The New England Patriots come into Week 9 of the NFL regular season with a ton of positive momentum. New England went on the road last Sunday and defeated a good Los Angeles Chargers team to move to 4-4.
Next up on the Patriots schedule is a trip to Charlotte, North Carolina to take on the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers, like the Patriots, come into the game 4-4. Carolina has some injury concerns, particularly at quarterback, but on paper, as the records would suggest, the Week 9 clash looks to be fairly evenly matched.
With the game quickly approaching, here are my five predictions for the Patriots vs. Panthers showdown this Sunday afternoon.
Predictions for Patriots vs. Panthers
Matt Judon will have a huge day
Matt Judon is the Patriots’ best overall player. He’s proven to be an excellent free agency signing. It’s been a while since New England has had an edge rusher as good as Judon.
Judon leads New England in sacks, quarterback pressures, and tackles for loss. It’s not a stretch to say he’s playing some of the best football of his career. Just last week against the Chargers, Judon had 10 total pressures.
This week, Judon will be facing off against one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. The Panthers have allowed 24 sacks this season, which ranks fourth-most in the NFL. The only above-average linemen on the Panthers’ offensive front is right tackle Taylor Moton.
Judon should be able to wreak havoc on whoever the Panthers have at quarterback. Another 10 pressure type of game could be in the cards for the Patriots’ best pass rusher.
It’s also possible the Panthers devote double teams to stop Judon and it opens up sack opportunities for other New England pass rushers.
Speaking of other New England pass rushers, this game presents a big opportunity for Christian Barmore. Barmore has been impressive so far in his rookie season and the Panthers lack starting-caliber interior linemen. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Barmore make some disruptive plays on Sunday.
The Patriots will shut down the Panthers passing offense, regardless of who starts at quarterback
(NOTE: This prediction assumes J.C. Jackson (illness) is available to play on Sunday.)
As of Thursday, November 4th, it seems unlikely that Sam Darnold will be able to play against the Patriots on Sunday. If Darnold is out that would push P.J. Walker into the starting quarterback role. Regardless, of who starts at quarterback though, my prediction that the New England defense shuts down the Carolina passing attack remains the same.
There are two significant reasons for my trust in the Patriots’ pass defense on Sunday. The first being the Panthers’ lack of a quality passing attack. Darnold is a below-average quarterback and it’s hard to believe P.J. Tucker will be any better. Subpar quarterback play in the NFL is hard to overcome.
The quarterback position isn’t the only issue in the Carolina offense though. At wideout, the Panthers will rely on D.J. Moore. Moore is an excellent wideout, but he’s all the Panthers have in terms of healthy high-level weapons. Yes, Carolina also has Robby Anderson, but he’s in the midst of a huge letdown season.
To make matters worse, the Panthers’ offensive line is one of the worst pass-blocking groups in the NFL. All that combined makes for a lackluster passing offense.
The only caveat here is if Christian McCaffrey were to play Sunday. McCaffrey is the best receiving back in the NFL and would undoubtedly give the Panthers a big boost in the passing game. Even so, I trust Bill Belichick to limit McCaffrey’s impact.
The second reason for my confidence in the Patriots’ pass defense is simply because they’ve been playing good football.
Sure, they aren’t an elite group, but they’re above average. The Patriots currently rank 10th in pass defense DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average). Last week, both the secondary and the pass rush made Justin Herbert look average. Corner Myles Bryant and safety Adrian Phillips are two underappreciated members of the secondary that are playing really well right now.
With a confident secondary and good pass rush led by Matt Judon, the Patriots are very much capable of feasting on the Panthers’ weak passing offense.
Stephon Gilmore will make a couple of big plays
No matter what jersey he’s wearing Stephon Gilmore is a flat-out playmaker. In his first game as a Panther, he made a game-winning interception.
Granted, Gilmore will still likely be in a limited role (only 17 snaps last Sunday), but I expect him to make some plays when he’s out there.
Rookie Mac Jones will need to be sure to identity whenever Gilmore is on the field, as it’s pretty clear the former Defensive Player of the Year still has high-level football left in the tank.
A couple of pass breakups in third-down or red-zone situations is what I predict from Gilmore on Sunday. Luckily for Jones and the Patriots’ offense they won’t have to deal with Gilmore for the entirety of the game.
The Carolina defense gives New England some issues but the Patriots ground game helps open things up offensively
The Panthers’ defense is no joke. Currently, the group ranks 8th in defensive DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average). They have great speed, a ferocious pass rush, and a solid secondary. It’s hard not to like what Matt Rhule is building for the Panthers on the defensive side of the ball.
Carolina doesn’t have any major weaknesses on defense, but running the ball against the Panthers has proven to be a bit more successful than attempting to throw it.
The Panthers are only allowing 188.9 passing yards per game, which is the second-lowest in all of the NFL. For this reason, I expect New England to struggle at times to move the ball.
That said, as the game wears down I expect Damien Harris to get some chunk plays on the ground, which will help open things up offensively for the Patriots.
Middle-of-the-field targets for Hunter Henry off play-action is something to watch out for.
Without a doubt, the biggest key for the Patriots offense on Sunday is the offensive line. Haason Reddick, Brian Burns, and Derrick Brown can all get after the passer. They’re also a handful to block in the run game too.
I anticipate some big plays by the Panthers’ front seven on Sunday, but I also expect New England to weather the storm upfront and play solid football. Remember, after a rough start to the year, the Patriots’ offensive line has really begun to play good football the last couple of weeks.
Patriots win 24-17
Despite both teams having a 4-4 record, the Patriots should win this game. That’s not to say it will be easy, because as previously mentioned the Panthers have a top ten defensive unit, but the Panthers are extremely limited on offense, and the Patriots are a much more well-rounded team.
This being a road game for the Patriots does give an advantage to the Panthers, but New England has played some of its best football on the road this season.
At times, it may become a bit of a defensive slugfest, but in the end, I have the Patriots scoring just enough and Belichick and the defense stifling the Carolina offense. My final score prediction is 24-17 Patriots.