The Patriots will play just once on "Monday Night Football" during the 2013 season, and the game comes on the heels of their Week 10 bye. It will take place in Charlotte against the Carolina Panthers, who feature one of the most exciting young players in football, quarterback Cam Newton.
The teams have something of a history after a memorable meeting in Super Bowl XXXVIII, but while the Patriots have continued their success since that time, the Panthers took a nosedive in the standings and have had to rebuild the franchise.
That process was expedited with the selection of Newton, the AP offensive rookie of the year in 2011. Entering his third season in 2013, Newton is hoping to push his team out of the bottom half of the NFC South.
Here's a challenge the Patriots will face from either side of the ball against Carolina.
Offense: There are so many challenges that center around Newton for the Carolina offense, as he is a true dual-threat quarterback who can stress a defense with his arms and legs. He has sensational arm strength and can drive the ball down the field (veteran wideout Steve Smith remains an elite deep threat), and when asked to use his legs Newton can carve up a defense. The Panthers mix in a variety of option runs with their stable of backs (read, veer, etc.), and Newton can break tackles and make defenders miss in the open field. Put simply, Newton is one of the most difficult quarterbacks to game plan for in all of football. Among the many areas that he has excelled in as a pro is in the red zone and near the goal line as a runner. Newton is built like a fullback or tight end, and the Panthers aren't afraid to use that strength to close out drives.
Defense: New Panthers GM Dave Gettleman knows the importance of strong defensive line play after spending 14 years with the New York Giants organization, where the front four has served as the foundation of the defense in recent seasons. Carolina entered the 2013 draft with a pair of book end pass rushers in Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, but the interior lacked bulk and disruption skills. That problem would appear to be solved with the additions of Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, defensive tackles who were drafted in the top two rounds. Both spent an abundance of time in opponents' backfields throughout their college careers and should make it difficult for offensive lines to focus squarely on the Panthers' pair of defensive ends. While it's no guarantee that either will be immediate starters as rookies, given Carolina's lack of depth at the position it seems like a safe bet that they'll be contributors during their inaugural NFL season. The Patriots' offensive line will need to be ready for the four-man front.