The New England Patriots travel to Carolina to take on a very hot Panthers team. The Panthers winners of five straight are dominating on defense. This is an extreamly important game for both teams. The Patriots need a victory to help them on the way to a bye week in the playoffs. The Panthers need to win to stay a game behind the division leading New Orleans Saints.
Tom Brady is going to need to be on his game and get rid of the ball quickly against a very solid front seven for the Panthers. Shane Vereen activated off of injured reserve today can really help with pass protection and being an outlet receiver.
The Patriots will need to continue to be diverse on offense if they want to win this one. Carolina is one of the best defenses in the league. They rank number one overall in points against and yards allowed. They are giving up a miniscule 82 yards a game on the ground.
What will we see from a Patriots offense that has Rob Gronkowski, Shane Vereen, Danny Amedola, Aaron Dobson, Stevan Ridley and Tom Brady all on the field together for the first time. Since the return of Gronk, the offense has looked alot more fluid.
While the Panthers defense has gotten plenty of attention, the offense is not half bad. They are a top 10 running offense and the Patriots figure to be in a base defense more often than not. The return of Jonathan Stewart, along with D'Angelo Williams and Quarterback Cam Newton give the Panthers a decided edge on the ground.
While the passing game for the Panthers is 29th in the league, it could have a decent day against a Patriots team that will be missing Steven Gregory and Alfonzo Dennard. Aqib Talib looks to return and that should help. The Panthers have been sacked 29 times in nine games so look for a busy night for the from seven of the Pats.
The key for the Patriots will be running the ball. In their seven victories this year they have ran the ball 30 times or more. They must remain focused on running the ball and not let middle linebacker and former Boston College standout Luke Kuechly stop them.
I am picking the Patriots to win this game. They might have a bit of rust after 15 days off since scoring 55 against the Steelers. In all the Pats are a better team all around. If the run game gets going and Brady can work the play action, the offense will be fine. Look for a big game out of Brandon Spikes against the run. I would also expect Rob Ninkovich to factor in large in containing Cam Newton.
The Patriots will be victorious, 24-20.