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Keys to Winning: Panthers @ Patriots

4 late players sent home on Wednesday?  One (Adalius Thomas) a healthy scratch for todayTom Brady a little bruised and banged up?  Trouble in paradise?

Much has been made of "Late Gate", of Bill Belichick's turning away of 4 players for tardiness.  I'm sure our rivals will turn this into, "There they go.  Here comes the downhill slide."  Right.  Like their own teams have never had discipline problems.  Funny thing about speaking out on those matters.  Chances are they're living in a glass house.  Adalius Thomas was benched for today because Belichick thought someone else could give them a better chance of winning.  It could be a little extra discipline for being the only one of the "Late Four" who spoke out about the incident.  Randy Moss, considered by many rivals to be a hopeless curmudgeon, did the right thing and went about his business, keeping his mouth shut.  Discipline stays in the building.

At any rate, this is about our upcoming matchup with the Panthers.  More after the jump.

With QB Matt Moore in for Jake Delhomme, the Panthers have to rely on their backup QB to matchup against a riled up New England Patriots their own house.  This won't be easy for Carolina, hopefully.  After 2 heart wrenching losses on the road (the first, a dismantling by New Orleans and the second, a heartbreaker to division rival Miami) I'm betting on Belichick being aggravated and unloading on his players this past week.

Carolina is going to pound the rock with QB Matt Moore under center.  Running back Jonathan Stewart is freight train on legs at 5-10 235 lbs.  And 120 yards, even against Tampa Bay, is nothing to sneeze at.  And New England is ranked 15th in rushing yards per game.  It would make no sense for the Panthers, ranked 27th in the passing game, to air the ball out.  Yup, pound the rock with their 3rd rated rushing offense.

On our side, Julius Peppers is going to be a problem.  Whether he's motivated or not by a huge franchise paycheck this year, I think he'll be interviewing for a job today.  He knows there was talk about him moving to the Patriots this season, but the price tag was just too high.  Julius would also have to be thick as a brick to be unaware of our troubles putting together a consistent pass rush.  Great pass rusher and a team who desperately needs a good pass rush... hmmm.

You can bet the Panthers have been watching game film, especially the Miami matchup.  Shutdown Randy Moss and you take away the deep ball, for the most part.  Yeah, there was that 81 yarder to Sam Aiken, but it's almost a forgone conclusion that Brady will try to force the ball to Randy at one time or another.  We need to spread the ball around a LOT more.  Of course Wes Welker will be one of the primary targets.  But is Moss the right early look?  Sam Aiken needs to be in the picture and I believe Benjamin Watson needs to play a big role in this game.  He's been underutilized this year, but has delivered consistently when asked to.  I've said many times in these stories that he's our secret weapon, but always seems to get few looks from Wonderboy.  Bill, are you listening?  Throw to "Big Ben"!!

We're playing at home, the team is fired up, and we need this win to keep Miami at a distance.  I'll go into serious mourning if we lose another Division title to the Dolphins with a tie breaker.

Prediction: Patriots, 28-17.