For the Patriots, the extra eight days off proved worthwhile as they were able to use the time to get healthy. They are expected to return two key players tonight in running back Shane Vereen and cornerback Aqib Talib.
Getting those two back is of critical importance, as this road game against the Panthers is perhaps the Patriots' toughest test of the season to date. At 6-3, the Panthers are perhaps the league's hottest team. They have won five straight contests, including a statement win over the 49ers in week ten.
The Panthers boast a well balanced offense with a banged up, yet surprisingly solid offensive line and a much more accurate Cam Newton. The Panthers don't have a lot of big play threats in the passing game, but they have to win the battles on the edges to both contain Cam Newton and slow their three-headed running attack of DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Tolbert.
Of course, the Patriots' biggest challenge today will come when they are on offense. The Panthers possess a dynamic front four that simply bullied Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers a little over a week ago. Opponents have had nowhere to run or throw against the Panthers this season, as they have one of the most complete defenses in football.
For the Patriots to be effective on offense, they'll need to work no establishing a balance. That's when the Patriots have been at their best the last two seasons. And if this game turns into a slugfest, the Patriots will need to maintain a commitment to the run to keep the play action alive. Otherwise, it could be a long day for Tom Brady, as it is really hard to know what to expect from this offensive line at this juncture.
Full details for the game are below:Game Time: 8:40 PM ET
TV Schedule: ESPN, national audience
Panthers Coverage: Cat Scratch Reader
Streaming: Following the game on NFL Game Rewind