New England and Carolina have met a total of seven times with one of these being a Super Bowl game. It would be the Patriots' second of three Super Bowls in four seasons while the Panthers would make their first trip. The Pats outlasted Carolina 32-29 thanks to a clutch field goal from Adam Vinateiri.
Carolina lost the most important meeting between the two but they still lead the series 4-3. They first met during their inaugural season in 1995, which the Panthers won 20-17. Their next meeting would occur after seven years in 2002, just a season after the dawn of the Brady-Bellichick era.
The Panthers have won three of their last four meetings with the Pats' only victory coming in 2009, the season where Carolina was without a legitimate starting quarterback. Under Ron Rivera and Cam Newton, the Panthers are unbeaten (2-0) against the Patriots.
There is a lot of mutual respect between these two teams. Their last two games were decided by a total of seven points. Carolina has consistently defied expectations, especially on the betting lines. This budding rivalry has just begun.
New England Patriots Recent History
Almost everyone born after 1980 will associate the Patriots as the NFL's premier dynasty. But older fans remember the few decades the Pats were an also-ran franchise. Beginning as the Boston Patriots, the franchise had a losing record overall and would only make one playoff appearance in a decade.
The futility would continue until 1985, where they would make their first Super Bowl run in a losing effort against the powerhouse Bears. After another drought, they would again return to the big stage but would lose to Brett Favre's Packers this time around.
Then the 2000's rolled in. An unheard-of quarterback by the name of "Brady" suited up after Pats' incumbent starter Drew Bledsoe went down with an injury. Eight Super Bowl appearances and five Lombardi trophies later and Brady is still going strong at 40. There is no end in sight for this dynasty.
Carolina Panthers Recent History
The Panthers are one of the NFL's youngest franchises but also one of their most successful ones. In just 22 seasons, they already have two Super Bowl appearances, four NFC Championship games, and eight playoffs.
They have most recently made four of the last five playoffs and became the first NFC South team to win three straight division titles. 2011 marked the franchise's turn as they hired Rivera and drafted Newton as their franchise quarterback.
In 2015, they would become just the seventh NFL franchise to win 15 games or more and they would win a major NFL award for five straight seasons. With Newton leading the offence and Luke Kuechly (LB) leading the defence, the Panthers will be a staple in the NFC for many more years.
New England Patriots Outlook
The rest of the AFC will have to continue waiting for their turn as the Patriots are still the class of the conference. Despite a thinning linebacker corps, no-name running backs and no true top receiver, the Pats will find a way to win 13 games and drop 35 points a night even against the NFL's best defences.
New England shocked everyone by benching top corner Malcolm Butler during the Super Bowl then letting him leave in the offseason. They also cut ties with a third of their offence including leading running back Dion Lewis and long-time linesman Nate Solder.
Playing in the NFL's weakest division also helps the Pats greatly along with one of the league's best special teams coverage. Acquiring Cordarrelle Patterson only makes them better at this department on top of having the league's most dependable kicker in Stephen Gostkowski. Lock it up for New England for at least one more year.
Carolina Panthers Outlook
The Panthers have the toughest front-seven in the NFL. Led by Kuechly, their linebackers have consistently been a top-three unit when healthy and their defensive line boasts one of the top tackle pairings in Dontari Poe and Kawann Short. All-time great Panther Julius Peppers (DE) is still racking up sacks even at 38.
Newton will lead a revamped offence with a nice collection of receivers bolstered via signings and the draft and the running back tandem of C.J. Anderson and Christian McCaffrey could be their best tandem since the prime days of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
If it's anything holding Carolina back, it's consistency. Their offensive line and secondary still need to be repaired especially after offseason injuries. They won many close games in 2017 and a regression is expected in 2018. But with all these considered, Carolina should be a perennial contender for the next four to six seasons.
There is no offseason drama. Don't believe whatever the media peddles. When you've been dominant for so long, everyone tries to look for conflict. Brady and Bellichick may have their squabbles and a "bad" game here will be built into a narrative but the Pats haven't really played well in the preseason.
Brady and the starter may play a half but expect the second unit led by Brian Hoyer (QB) to complete the game. The Patriots have a lot of depth at running back and any combination of Rex Burkhead (listed as the starter), James White, and first-round pick Sony Michel will play most of the first three periods.
The Panthers' stiff run defence should limit whatever running game the Patriots will muster. Likewise, the Patriots' solid secondary will neutralize the Panthers' newly assembled receivers. When the teams are playing at their capacity, the scoring will be high but not at this point.
It's tough to bank on Carolina as they are still undergoing offensive reinvention with a patchy o-line. But it's also unlikely New England goes full throttle. The Panthers should get this one done through a grueling game.