Last updated December 22nd, 2013
Coming off a 55-point offensive outburst against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the (7-2) New England Patriots will travel to Bank of America Stadium to take on the (6-3) Carolina Panthers (Monday, 8.40pm ET).
The Panthers are coming off a statement win themselves and the contest will pit one of the NFL’s better offenses against one of the league’s top defenses.
Better on Defense
Just a few years ago, the assertion that the Carolina Panthers would be a better team on defense than on offense was something that just wasn’t true. Sure, the team boasted top DE Julius Peppers but the real strength of the Panthers was in the man catching passes downfield and the other man who was throwing them to him.
But in 2013, the biggest reason for Carolina has not been Cam Newton and Steve Smith. While these two have been productive, the reason the Panthers have been able to hang with some of the best teams in the league is because of their defense.
Overall, Carolina boasts the NFL’s second best defense, falling just short of the numbers posted by the Houston Texans. Defensively, Carolina is second in yards per game (283.3), second in rushing yards per game (82), second in points allowed (12.8) and fifth in passing yards per game (201.3).
Conversely, the offense is pretty average, finishing 15th in PPG (23.8), 21st in total yards (323.6) and 28th in passing yards (195.8). The best offensive category for the Panthers is in their run game, which ranks 10th in the league with an average of 127.8 yards per game.
The Gronk Factor
Two years ago, Rob Gronkowski (pictured), a 22-year-old super human from Arizona stunned the NFL with his prowess in the endzone and his ability to catch anything that came his way. He finished his second season in the league with some of the greatest numbers ever put up by a tight end and his impact for the Patriots was undeniable.
Due to a non-football related injury, the man referred to as Gronk was forced to miss the first six weeks of the 2013 season. During this time, the Patriots did go 5-1, but without the threat of Gronkowski, had more close games than they would have liked. Also, in the team’s first six games, New England had two players with over 100 receiving yards.
In two of the three games since his return, Gronkowski has already matched this, totaling 114 yards against the NY Jets and 143 last week against the Steelers. He only has the one TD but it is clear that Tom Brady is very glad to have his best pass-catching weapon back.
Is Carolina for Real?
It is the question that skeptics have been asking all season long: Are the Panthers for real?
One would think that Carolina is for real, especially considering their record and the fact that their defense allows just 12.8 PPG. But the problem is that the Panthers have played a very soft schedule, without many tests.
Before last week, the Panthers had wins against the (3-6) NY Giants, (2-7) Minnesota Vikings, (4-6) St. Louis Rams, (1-8) Tampa Bay Buccaneers and (2-7) Atlanta Falcons. In total, the record for these teams is 12-34, a winning percentage of just 35%.
Meanwhile, the Panthers have lost against the (5-4) Arizona Cardinals, (2-7) Buffalo Bills and (9-1) Seattle Seahawks, teams with a winning percentage of 57%.
But last week, the Panthers faced their first .500+ team since Week 5 against Arizona and they won. Carolina held the (6-3) San Francisco 49ers, who had been averaging close to 28 points per game, to just nine, their third lowest output of the season. In doing so, the Panthers became just one of two teams to keep the 49ers out of the endzone.
The win over San Francisco legitimized the Carolina defense in a lot of ways but against New England, whose offense is finally starting to explode with Gronkowski and Danny Amendola back healthy, this matchup will certainly be a test.
Matchup to Watch: NE Backfield vs. CAR Front Four
In addition to the renewed passing offense which absolutely burned a Pittsburgh defense that is fourth in the league in stopping the aerial attack, the Patriots have one of the NFL’s best rushing games. This will be a great matchup to watch as Carolina’s second ranked rushing defense is pitted head to head against New England’s 8th ranked running back squad.
Led by Stevan Ridley, the Patriots have rushed for at least 60 yards in six of the team’s nine games so far this season. Last week, this group, much like the passing game was at its best as Ridley totaled 115 yards on the ground.
Meanwhile, the Panthers defense has been strong against the run all year, doing so against some of the league’s top RBs as well. Carolina held Marshawn Lynch to 43 yards, Adrian Peterson to 62 and Frank Gore to 82. The team has only allowed one 100+ yard rusher all season, which paces all 32 NFL teams.
The winner of this game could very well be determined by the winner of this matchup. The plus side for Brady and the Patriots however is that if the running game is stuffed up, the top QB can turn to the air.
Patriots at Panthers Final Pick
It should be noted that no one plays better on Monday nights than Brady, who enters this game with a 13-4 record in MNF games including wins in each of his last five. For the Panthers, their best asset other than their defense is playing at home, which has long since been favorable to the team both SU and ATS.
Carolina enters this game favored by between 1 and 2.5 points, the home field advantage likely the reasoning for this slim margin. Both teams have been good this season and it could be said that both are hitting their stride. The collision course won’t be pretty but when the dust settles, look for the Panthers to continue to shock the world in the win.
- Take Carolina to cover the spread. The best option is -1pt @ odds of -115 with Bovada Sportsbook. The same wager is just -2.5pts for -120 odds with BetOnline.
- Look for their defense to step up and keep the scoring under the total points of 46 at best odds of -110 with BetOnline or Bovada.
- The sportsbooks advised above are for Americans, while non-USA residents should place these NFL bets with Bet365.
RESULT UPDATE: Carolina Panthers won 24-20. Both advised bets won.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.