Commentary

What NFL experts are predicting for Sunday’s Patriots-Panthers game

A roundup of predictions for the Patriots' next challenge -- Sunday in Carolina.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold. AP Photo/Danny Karnik

Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule loves Mac Jones. 

“To me, no matter where Mac ended up, I knew he was going to be a longtime pro, because he just has all the right qualities and all the right things that are essential to being a great player,” Rhule said earlier this week. “That was evident to me from the very beginning.

“You could see how intelligent he was the first day. We put a lot of install in, a lot of words in, just to see if they could recite it, and you could see pretty quickly he had a feel for the game. He had some moxie, and he was really, really intelligent and accurate and could throw the deep ball at a high level.”

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Just a reminder that the Panthers picked eighth in last spring’s NFL draft. They took cornerback Jaycee Horn. 

Jones, of course, fell to the Patriots at No. 15. Pro-ready, the scouts said about the Alabama product. Low ceiling, his critics claimed. 

Which sounds sort of like the same things said about some of the more successful quarterbacks in the NFL over the years on draft day. 

CBS analyst Boomer Esiason got some heat back in September for claiming Jones would be the top pick if the draft were held again, two weeks into the 2021 regular season. Jones wound up elected in back of fellow quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, and Justin Fields. San Francisco legend Joe Montana said this week he’d rather have seen the 49ers draft Jones instead of Lance. 

For his part, Rhule was so impressed by Jones that he went and traded a trio of draft picks to the New York Jets for Sam Darnold. 

But just remember, everybody has always loved Mac Jones. Even before he emerged as a favorite for NFL Rookie of the Year. 

Clearly that’s why he was the fifth quarterback taken. 

This week’s predictions 

Jonathan M. Alexander, Charlotte Observer: Patriots 23, Panthers 17. 

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Globe staff: Split (New England -3.5). 

Joe Giglio, NJ.com: Patriots (-4). “I wish this number was three or less, but I’ll lay the four points. Mac Jones is rounding into form and looks like (by far) the best rookie signal caller.” 

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Patriots 25, Panthers 17. “The Patriots are playing consecutive road games outside the division, which can be tough. But they will be able to handle it behind an improving defense that will throw a lot at whoever plays quarterback this week fo Carolina. The Panthers have offensive line issues, which the Pats will exploit.”

Will Brinson, CBS Sports: Patriots 24, Panthers 10. “For whatever reasons, the Panthers have done a pretty good job over the last few years of going up against Bill Belichick and the Pats. Those Pats teams were different, but so were those Panthers teams. Tom Brady is gone, but so are Ron Rivera and Cam Newton. Matt Rhule might be moving on the Kliff Kingsbury learning curve when it comes to in-game NFL management and Sam Darnold, well, he doesn’t have a great history against Belichick.”

CBS sports staff: Six out of eight go with the Patriots (-4). 

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Michael Hurley, CBS Boston: New England (-3.5). 

Frank Schwab, Yahoo! Sports: Panthers (+3.5). “It’s a Christian McCaffrey pick. He has had time to get healthy and the splits of the Panthers offense with and without McCaffrey are pretty startling. Carolina is going to be much better with him, of course. I could see the Patriots forcing a ton of Sam Darnold turnovers too, so it’s not a confident pick.”

ESPN staff: Pats across the board. 

Jimmy Kempski, Philly Voice: Patriots. “The Patri*ts’ defense should be able to feast on whoever suits up at quarterback for the Panthers, whether that’s Darnold, who the Patri*ts own, or P.J. Walker.” 

Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 20, Panthers 14. “Bill Belichick vs. Matt Rhule is really no contest. The Panthers’ offense is too limited in weaponry and the Patriots will have an easy time shutting down one key part of it, wide receiver D.J. Moore. On the flip side, the Patriots will be relentless in exploiting the Panthers’ run defense and keep Mac Jones out of harm’s way against an aggressive pass defense.” 

Bill Bender, Sporting News: Patriots 24, Panthers 20. “Are the Patriots a playoff contender? New England has won three of its last four games. Mac Jones continues to be an efficient answer at quarterback, and the Panthers have failed to clear 200 passing yards in their last four games. The Pats grind out a road victory that won’t be easy to get above .500 for the first time this season.” 

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Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 24, Panthers 17. “The Patriots likely will invade the AFC playoff field. The Panthers likely will be on the outside looking in, again.” 

Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 30, Panthers 20. “The Patriots feel like a team that could go on a playoff run after a slow start, while the Panthers feel like a team that’s going to fall short after a hot start.” 

FiveThirtyEight: Patriots, 54 percent (-1). 

Gregg Rosenthal, NFL.com: Patriots 20, Panthers 16. “Bill Belichick must have cracked a smile watching the film of the Panthers running 47 times and throwing it only 25 last week in a tight game — at least until the game-sealing interception by ex-Patriot Stephon Gilmore. Carolina’s defense is different with Gilmore in the mix, and with linebacker Shaq Thompson continuing his torrid season after missing three games to injury. Whether Sam Darnold or P.J. Walker is at quarterback, the Panthers are built to slow down the pace of play — and they’re built to slow the improving Patriots offense. This figures to look like a game that a young Matt Rhule, decked in Giants gear, would have enjoyed watching Belichick coordinate back in the late 1980s.” 

NFL Pickwatch: Eighty-five percent Patriots (-180). 

It says here: Patriots 28, Panthers 17. Bold prediction: This is the week you remember that N’Keal Harry is still around.

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