots defense as a whole that needs a complete turnaround after playing embarrassingly poor football through the first three games. As previously mentioned they rank at or near the bottom of every defensive category, and things were even worse last week as they were apparently also protesting basic tackling efficiency and were lucky to avoid an embarrassing defeat at the hands of a rookie quarterback that would have been near entirely on the defenses shoulders. There were some positive signs as linebacker Cassius March got his first sack of the season and looked noticeably better than he did in week one when he was forced to unexpectedly play after Donta Hightower went down with an injury and looked markedly overwhelmed as he spent most of the game staring at Kareem Hunts back as the Chiefs rookie star ran all over March and the rest of the Patriots defense.
Picking this weeks game wasnt an easy decision as I flip-flopped back and forth between each team looking at the various areas that could be exploited by their opponent and after much debate I believe the best team to put your money behind this weekend is the Patriots, as at least they have had some modicum of success of late while Carolina has continued to struggle against quality opponents and now has to try and match points against the high flying Patriots at Gillette with a depleted offense while also having to play on the road, which has posed serious issues for the Panthers as well seeing as they are just 3-8 in their last eleven games away from the friendly confines of Bank of America stadium. I expect Carolina to find some defensive success against the Patriots offensive line, but by games end you can expect New England to get the win and cover at home in the friendly confines of Foxboro.
Mike Ms Pick to Cover the Point Spread: New England -8. Not all sportsbooks are created equal! Many are fly by night, poorly run and your loot is actually at risk. End that problem today by signing up at one of the web’s oldest and most trusted sportsbooks! Online for over 15 years, your credit card will work and you’ll also receive a 50% bonus up to $250 FREE at Bovada Sportsbook!