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New England Patriots at Carolina Panthers: 8:40 p.m. Monday (WSOC, ESPN)

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New England at Carolina: Joseph Person’s three things to watch

Make a beeline to Brady

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has been sacked nearly four times a game over the past five games. Overall, Brady has gone down 26 times after being sacked 27 times all of last season. All-Pro guard Logan Mankins has allowed seven sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. The Panthers, who sacked San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick six times last week, cannot afford to let Brady stand in the pocket and go through his reads. If he gets time, the future Hall of Famer will find holes in the secondary.

Start fast

This is the most anticipated game for the Panthers in five years, and the worst thing they could do is turn the ball early over or give up a big play defensively to put the crowd in its seats. The Panthers haven’t allowed a first-quarter touchdown and have trailed only once all season in the opening quarter – 3-0 last week at San Francisco. They’ve also had a run of good luck on coin tosses, winning the past eight. The past seven games, the Panthers have deferred and put their defense on the field first.

Steve Smith vs. Aqib Talib

The matchup dates to Talib’s time in the NFC South with Tampa Bay, which drafted Talib in the first round in 2008. Talib was in the midst of a Pro Bowl-type season, with four interceptions and nine pass breakups, when he injured his hip against New Orleans in Week 6. He missed the past three games but is expected to play Monday. Smith has been plagued by a couple of key drops this season and has not been much of a downfield threat. But he remains a tough, fiery receiver who will go hard at Talib up to and after the whistle.

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