Let’s get this out the way first, hurray for a Monday night game with actual relevance finally. After a season that has so far given us: a mess in Miami and a mess in Tampa, the one win bowl of Giants Vikings, injury-fest that was Chi @ GB, and the Saints romp in Miami, just to name a few. This hasn’t been the prettiest Monday Night slate thus far but this week should change that. And what’s the over/under on the number of times before, during, and after the broadcast that Cam Newton’s maturity and demeanor (towelgate) is called into question.
Now onto the actual game:
For the second week in a row the Panthers walk into a game that is the biggest game of the season. After walking into Candlestick and beating the 49ers, the Cats finally showed they can hang with a playoff caliber opponent. But this game will be at an even bigger level. For one it’s on national TV and secondly, it’s Brady and Pats. Even the team knows it’s a big game. Greg Hardy took to Twitter this week to urge fans to show support for a college style black out in BofA. Carolina has been on a roll and it has been building up to this. First the shake off of four straight against at best sub-par opponents. Then the game that brings them into the conversation of could this team be for real? Finally! After 3 seasons of will they or won’t they actually come out to play. And now they take center stage in MNF to face their best team yet. The Patriots will probably go into the game as favorites, but if you needed more convincing this will be a close one take a look at the 2 QB’s line this year:
Brady: 57.1% 13TD-6INT 2259yds 26 sacks 82.7 rat
Newton: 62.7% 13TD-8INT 1970yds 26 sacks 88.3 rat
Brady has been other worldly in the past, and admittedly is working with a much worse cast of targets, but Newton is right there with him and proving he can hang with the big boys of QBs. Cam’s numbers become a little more impressive considering that the Pats are +73 for pass attempts to runs, while the Panthers are +20 to rush attempts.
Ready for another shocker: Trivia time: Who has the most rushing TDs heading into this game? Answer: Surprisingly it’s Stevan Ridley. In fact the Patriots (1162yds & 4.4) have run for more yards and yards/attempt than the Panthers (1152yds & 4.0), even with all the big names in the backfield. Yup the ground and pound Panthers have run for less than the Patriots with one of the best QBs of the decade and have about 30 less attempts. Even more impressive for the Pats is that they have hit 150yds four times this season, while the Panthers have only cracked that number once, all the way back in week 3 in a blowout of the Giants.
Offensively these two teams are quite similar; in fact the one key difference may very well be Newton’s legs. If he is able to slip through the porous Patriot line and bust a run or two, it could very well make the difference in the game.
Offense may be where these two teams are close, but defense is where the split apart. The Panthers boast one of the best defenses in the league. Starting with a great front 7 this is a monster of a D. 2nd in Points allowed, 2nd in yards allowed, 1st in first downs allowed. While the quality of opponents has not been the greatest, the bottom line is this team is not letting the opponent move the ball. It should be a fun match-up with the Cats 2nd ranked run D up against the Patriots with a top 10 run game (wait I feel like I just saw this movie). Another credit to the Panthers D is that the patchwork secondary has allowed the fewest passing touchdowns and is tied for the league lead in picks. Ladies and gentlemen, if it wasn’t apparent by now, this defense is legit and will be a nightmare to face.
The Patriots defense on the other hand could be in a world of trouble if things don’t go their way. The Panthers are 2nd in the league with an average drive time 3:08. The Patriots have the 30th ranked run defense in the league. The Panthers have run the 5th most in the league this year. If you couldn’t see where I am going with this let me take it a step further. The Panthers are averaging 2.06 pts/drive, while the Patriots are averaging a very respectable 1.92. Carolina is using long drives to score, where NE iBut let me paint you a picture of Pats D that can’t get off the field as the Panthers chip away down the field on 4 yard runs.
With all that in mind this will be a close game. But if the Panthers fall behind early, and Cam goes hyper like he has in the past two games and sends half of his passes about five feet above the target, this could wind up a Pats win.
But back to why this will be a close one. Carolina has played hard this year. With the exception of at Arizona they have won or been in every game (Side note: I don’t know what Rivera does during the bye week but it is not working. The Panthers are 0-3 under him coming out of the off week; including the 22-6 game this year and a 30-3 stinkfest last year at home against the Vikes). With the close win last week, I am all aboard the Riverboat Ron bandwagon. Watching the past few weeks, Carolina’s mistakes are in execution now, not play calling. Overthrown balls that result in picks and fumbles are now this team’s biggest woes, not the craptastic game management and playing calling by Ron Rivera and company. This is a step up people.
If the Panthers can play to the full strength and outside of anything crazy happening, the game is Carolina’s to lose.
PANTHERS 24 - PATRIOTS 17