NFL Monday

dm_131113_nfl_DC_NECARNEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (7-2) at CAROLINA PANTHERS (6-3) Line & Total: Carolina -2.5 & 47.5
Opening Line & Total: Panthers -1 & 45.5

The Panthers are hoping to win their sixth straight game when they host the Patriots on Monday night.

Carolina is coming off of a defensive battle with the 49ers in which it came out on top 10-9, marking its fifth consecutive win (SU and ATS). New England, however, won a 55-31 shootout with the Steelers before last week’s bye. That win moved the Patriots to 5-4 ATS for the season, but they are just 1-3 ATS on the road. The Panthers are 6-3 ATS overall, and 3-1 ATS at home. The last time these teams met was in December of 2009 when New England won 20-10, but failed to cover a 12.5-point spread at home. Since the Panthers entered the league in 1995, the Patriots hold a 3-2 SU series advantage, but Carolina is 4-1 ATS in the series. Both teams have some positive trends, as New England is 23-7 ATS (77%) after gaining 175 or more rushing yards in their last game since 1992 and they are 79-45 ATS (64%) as an underdog during that time. However, over the past three seasons, the Panthers are 14-4 ATS (78%) after playing their last game on the road, and 7-3 ATS after allowing 14 points or less in their previous game. The Patriots are excited to finally have RB Shane Vereen (wrist) back on the field, but top CB Aqib Talib (hip) is still questionable for Monday night. Carolina enters this one pretty healthy, with the biggest concern being G Chris Scott, who is questionable with a knee injury.

New England finally got its offense going against the Steelers last game, racking up 610 yards of total offense. QB Tom Brady threw for 432 yards and four touchdowns in the game, giving him 13 touchdown passes on the season and just six interceptions, a far cry from his 34 TD and 8 INT in 2012. TE Rob Gronkowski and WRs Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson all had more than 120 receiving yards and a touchdown, with the rookie Dobson scoring twice. RB Stevan Ridley extended his touchdown game streak to four with 115 yards and two touchdowns on 26 attempts (4.4 YPC). Brady now plays against the Carolina defense, which has been dominant all season. New England’s defense will have to do a better job stopping the run in order to slow down QB Cam Newton and his Panthers offense. The Patriots allow 128.2 rushing yards per game (30th in NFL) and that does not bode well for them against Carolina. They are, however, a solid team against the pass as they allow just 232.8 yards per game through the air (12th in NFL). New England’s defense has done a poor job of getting of the field on third down (40.3% conversions, 24th in NFL), but has held strong in the red zone (48.3%, 7th in NFL). CB Aqib Talib, who is the Patriots best man-to-man defender in the secondary hasn’t played since injuring his hip in Week 6, and could be a key addition if he’s able to suit up on Monday night. New England will be looking to strip the football, having produced 11 takeaways over the past five games.

The Panthers traveled to San Francisco last week and won 10-9 behind a stellar defensive effort, holding the Niners to a paltry 151 total yards including 46 passing yards on 22 attempts. Carolina’s defense has been a nightmare to play against this season. The unit has allowed just 201.3 yards per game through the air (5th in NFL) and 82.0 yards per game on the ground (2nd in NFL). The Panthers lead the NFL in fewest first downs allowed (16.0 per game), which is a big reason they have a league-low 26:08 defensive time of possession. They are also tied for first with 13 interceptions, and rank third in red zone defense (36.8% efficiency). Carolina will need to apply pressure to Tom Brady and smother him as they have nearly every other quarterback so far this season with 29 sacks (T-8th in NFL). QB Cam Newton is going to have to play mistake-free football against the Patriots’ aggressive secondary, something his team did for the first three games of their current win streak where they have averaged 28.0 PPG. Newton has thrown for 1,970 yards, 13 TD and 8 INT this season. He has also rushed for 266 yards and four touchdowns. With RB Jonathan Stewart back healthy, the team has gone with a committee approach to running the football with Stewart and fellow RBs DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert. The team has rushed for more than 100 yards in all five of its wins (121 rush YPG) and must eat away at the porous Patriots run defense in order to keep Tom Brady off the field. If Aqib Talib is out and the Panthers running game is on, Newton should be able to exploit the Patriots secondary.