As the New England Patriots prepare for their Week 4 showdown with the Carolina Panthers, lets take a look at some of the top story lines heading into the game. 

A Top Notch Battle- When the two teams link up on Sunday, it will be a battle of a top notch offense for New England and a top notch Carolina defense. Through three games this season, the Pats rank first in total offensive yards per game, first in total passing yards per game and second in points per game. On the flip side, Carolina ranks third in the league in pass defense and second in both total defense and points allowed per game. Clearly something will have to give, when the two units get on the field together.

Day & Night- Though the battle between the Patriot offense and Panther defense will pit two top units against each other, it will be a day and night situation when looking at the match up of the New England defense and Carolina offense. Both units are the complete opposite of their opponent's similar unit, with New England's defense struggling to stop any team they've faced and Carolina scoring only three touchdowns in three games this season. When the defense that gives up the most points per game meets an offense that scores the fourth least points per game, something surely has got to give. Though the Pats have looked about as bad as possible in the early going, this could be a bounce back week for them. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has continued his struggles that saw him have a miserable 2016 campaign and his top option in the passing game, Greg Olson, is out after suffering a broken foot earlier this season. The Pats will have to watch out for rookie dual threat running back Christian McCaffrey, but with the lack of other true threats on the Carolina offense they should be able to key in on him.

He's Back- After sitting out for the past two weeks, with a knee injury, linebacker Dont'a Hightower appears to be headed back onto the field for the New England Patriots' defense. The return of Hightower should be a boost for the New England defense, as he has a set of skills that lends itself to multiple areas on the field. With Hightower back, he can likely allow other members of the defense to fill roles that are comfortable for them. Since Hightower left in the second half of the team's opening night loss to Kansas City, the defense has been a mess. With him on the field, leading the defense, they were mostly holding their own.

Keep The Momentum Going- After having a breakout game in last week's win over Houston, in which he caught two touchdowns including the game-winner, expect wide receiver Brandin Cooks to keep the positive momentum going on Sunday. Cooks was held in check over the team's first two games, but popped onto the scene last week and creates a tough match up for any secondary that has to guard him. Though the Carolina defense enters with the third best ranking against the pass, Tom Brady should be able to exploit them a couple of times with Cooks.

Looking To Tie It Up- The Pats enter the game looking to tie up the all-time series record with the Panthers. Currently, Carolina is up in the series three games to two. While the Pats trail by a game in the series, they won the most important game played between the two teams, Super Bowl XXXVIII.

Prediction- The Pats and Panthers both enter the game at 2-1 and both have severe flaws on one side of the ball. Though the teams come in on similar footing, expect the Pats to ride the momentum of last week's last second win. Coupled with being at home, it seems to be the right pick to take the Patriots against the offensively challenged Panthers.

Pats 37, Panthers 20 







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