The Patriots and Panthers will both be tested this weekend.
Carolina’s best win came last week against the 49ers, and New England’s most impressive victory came against the team that just toppled San Francisco in the final seconds this week, the Saints. The Patriots and Panthers have not won another game against a team with a winning record.
A win from either team will prove a lot. They would no longer just be the team that has beaten up on lesser opponents and got lucky one week in a close matchup.
While football is obviously a team game, Patriots-Panthers will come down to some key matchups. Check them out below.
Aqib Talib versus Steve Smith
Talib and Smith matched up seven times when the Patriots corner was with Tampa Bay. Talib allowed six receptions on 12 targets for 106 yards with a touchdown and an interception, according to Pro Football Focus. Talib didn’t spend all of those games matched up with Smith, but they do have a history against one another.
Since Smith is Carolina’s best receiver and Alfonzo Dennard is out for New England on Monday, Talib should be matched up with the undersized wideout. Outside of Smith, the Panthers’ No. 2 and 3 receivers are Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn. Kyle Arrington will be matched up with LaFell in two-receiver sets. I could see Arrington lining up across from Ginn in three-receiver sets since he has the speed to keep up with the Ohio State product. In that situation, Logan Ryan would likely take on LaFell in the slot.
Marcus Cannon versus Charles Johnson
Cannon has his work cut out for him. The third-year pro has been solid since Sebastian Vollmer was lost for the season with a broken leg, even shutting down Cameron Wake.
Johnson has nine sacks, six quarterback hits and 32 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. He’s having an extremely productive season. Nate Solder has his work cut out for him, as well. He’ll be lined up across from Greg Hardy, who has nearly as many pressures as Johnson.
Chandler Jones versus Jordan Gross
Jones has been the Patriots’ most productive pass rusher with 8 1/2 sacks, 29 hurries and eight quarterback hits. Gross has allowed just four sacks and 16 hurries this season.
Rob Ninkovich has an easier matchup against Byron Bell, who has allowed 25 total pressures this season. Both players will have to be wary in overpursuing against Cam Newton, who can always take off and scramble.
Danny Amendola versus Captain Munnerlyn
Munnerlyn has yet to allow a touchdown this season for Carolina. He’s allowing a 78.7 quarterback rating, according to Pro Football Focus. He’s allowed 26 receptions on 40 targets for 301 yards in the slot.
When the Patriots go three wide, Amendola will likely wind up in the slot across from Munnerlyn. Amendola has caught 57.6 percent of passes thrown to him in the slot this season.
Devin McCourty versus Cam Newton
Newton will have to be focused on looking off the Patriots free safety. McCourty has undoubtedly done his homework and knows Newton’s patterns as the signal caller goes through his reads.
McCourty is dangerous back deep and could make Newton think twice about throwing deep. Newton has thrown the ball more than 20 yards 36 times this season, 14th most in the NFL. He’s hit just eight of those passes for 274 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions.