Tom Brady and the rejuvenated New England Patriots offense face their toughest test of the season Monday night when they travel to Carolina for a date with the Panthers.
Brady looked like his old self in the Patriots' last game, throwing for 432 yards and four touchdowns as New England blasted the Pittsburgh Steelers 55-31 before enjoying a much-needed bye week. The Panthers are red-hot in their own right, riding a five-game winning streak while limiting opponents to just 57 total points over that stretch.
Here's the breakdown in our betting tale of the tape:
Brady and the Patriots scuffled through the first half of the season - dealing with injuries to Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen - but still managed to reel off eight victories in their first 10 games. New England comes into Week 11 sitting 20th overall in passing yardage (2,088), but has thrown just six interceptions against 13 touchdowns. The Patriots have excelled in the run game so far, ranked eighth in total yardage (1,162) while racking up 10 scores.
Third-year quarterback Cam Newton has had an uneven season to date; the Panthers rank fourth from the bottom in total passing yardage (1,762), but Newton has completed nearly 63 percent of his passes and ranks 11th in QB rating (88.3). He has thrown 13 touchdown passes but has been intercepted eight times. The run game has looked ordinary, ranked 10th overall in yardage (1,150) with 10 touchdowns but averaging just 3.9 yards per carry.
Edge: New England
The Patriots have had to deal with a litany of injuries on the defense corps - but it's difficult to tell by looking at the numbers. New England has allowed the 11th-fewest passing yards so far (2,095) while limiting opponents to 13 touchdowns and hauling in 12 interceptions. The run defense has been less effective - teams are averaging better than 128 yards per game versus the Patriots but New England has only surrendered four touchdowns on the ground.
No team in football does a better job of limiting opposition yardage than the Panthers. Carolina has clamped down on opponents' pass attacks, allowing the fourth-fewest yards through the air (1,812) while giving up just seven touchdowns and intercepting 13 passes - tied for the most in the NFL entering Week 11. The run defense has been even more impressive, allowing the second-fewest rushing yards (738) on 3.8 yards per carry while permitting only two scores.
The Patriots have had an up-and-down return game so far, ranked 24th in average kickoff return (21.9 yards) and ninth in average punt return (11.5). They've been stingy when it comes to special teams defense, allowing the fifth-lowest kick-return average (20.5) while limiting opponents to 9.3 yards per punt return. Veteran kicker Steven Gostkowski has been one of the top kickers in the league yet again, converting 22-of-23 field-goal opportunities.
Carolina ranks 20th in the league in kick-return average (22.4) and 16th in punt-return average (8.7). That results in a modest special teams net loss, as the Panthers are allowing opponents to average 23.4 yards per kick return and 9.4 yards per punt return. Panthers placekicker Graham Gano has been solid to date, making 13-of-14 field-goal attempts; he hit from 53 yards out but missed a 48-yarder in last week's victory over San Francisco.
"(The Panthers have) a problem on their hands. Shane is a playmaker out of the backfield. Whether it's on the ground or through the air, he does it well. I'm excited to have him back out there, and I know he's ready to play. He was hungry coming into this year and started out hot." - Patriots RB Stevan Ridley on teammate Vereen, who will suit up for the first time since suffering a wrist injury in Week 1
"We're relevant right now. But we can't just stop and say, 'Hey, let's pop bottles. Let's celebrate, order some hot wings and pizza. We're just halfway through the season. We just have to continue doing the things that's putting this feeling in our hearts because it's becoming a special thing to watch." - Newton