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Kickoff time and network: 8:40pm ET, ESPN (Monday Night Football)
The Panthers are the unfortunate team to face the Patriots following a bye, where Bill Belichick is 10-3 as Patriots head coach in the regular season.
The Panthers love to run the ball, with 462 attempts ranking 11th in the NFL, and 4.5 YPA ranking ninth. They may not have such success against a Patriots defense that is built to stop the run, holding opponents to 3.9 YPA for the sixth-lowest average in 2012.
The Patriots have not yet had to deal with Cam Newton's speed and athleticism, though, and although New England's thumping trio of linebackers would ordinarily provide an advantage in this case, Newton has the size to take on linebackers. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich probably will not rack up a lot of sacks, as their role will most likely be in containment of Newton on the edges.
That being said, the Panthers do not have the firepower to take advantage of the Patriots secondary. They lost a solid No. 2 option in Louis Murphy, but Brandon LaFell has the combination of size and speed that has given the Patriots problems in the past.
Carolina's defense was not much better than the league average last year, but they were much improved across the board from 2011. Their defense actually matches up well with the Patriots.
Linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis could provide a decent solution to covering the two tight ends, and Captain Munnerlyn is proficient enough in the slot to take on Danny Amendola. Luckily for Tom Brady, the Patriots brought back right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, as both he and Nate Solder will have their hands full with Carolina's pass-rushing duo of Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, so at least he'll have time to find his open man.
The Panthers have what it takes to make life difficult for the Patriots, but the Patriots defense will force Cam Newton to beat them with his arm, and that could pose a problem against a defense that forces as many turnovers as New England.
Prediction: Patriots 23, Panthers 17