NFL Carolina Panthers

5 Carolina Panthers Who Will Shine Against New England Patriots

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5 Carolina Panthers Who Will Shine Against the New England Patriots

Intro
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

No team has been hotter over the past five weeks than the Carolina Panthers. Last week, they stole that designation from the San Francisco 49ers, ending their five-game win streak while extending their own streak to five. The Panthers are like the 49ers in many ways: a dominant defense led by a vicious front seven, a pair of dynamic linebackers and a conservative run-based offense.

The Panthers have only been able to execute that game plan for one season so far, but they have already mastered it. While many teams have become obsessed with high-octane spread offenses, the Panthers have become one of the leaders in an old-school counterculture movement spearheaded by the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. Other offenses may be able to put up better stats than these balanced units, but the ground-and-pound method has proved its worth in wins.

The mantra for years has always been "defense wins championships," but the new wave of offense has threatened to usurp the old guard. The only way to settle the argument is for an explosive offense to face a powerful defense. That matchup is set to happen on Monday Night Football when the New England Patriots face off against the Panthers.

New England doesn't have nearly the same level of offense as they did in 2007, but they still have Tom Brady and a healthy Rob Gronkowski, as well as surprising depth at their skill positions. The defense will need to step up and defend the whole field against Brady's distribution ability, and the offense will need to be efficient to take pressure off the defense. Many Panthers will have a chance to make plays on Monday, but only these players will shine bright.

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5. Greg Hardy

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It's not uncommon for quarterbacks to sense pressure that isn't there when they are getting tossed around, but it has somehow become synonymous with Tom Brady. Backside pressure makes Brady see ghosts, and Greg Hardy is as scary as they come. Look for Hardy to provide heat on the backside, possibly leading to a few Brady turnovers. Prediction: two sacks, one forced fumble.

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4. Mike Mitchell

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Gronk has been his old self since returning from injury, and stopping him will be Carolina's no. 1 priority. Look for the Panthers to bracket Gronk with a linebacker underneath and Mitchell over the top, setting up Mitchell to feast on overthrown balls. He should see a few of those if Hardy can get home, giving him a chance to lay the wood or snag a pick. Prediction: seven tackles, one interception.

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3. Cam Newton

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The Patriots' defense has had some trouble against mobile quarterbacks this season, losing one game to Geno Smith and playing a very close game with E.J. Manuel. Cam Newton brings the mobile element like few in the game, but he will need to be efficient with his arm to produce a victory. If he can consistently complete throws on the outside, it will spread out the defense and allow the Panthers' running game to take advantage of a damaged New England front. Prediction: 240 pass yards, two touchdowns (one rush), 67 percent completion percentage.

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2. DeAngelo Williams

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Speaking of a damaged front, the Panthers look to run frequently to keep the chains moving and keep Tom Brady on the sideline. With Jerod Mayo, Tommy Kelly and Vince Wilfork all on the IR, the Patriots' front seven is very vulnerable, and the Panthers will look to Williams to pound the ball inside and keep the Pats on their heels. Prediction: 21 rushes, 138 yards, one touchdown.

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1. Mike Tolbert

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

While there are many players on the Panthers' offense who have the ability to make plays and shine, the defensive genius Bill Belichick has most likely already formed a plan on how to stop them. Belichick knows how to take stars out of the game, so it will be up to role players to step up and fill the void. Tolbert has been doing that all season, and his contributions will be essential on Monday. Look for him to soften up the inside both in blocking and running, and to also be favorite at the goal both in running and receiving. Prediction: 45 rushing yards, 60 receiving yards and one touchdown.