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Why stop now? Panthers will beat Patriots in a classic

Last week I picked Carolina to fly across country, play in front of loud fans and beat San Francisco by a point.

I felt good about picking Carolina to fly across country and play in front of loud fans.

The upset was more challenging. But the timing was right. Those of us who have watched the Panthers knew the visitors had a shot. Also, the 49ers were favored by six. That was a lot of points to cover.

The Panthers, coming off their biggest game since 2008, get a bigger game Monday night when they host New England.

Tom Brady is 13-4 in the NFL on Monday. Brady threw for 432 yards two weeks ago against Pittsburgh. And that was on a Sunday. Next Sunday they get Denver at home. Gosh, you think the Patriots will look past the Panthers?

There’s no chance. An NFL official told me years ago that one of the qualities that distinguishes New England coach Bill Belichick is that when he tells a player he’ll play in a certain situation, he plays. Other coaches might draw in and go with a starter when the game is tight. Belichick, however, doesn’t waiver. As a result, everybody is invested, because everybody gets a turn.

And the guy who told me this doesn’t like Belichick.

Brady is great, still. But his offensive line isn’t. He’s been sacked three or more times in seven of New England’s nine games.

The Panthers will get to him. The Patriots, meanwhile, have as many sacks, 29, as the Panthers do. They’re in a three-way tie with New Orleans for eighth place. They’ll get to Cam Newton, or at least force him to take off.

Taking off is what undoes the Patriots. They give up an average of 128.2 yards rushing – third from the bottom. The Panthers are second from the top.

Like Carolina, New England relies on several rushers and should have Shane Vereen back. If you watch Patriots, you know they like to run out of the shotgun, and Vereen excels on the draw.

So, yeah, we have stats and matchups and keys to the game. But mostly we have Tom Brady and New England against the Panthers and the Carolina front seven in Charlotte on Monday night.

I like the Patriots. I like the Panthers more. CAROLINA 21, New England 17.

Last week: 9-5

Season: 96-51

Upset of the week: Think I gently alluded to this. I picked Carolina (plus-6) to beat the 49ers. They did.

Season: 6-4

Lock of the week: Picked Pittsburgh (minus-3) to cover against Buffalo. The Steelers won by 13.

Season: 6-4

This week’s picks, with the home team in CAPS:

Baltimore 23, CHICAGO 21

HOUSTON 23, Oakland 21

BUFFALO 17, New York Jets 16

Detroit 29, PITTSBURGH 27

PHILADELPHIA 28, Washington 23

CINCINNATI 26, Cleveland 20

Arizona 16, JACKSONVILLE 10

San Diego 26, MIAMI 24

SEATTLE 31, Minnesota 17

N.Y. GIANTS 23, Green Bay 20

DENVER 30, Kansas City 23

Upset of the week

TAMPA BAY (plus 1 1/2) 17, Atlanta 14: The Falcons rushed for 64 yards against Seattle last week and gave up 211. They look as if they’re trying to get the first pick so they can take Andrew Wiggins.

Lock of the week

NEW ORLEANS (minus-3) 27, San Francisco 20: The Saints are undefeated at home and have won five games in the dome by an average of more than 20 points. Why change?

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