It’s all about the defense.
In the Week 4 matchup with a hobbled Carolina Panthers team, the New England Patriots need to iron out some kinks in the armor, as they allow an average a NFL league worst 31.7 points per game.
With Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton recovering on the fly from offseason shoulder surgery and his go-to threat in tight end Greg Olsen on injured reserve, the options are scarce for the visitors.
To make matters worse, Carolina wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is dealing with a knee injury, but will be available to play. It will be interesting to see how effective he will be on the field with that concern.
A focal point for the Panthers will be rookie running back Christian McCaffrey. Like most teams, the Panthers will look to utilize McCaffrey in the flat and look for mismatches in the flat and wheel routes against the Patriots’ linebackers who struggle in coverage.
The Panthers’ will be without center Ryan Kalil, which means the Patriots could get some penetration up front.
With New England linebacker Dont’a Hightower returning to play this week, the hosts should receive a boost in this regard.
Offensively, look for Tom Brady to be his usual self in carving up defenses and spreading the ball around.
He developed a nice rapport with wide receiver Brandin Cooks last week, it will be interesting to see if the two can stay on the same page.
With running back Rex Burkhead ruled out, it will be up to James White, Dion Lewis, and Mike Gillislee to carry the load.
Something to keep an eye on will be how the Patriots handle short-yardage situations, as they have struggled running the ball in between the tackles.
Best-case scenario: The Patriots win in a blowout and get to work on some aspects that need improving, such as having a consistent running game.
Worst-case scenario: Cam Newton reclaims his 2015 magic and New England’s defense continues to struggle, making it a shootout.
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.
Panthers injury report: Inactives: LB Jeremy Cash, DE Daeshon Hall, C Ryan Kalil, WR Curtis Samuel, CB Daryl Worley
Patriots injury report: Inactives: LB David Harris, OT LaAdrian Waddle, ST Matthew Slater, OL Cole Croston, LB Harvey Langi, ST Brandon King, RB Rex Burkhead