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    New England Patriots vs. Carolina Panthers: Storylines, prediction for a Super Bowl rematch

    In an important game for both teams, what are the storylines to watch and our prediction for this Patriots vs. Panthers matchup in Week 9?

    The last month has completely changed how the prediction of this New England Patriots vs. Carolina Panthers game shapes up. Given Carolina’s struggles over the past five weeks, this now looks to be a contest where they could be hanging on as opposed to actually competing. With both teams looking to get back-to-back wins, let’s take a look at the storylines for this Super Bowl XXXVIII rematch and make a prediction as the Patriots take on the Panthers in Carolina.

    New England Patriots vs. Carolina Panthers storylines to watch

    This game will have one extra storyline if Sam Darnold — who is questionable with a shoulder injury — is able to play. In a Monday Night Football game against the Patriots in 2019, Darnold was infamously seen on the sideline saying he was “seeing ghosts” in New England’s defense and pressure packages.

    Any time we see Darnold on the field against the Patriots, that moment will be brought up. Can Belichick and the Patriots have Darnold second-guessing himself again?

    An uncertain future at QB for the Panthers heading into this game against the Patriots

    It felt like we might have seen the last of Darnold as the starter in Carolina as he left the field against the Falcons. However, the unconvincing play of P.J. Walker wasn’t enough to keep Darnold on the bench. In relief of Darnold, Walker completed just 3 passes on 15 attempts for 33 yards. In 2020, Walker threw 5 interceptions compared to just 1 touchdown on 56 passing attempts.

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    Sure, Darnold has struggled lately since starting off the season hot. After a really exciting start, the wheels have completely come off. Since the beginning of Carolina’s Week 4 game against the Eagles, Darnold has thrown 7 INTs compared to just 4 TDs. However, the Panthers gave up significant capital to acquire Darnold this offseason. They may as well take this full season to evaluate him, so they are comfortable with whatever decision they need to make in the 2022 NFL Draft.

    Time for a Stephon Gilmore revenge game?

    With Stephon Gilmore not expected to get a full workload, he will only have a small impact on any potential predictions for this Patriots vs. Panthers game. However, his presence and knowledge of the Patriots should not be discounted.

    Gilmore — whom Carolina acquired from New England in October — will be able to provide the Panthers with a huge amount of information about the Patriots on both sides of the ball.

    From an on-field perspective, Gilmore’s role might be negated by the lack of a clear leading outside receiver for the Patriots. Jakobi Meyers plays primarily from the slot, but that’s not a position we’ve seen Gilmore cover throughout his career.

    Additionally, given his quad injury, the Panthers might not want Gilmore running with Nelson Agholor. While Gilmore’s role might remain reduced in this game, Mac Jones and Josh McDaniels will certainly be making sure they know exactly where he is whenever he steps onto the field.

    Are the Patriots growing into the 2021 season or taking advantage of a soft schedule?

    When the Patriots fell to 1-3 following their Sunday Night Football loss to Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, the whispers were starting to build. With their only victory coming against the Jets, questions were being asked about where New England was headed. Those questions have diminished, but when you look at the schedule they have faced, eyebrows should still be raised.

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    Heading into Week 8, the Patriots had only beaten the Jets and Texans, two of the worst teams in the league. Their victory over the Chargers quietened concerns a bit, but they need a convincing win in Carolina. New England’s schedule will not get overly difficult in 2021. But with games against the Bills (twice), the Titans, and the Browns remaining on the schedule, they need to capitalize on easier contests if they want a shot at the playoffs this year.

    Betting line and game prediction

    Understandably, the Patriots are clear favorites for the sportsbooks in this game against the Panthers. They are 4-point favorites — when we take home-field advantage into consideration, Vegas sees New England as the better team by 6-7 points. That feels about right given the way the Panthers have been playing and their uncertainty at the QB position.

    The Panthers are by no means incapable of springing a surprise, but they will need Walker to play as well as he did in the XFL to make it happen. The future of both franchises is more long-term than just the 2021 season, but this game could be vital in shaping the second half of the campaign for both of these teams.

    Patriots vs. Panthers Prediction: Patriots 21, Panthers 17

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