NEW ENGLAND (4-4) at CAROLINA (4-4)
Sunday, 1 p.m. EST, CBS
OPENING LINE: Patriots by 4, according to FanDuel SportsBook.
AGAINST THE SPREAD: Patriots 4-4; Panthers 4-4.
SERIES RECORD: Panthers lead 4-3.
LAST MEETING: Panthers beat Patriots 33-30 on Oct. 1, 2017 at New England.
LAST WEEK: Patriots beat Chargers 27-24; Panthers beat Falcons 19-13.
PATRIOTS OFFENSE: OVERALL (15), RUSH (22), PASS (13), SCORING (10).
PATRIOTS DEFENSE: OVERALL (13), RUSH (16), PASS (14), SCORING (8).
PANTHERS OFFENSE: OVERALL (25), RUSH (16), PASS (28), SCORING (22).
PANTHERS DEFENSE: OVERALL (2), RUSH (13), PASS (2), SCORING (5).
TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Patriots plus-1; Panthers minus-4.
PATRIOTS PLAYER TO WATCH: RB Damien Harris. Harris has run for at least 80 yards in the last three games and has a touchdown rushing in four straight games. He ranks tied for third in the NFL with a career-high six TDs rushing and will provide a formidable test for Carolina’s defense.
PANTHERS PLAYER TO WATCH: LB Shaq Thompson. He returned last week from a foot injury and the Panthers looked like an entirely different defense against the Atlanta Falcons. Thompson had 10 tackles and intercepted Matt Ryan. He’s not only one of the game’s better linebackers but he’s also the emotional leader of Carolina’s defense and one of its smarter players.
KEY MATCHUP: Patriots QB Mac Jones vs. Panthers CB Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore said this game means “a lot” to him given the history. Gilmore helped the Patriots win a Super Bowl and was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year two years ago but New England traded him to Carolina after they couldn’t come to terms on a contract extension. Gilmore had an interception in his first game with the Panthers last week while playing 17 snaps. He’s expected to see more reps on Sunday as he makes his way back from a quadriceps injury.
KEY INJURIES: The big question entering this game will be if the Panthers get running back Christian McCaffrey back on the field after missing the last five games with a hamstring injury. Carolina QB Sam Darnold is in the NFL’s concussion protocol, and P.J. Walker will get the start if Darnold is unable to go. Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson sat out the first practice of the week with an illness. He’s tied for the team lead with three interceptions. His absence would be a blow to a secondary that is already playing without CB Jonathan Jones, on injured reserve with a shoulder issue.
SERIES NOTES: Carolina has won the last two meetings. … The most memorable matchup between the two clubs came in the 2003 season when the Patriots defeated the Panthers 32-29 in Super Bowl 38. Tom Brady threw for 354 yards and three touchdowns and Adam Vinatieri kicked the winning field goal. Jake Delhomme also threw for three TDs and the two teams combined for a Super Bowl-record 37 points in the fourth quarter. It was also the game with the infamous “wardrobe malfunction” during a halftime show involving Janet Jackson with Justin Timberlake.
STATS AND STUFF: The Patriots are 0-3 vs. NFC teams, while the Panthers are 2-0 vs. AFC teams. … New England is 3-0 on the road this season. … Patriots QB Mac Jones leads all rookies in completions (192), completion percentage (68.1), passing yards (1,997), TD passes (nine) and rating (90.1). He has two or more touchdown passes and a passer rating of 110 or more in two of his past three games. He’ll be trying to become the first rookie QB since Dak Prescott in 2016 to win his first four road starts. … Patriots WR Jacobi Meyers is the only AFC receiver with four or more catches in eight games this season. Meyers has two 2-point conversions in 2021. Only 17 players have had three in one season. The NFL record for the most in a single season is four by Todd Heap of Baltimore in 2003. … Patriots LB Matt Judon had five tackles and 1 1/2 sacks in Week 8. He had 10 tackles and a tackle for a loss in his only career game against Carolina in 2018 when he was with Baltimore. … Patriots K Nick Folk entered the week first in in the NFL with 20 field goals … Darnold has thrown four TD passes and seven interceptions in his last five games. … Walker completed 24 of 34 pass attempts for 258 yards with two interceptions in his only career start on Nov. 22, 2020 against the Lions. Walker has one TD pass and five interceptions during his career. … McCaffrey has missed 18 of the team’s last 24 games with injuries. … Panthers RB Chuba Hubbard has run for 391 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 3.6 yards per carry while replacing McCaffrey. … Panthers LB Haason Reddick has five sacks in four home games.
FANTASY TIP: WR Nelson Agholor has caught a touchdown pass in two of his last three games against Carolina and aims for his third game in row with at least 50 yards receiving vs. the Panthers.