(Originally posted on 4SportBoston.com )
The New England Patriots, losers of their last two games and owners of an optimistically abysmal road record of 1-5 (optimistic since the one win came in London, with the "road fans" cheering for the team with more firepower), return home to the Razor to take on the Carolina Panthers, still reeling from the loss of franchise quarterback Jake Delhomme, who will miss Sunday's contest with an injured finger.
Carolina will be led offensively by backup quarterback Matt Moore, who will attempt to bring down the last remaining AFC East team not to have already beaten the Panthers this season.
Though Moore, like Delhomme, went undrafted, he represents a tiny sliver of hope for Carolina fans that A.) This injury to their starting quarterback may be just the thing the team needed to initiate a permanent switch at that position, and B.) That they will now get to watch a quarterback they don't have to constantly question whether he's secretly getting paid off by other teams to inflate defensive back statistics.
Originally I had planned a joke about Jake Delhomme now having to get a job at Papa Gino's, but one has to wonder if he could even hand-toss their signature dough without getting it intercepted.
At a time when many college students will be coming home for Christmas break, the Patriots return much in the same way. Disheveled, hungover, broke and embarrassed; they'll be desperate for some home-cooking, support of family, friends, and fans booing the horrendous pass interference calls against them instead of cheering wildly for them.
As much information as one can gather about a football team 12 games into the season, it can be all but thrown away right now. This is where a team is created. However, it is also a point where a team can become completely unraveled and fall apart. This is where the Patriots can turn it around.
While Carolina may be out of the playoff hunt (and rightfully so, after leaving DeAngelo Williams to carry the team by his lonesome by neglecting to insert a real-live NFL quarterback into their lineup), the Patriots could still end this season 12-5.
With a little winning streak and their first two road wins under their belts, this team could enter the playoffs on the same kind of momentum swing the Steelers entered with as the sixth-seed in their championship season just a few years ago.
But, if we see the same type of forehead-slapping, remote-control-throwing play-calling we've seen the past few weeks, it could also be the start of a disastrous end to an already disappointing regular season.
Should the Patriots take care of business against Carolina (Note: I'm fully aware you cannot say "take care of business" about a 7-5 team playing a 5-7 team, but I don't care), they face a remaining schedule at Buffalo, home against Jacksonville, and at Houston that will surely test their mettle (hopefully) going into the playoffs.
Did I just say "hopefully" about the Patriots playoff chances? Good god, it's not 2007 anymore.
Tom Brady: 26/32, 344 yards, 3 TD
Wes Welker: 10 receptions, 139 yards, 1 TD
Sam Aiken: 7 receptions, 121 yards, 2 TD
Laurence Maroney/Sammy Morris: 139 yards rushing combined
Matt Moore: 20/29, 208 yards, 1 TD, 2 Int
Steve Smith: 11 receptions, 145 yards, 1 TD
DeAngelo Williams: 128 yards rushing, 1 TD