BOSTON (CBS) — It’s a big week for the New England Patriots. A win at home on Sunday against the Panthers, and they’re still hanging around the top of the AFC with a 3-1 record. A loss, on the other hand, deals them a blow that knocks them back to .500.

That’s clearly not a place that Bill Belichick’s team ever enjoys being, so it’ll take a complete effort on Sunday to defeat Cam Newton and the Panthers, who also enter Sunday with a 2-1 record.

Here’s how the CBS Boston sports team sees Sunday’s game playing out:

Steve Burton, WBZ-TV Sports

It’s the second week in a row that Tom Brady has won the AFC Offensive Player of the Week. Heck, all he’s done in the last two games is throw for 825 yards and eight touchdowns. And he says he’s feeling even better now than when he was younger.

Look out, Carolina, especially with Cam Newton struggling.

Patriots 34, Panthers 17

Dan Roche, WBZ-TV Sports

I know Bill Belichick is a week-to-week game planner. However, Bill may want to look back at last week and copy what Sean Payton and the Saints did in a 34-13 romp at the Panthers. Drew Brees was an efficient 22-for-29 for 220 yards and 3 TDs as he distributed the ball to 10 different receivers. Add in a defense that forced Cam Newton to throw 3 INTs while sacking him four times and you’ve got a solid plan.

The only issue is that the Pats D allowed Deshaun Watson and Co. to put up 33 points. They’ll need to tighten things up.

Patriots 35, Panthers 24

Levan Reid, WBZ-TV Sports

So the Pats have another home game and they face a Panthers team that maybe from afar looks like the Houston Texans but actually are not as good.

Carolina’s defense is solid — can’t take anything away from them there — but the Pats offense should be able to spread them out and force them to cover. James White is going to be a mismatch all game long.

Cam Newton is still recovering from that bad shoulder and right now, he’s a turnover machine. The Patriots defense is last in just about every category but this weekend they will make their move to come out of the basement. Hopefully, Dont’a Hightower plays and the team can start looking better defensively.

Patriots 30, Panthers 13

Adam Kaufman, 98.5 The Sports Hub/WBZ NewsRadio 1030

Deshaun Watson proved a bigger challenge for the Patriots than anticipated last weekend, and the Pats will host a similar, more experienced foe this time around when they try to contain a mobile but banged-up Cam Newton.

Newton has struggled this year as he continues to recover from a shoulder injury he’s trying to play through. The former MVP QB is averaging just 189 passing yards a game with two touchdowns, four interceptions, and three fumbles. Newton also has a mere 46 rushing yards for an average of 3.3 per carry – well off his career 5.1 average.

Making matters worse for the Panthers, if receiver Kelvin Benjamin’s out (he’s trying to work through a knee injury), that may make it easier for the Pats to hone in on versatile running back Christian McCaffrey. The rookie leads Carolina with 18 receptions for 173 yards. He’s rushed for 73 overall and has yet to find the end zone.

New England’s allowed an average of 32 points this year and, while Carolina’s scored just 15 per, the Panthers will get their points. But, a prolific, largely healthy Patriots offense will as well.

Patriots 27, Panthers 21

Mike “Sarge” Riley, 98.5 The Sports Hub/WBZ NewsRadio 1030

Now that the Patriots got their first home win of the year, it feels like they got the monkey off their back and this weekend has the feel of a “trap game.”  With the short week ahead (they’re at Tampa next Thursday), and not much hype going into this game, the No. 1 concern for me isn’t to fix the immediate holes on the defense — it’s just to win and stay healthy.

Get ready for another game where Tom Brady continues building his trust in Brandin Cooks, and the Pats D may have a break with the uncertainty of receiver Kelvin Benjamin.

Patriots 27, Panthers 19

Tune in to Sunday’s Patriots-Panthers game on 98.5 The Sports Hub — the flagship station of the New England Patriots. Pregame coverage begins on 98.5FM at 10am with Patriots Preview, and on WBZ-TV at 11:30am with Patriots GameDay. After the game, tune in to three hours of postgame coverage on the Sports Hub and catch Bill Belichick and Tom Brady’s press conference’s live on Patriots 5th Quarter on myTV38!


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