Up here in Panthers' country (N. Carolina), the excitement is in the air. All of the dingy, musty, mildew covered Carolina fan gear has been cleaned off and is popping up everywhere. WhoDats up here can vouch for what I'm saying.
But I believe the Panthers will fall short vs. New England for the following reasons:
* Carolina is starting to believe the media that they are "all that and a bag of chips." Mix in the fact that you have big egos like Steve Smith and Cam Newton, and you have a recipe for cockiness and overconfidence at their training facility. Not good when you're going to face a veteran team, All Pro QB, and a shrewd head coach like Belichick.
* Carolina's defense swarms the ball. Belichick wil use that against them with pulling guards, misdirection, and trap blocks to somewhat neutralize the Panthers' defense and keep them honest with play action.
* Brady, as we all know, will pick his spots. When he's on his game, he's like Peyton Manning: He takes what the defense gives him. Dink & dunk will be the strategy, and the Patriots will remain patient. When the defense cheats up with the safeties, or isolates on one of the wideouts, Brady can hit the open man from any point on the field.
* The run option will work for a while with the Panthers, but Patriots are good at gap discipline. Also, Belichick will have a variable spy: Meaning, he will rotate the defender who will keep Newton in check on run options or when the pocket breaks down. This will make it difficult for Cam to figure out when he can take off.
* Something I'm surprised that many are NOT talking about
: The Patriots are coming off a bye week
. Need I say how much that plays into the Patriots' (and Belichick's) hands? Their game plan will use all the intangibles against Carolina.
I have to admit: Some of what I've posted is wishful, homerism thinking. Without a doubt, I am always hoping for the best for the Saints. So I won't argue if some of you accuse me of having a slant against the Panthers.
Even so, I look for the Panthers to come out with a lot of emotion, and possibly take an early lead. But the Patriots will stick with their game plan, and methodically come back, take the lead, and win in convincing fashion. The Panthers' defense is good... very good (in fact, the best in the NFL, statistically). But to me, their lack of experience as a unit at coming up big on the big stage (i.e.: MNF) will be their undoing.
If it was any AFC team other than the Patriots, I'd say lay the points and take Carolina. But in this case, I say: Go with Brady & Belichick.