What we’ve got on Sunday in Foxboro, to be frank, is a game that sounded awesome in April and is now something of a downer in December.
The New England Patriots of 2009 aren’t the Patriots we’ve gotten used to seeing over the past decade, and the Carolina Panthers of 2009 are nowhere close to the Panthers of 2008. The two teams have a combined record of 12-12 this season, and the Patriots’ bad vibes this week (sending players home due to tardiness, internal criticism of coach Bill Belichick by one of the team's star linebackers, Tom Brady’s assorted minor injuries that kept him out of practice Wednesday and Thursday) have made national news.
-- Nevertheless, it is the Patriots, and it certainly sounds like Brady is playing, and Matt Moore gets a chance to start against a vulnerable New England secondary. It will be interesting. Moore needs to throw for at least 200-250 yards Sunday, I think, for Carolina to have any chance at winning. The way to beat New England is to attack its back four the way New Orleans and Miami did, not go after its front seven (although abandoning the run entirely, of course, would be silly. I'd vote for about a 50-50 split in this one).
-- The Patriots have lost three of their past four games, but they are 6-0 at home this season. They are a team that is at least 10 points better at home than on the road.
-- Who will give less insight in the coaches’ postgame press conference? Generally, John Fox has this category locked up every week, but on Sunday he faces the master – Bill Belichick.
-- As previously promised in this space, the last time I was going to pick the Panthers to win a game in 2009 occurred last Sunday, when with reluctance I chose Carolina to beat Tampa Bay by eight points (the Panthers won by 10).
With little reluctance, my pick for Sunday's game is:
New England 26, Carolina 17.
(The stats: I am 7-5 picking Panthers' games so far this season. Not very good, in other words. But hey, in the Patriots' AFC East, it would lead the division).