Patriots Could See Defensively Dominant Panthers Again in Super Bowl XLVIII

DeAngelo Williams, Cam NewtonIt’s perhaps the best Monday night matchup of the 2013 season this week — although New Orleans at Seattle in Week 13 has an argument — when the Patriots visit red-hot Carolina in what could be a preview of a certain big game this February at MetLife Stadium. The Panthers opened as 1-point favorites with Live Betting at Bovada.

Carolina is coached by Ron Rivera, who has a tie to New England. He played linebacker on the 1985 Bears team that routed the Patriots in Super Bowl XXX. Rivera was the first player of Puerto Rican descent to win a Super Bowl ring. The Panthers have a history of starting slowly under Rivera, and this year was no different. Carolina lost 22-6 at Arizona in Week 5 to fall to 1-3 and Rivera’s job was in jeopardy. The team hasn’t lost since.

Some considered the Panthers a fringe playoff team during the first four victories of their five-game winning streak as they blew out bad teams Minnesota, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Atlanta. Carolina is now being taken seriously following last week’s 10-9 win at San Francisco, the preseason NFC favorite and a team that had won five straight in blowout fashion. The Panthers didn’t do much offensively, but they were able to hold the 49ers to 151 yards and two third-down conversions.

It was a notable victory because Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, the 2011 No. 1 overall pick, had been 0-5 in his career in games decided by a field goal or less. Newton is completing 97 of 144 passes for 1,085 yards, seven touchdowns and only three interceptions in the winning streak.

The Niners win skyrocketed Carolina to 14-1 to win the Super Bowl (Pats 9-1) and 7-1 to win the NFC. The only Super Bowl the franchise has reached was XXXVIII when New England won 32-29 on Adam Vinatieri‘s 41-yard field goal with four seconds left.

The NFL is an offensive league these days so the question is whether a defensive club can win the championship. Carolina leads the NFC in total passing (283.3 yards per game), rushing (82.0 yards per game) and scoring defense (12.8 points per game). No team has scored more than 15 points against the Panthers since that Cardinals loss and the highest the Panthers have given up all season is 24 in a last-second Week 2 loss in Buffalo. Carolina has allowed only one first-half touchdown.

That unit is led by former Boston College star Luke Kuechly. He was the overwhelming winner of the 2012 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award when he led the NFL with 164 tackles. This season, Kuechly is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate with 75 tackles, three interceptions and a sack. He dominated against the 49ers with 11 tackles (two for loss) and a sack to be named NFC Defensive Player of the Week.

Carolina could have the best front seven in the NFL. Ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy have combined for 14.5 sacks, and tackle Star Lotulelei has been a run-stopping dynamo and could be Defensive Rookie of the Year. Tom Brady, who is 13-4 during Monday Night Football with nine games of at least three touchdown passes, has his work cut out for him. The Pats have an over/under of 21.5 points and 330.5 yards.

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