With two major conference showdowns taking place in week 11 (Chiefs-Broncos and 49ers-Saints) the inter-conference contest between the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers on Monday night has flown a bit under the radar. Have no doubt about it, though, this game has major playoff implications of its own.
The 6-3 Panthers, winners of five straight, are football's hottest team, and have closed to within a game of the Saints in the NFC South standings. They won the first four games of that win streak by 18 points before eking out a defensive 10-9 victory over the 49ers last Sunday. The 7-2 Patriots are coming off a bye week following a shellacking of the Steelers in Week 9.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has won nine of his last 10 coming out of a bye, which is one reason to be wary of the one-point spread favoring the Panthers. The Patriots have thrived under the prime-time glare of Monday Night Football, as well, winning 10 of their last 12 games and going 9-3 against the spread (ATS).
Factoring against the Pats is their 1-3 record ATS on the road this season. Carolina, on the other hand, is 3-1 at home both straight up and ATS. They've won their last two home games by a combined score of 64-25.
The over/under line for the game is 46, which is below the two team's combined 49.8 points per game average. That being said, don't expect New England to put up a big total against a defense that ranks second in the league in scoring and hasn't allowed over 15 points in any of its last five games.
The Panthers also rank in the top four of total defense, pass defense and run defense. Tom Brady finally broke out of his slump against the Steelers with 432 yards and four touchdowns, but is outside of the top 10 in completions, yards and touchdowns in 2013. Things won't get any easier against a secondary that is giving up just 201 passing yards per game.
The Panthers offense has been less impressive, especially in the 10-point performance last week in San Francisco. Cam Newton only threw for 169 yards and had no touchdowns in the win, but has completed 66 percent of his passes at home this season. New England's defense ranks 30th in the league against the run, so DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart could be set for a big day on the ground.