New England Patriots vs Carolina Panthers: Game Four Preview and Prediction

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 18: Trey Flowers
FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 18: Trey Flowers /
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New England Patriots
Tom Brady (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /


  1. The New England defense is going to improve against the pass starting this week
  2. Tom freaking Brady
  3. Carolina’s defense is overrated and took advantage of a weak schedule

First and foremost the New England Patriots need to find a way to get their defense off the field and give the big-play offense more opportunities. Against Kansas City, New Orleans and Houston the Patriots made uncharacteristic mistakes on defense with the breakdowns in communication leading to chunk plays allowed to the offense.

Part of that is the change in defensive philosophy. Without Dont’a Hightower playing defensive coordinator Matt Patricia has been loathe to dial-up the linebacker blitzes which have been so effective the past four seasons. Kyle Van Noy has taken on a new role in the middle of the defense and getting Hightower back should ease the responsibility on Van Noy.

In the secondary, Duron Harmon has been the near full-time deep free safety playing over 80% of the defensive snaps. Devin McCourty has played closer to the line of scrimmage and Patrick Chung has seen his playing time decrease. In addition, Malcolm Butler has spent more time in the slot rather than outside and that has been a big part of his ineffectiveness in 2017. The depth should improve as cornerback Eric Rowe returns this week.

On offense the Patriots have been bailed out by 40-year old quarterback Tom Brady in weeks two and three. Brady leads the NFL with 1,092 passing yards and eight touchdowns through three games (all stats from unless otherwise noted). Despite little help from the running game Brady has been driving the offense for the Patriots.

Brady has done this despite struggles by the offensive line in front of him. He has been sacked ten times in three games after being sacked just 15 times in 12 games in 2016. His downfield effectiveness has stood out as his receivers have put up ridiculous yards per reception numbers in the first three games of 2017.

Although Carolina comes in with a defense with a reputation as one of the best in 2017, it may be a mirage. After stifling Brian Hoyer in week one and Tyrod Taylor and an impotent Bills offense lacking playmakers, the Panthers got lit up by Drew Brees and the Saints last Sunday. After allowing just six points and less than 400 total yards over their first two games, the Saints dropped 34 points on the Panthers piling up 362 total yards.

The Carolina defense is an odd mix as it has some older players in some spots and inexperience in others: Thomas Davis is 34-years old and banged up with a rib injury this week, veteran defensive ends Mario Addison (30), Charles Johnson (31) and Julius Peppers (37) are getting long in the tooth. Starting safety Mike Adams is 36-years old and teams up with Kurt Coleman (29). The cornerbacks are young and the interior defensive line is still in their prime as is superstar Luke Kuechly. Emerging star Shaq Thompson is just 23 and improving with each game.