CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- That newfound Patriots offensive rhythm, discovered in Week 9 as the team piled on 55 points against the Pittsburgh Steelers, will be put to the test against the Carolina Panthers.
With 15 days of rest and an opportunity to dissect their own issues as the year has progressed, the Patriots come into Monday night's game with the added pressure of facing a top-tier defense.
The Panthers have the second-best scoring defense in the NFL (12.8) and hold their opponents to the second-fewest yards per game (283.3). The cornerstones of their defense are linebacker Luke Kuechly, who played at Boston College, and defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy.
The Patriots will be boosted on offense by the return of running back Shane Vereen, who was activated to the 53-man roster after spending the past nine weeks on injured reserve with a designation for return. He suffered a broken wrist in Week 1 of the season against Buffalo. The shifty back can help bolster the team's passing game as well, working out of the backfield and in the slot.
Bill Belichick is 2-1 against the Panthers as coach of the Patriots. The team is 3-2 overall against Carolina.
Tom Brady is 13-4 on Monday nights.
With a win, the Patriots will have swept the NFC South.
Here are the details for the game:
Kickoff: 8:40 p.m.
Records: Patriots 7-2; Panthers 6-3.
TV, radio: ESPN, Ch. 5 (Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters); 98.5 FM The Sports Hub (Bob Socci, Scott Zolak) and Westwood One Radio (Kevin Harlan, Boomer Esiason, Mark Malone).
Projected starting lineups:
Based on information distributed to the media, practice observations, and injury reports.
Patriots offense: WR Danny Amendola, LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Marcus Cannon, TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Aaron Dobson, QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, TE Michael Hoomanawanui.
Patriots defense: DT Joe Vellano, DT Chris Jones, DE Chandler Jones, DE Rob Ninkovich, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Jamie Collins, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Aqib Talib, CB Kyle Arrington, S Devin McCourty, S Duron Harmon.
Panthers offense: WR Steve Smith, LT Jordan Gross, LG Travelle Wharton, C Ryan Kalil, RG Geoff Hangartner, RT Bryon Bell, TE Greg Olsen, WR Brandon LaFell, QB Cam Newton, FB Mike Tolber, RB DeAngelo Williams.
Panthers defense: LDE Charles Johnson, LDT Dwan Edwards, RDT Star Lotulelei, RDE Greg Hardy, SLB Thomas Davis, MLB Luke Kuechly, WLB Jordan Senn, LCB Captain Munnerlyn, RCB Melvin White, SS Quintin Mikell, FS Mike Mitchell.
Read this, link that
- Erik Frenz breaks down the matchup between Patriots corner Aqib Talib and Panthers WR Steve Smith.
- Adam Kaufman writes that the hype over the Panthers is unrealistic.
- Follow the game and comment on the action in our live blog.