Monday Night Football: A Big Battle In Carolina

The New England-Carolina Monday Night Football game (8:30 PM ET, ESPN) is part of a great prime-time run of football in Week 11, including Denver’s win last night over Kansas City. The Panthers are riding high, coming off their win over San Francisco and a five-game winning streak. Carolina is a (-150) moneyline favorite to win the game outright.

Those odds make sense. Playing at home, the Panthers are a little bit better team. The defense, anchored by Luke Kuechly in the middle, and with Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson able to apply pressure from their defensive end posts, is excellent. Carolina can take away New England’s underrated running game and still get in the face of Brady.

Having said that…this is still Belichick and Brady in a big prime-time spot. The Jets’ embarrassing loss to the Bills yesterday means that a New England win gives them a three-game lead in the AFC East and all but seals another division title. The injuries the Patriots suffered at the receiver position, along with Rob Gronkowski at tight end, forced them to develop a running game and rely more on their defense.

It didn’t always look pretty, but now with Gronk back, New England is stronger for having gone through what they did early in the season. I think the Patriot offense is going to find a way to move the ball and score points.

That means Cam Newton is going to have to deliver a really big game, and while he’s been solid in this win streak, he hasn’t needed to put up the kind of yards I think he’ll need to tonight.  It’s the biggest game these two organizations have played since the Super Bowl following the 2003 season, and I lean New England to win what promises to be as good a game as the one ten years ago down in Houston was.