A home date against the struggling Saints seemed to be a ticket to a 3-0 start for the Panthers. Instead, they were easily defeated by New Orleans 34-13 to fall to 2-1. The Panthers led 3-0 early but then permitted the kind of time-consuming drive that New Orleans was able to manage all game long, allowing a touchdown to relinquish the lead they would never recover. The offense couldn’t sustain much at all, as the passing game struggled once wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin went down with a first-quarter injury.
The Patriots overcame a comeback attempt by the Texans with their own last-minute rally for a 36-33 victory. New England led 28-20 after a Brandin Cooks 42-yard touchdown grab from Tom Brady in the third quarter. But the Texans ripped off 13 unanswered points, pushing the lead to 33-28 with just over two minutes to play. That’s when Brady responded with a 75-yard drive that ended with another scoring strike to Cooks with 23 seconds to play. Brady ended with 378 yards and five touchdown passes on the game.
The Panthers 2-0 start helped to gloss over the struggles their passing game encountered early. They were expected to put it together playing New Orleans, a team who had been torched through the air early in the season. Things got much worse, however. Cam Newton failed to throw for a touchdown and was picked off three times, only managing a running score late in garbage time. The Patriots have been weak against the pass as well early on, but the Panthers attempts to move the ball through the air have been downright pitiful.
Back end woes
The Patriots are struggling to find the right combination of defenders in their back seven, which shows in their lousy statistics against the pass so far this season. Malcolm Butler started the year as their top cornerback and is now in the doghouse and coming off the bench. Eric Rowe and Dont’a Hightower have missed time with injuries as well. There aren’t many guys in the linebacking and defensive back corps that will scare anybody right now.
Panthers banged up receivers
Part of Newton’s problems last week may have stemmed from the unavailability of his top two targets. Greg Olsen is on IR, so he won’t be getting him back, but it looks as though Kelvin Benjamin will play next week after a scary-looking knee injury forced him to miss most of the loss against New Orleans. The Panthers have enough issues right now with their passing game; losing their best perimeter threat is something they can’t afford to endure.
Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski vs. Panthers SS Mike Adams
The Chiefs beat the Patriots in Week 1 by containing Gronkowski. He has followed that up with two big games in the Pats two offensive explosions. The onus will be on Adams to take him away in this one. He’s no Eric Berry, the guy who was able to handle Gronk back in the opener. But Adams can do a lot for the Panthers hopes by playing above his head in this one.
Fantasy Football Tip: Panthers WR Devin Funchess
Funchess would have been an even better selection here if Benjamin was injured and he became the top option. Even still, Pats coach Bill Belichick likes to take away the top option, which is clearly Benjamin with Olsen out. That means Funchess will likely be single-covered by one of the Patriots depleted secondary corps for much of the game.
Betting Tip: Panthers (+9)
Vegas believes that the Patriots will dominate here, but I think giving nine points to Newton, who’s been listening all week to how bad he was against New Orleans, might be folly.
Prediction: Carolina Panthers 33-24 New England Patriots
The Patriots defense is far more messed up than the Panthers offense right now, and the proof will come Sunday.
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