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Catching up with … the Panthers

07.24.13 at 7:30 am ET
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Cam Newton enters his third season in the NFL. (AP)

Cam Newton enters his third season in the NFL. (AP)

As we count down to the start of training camp, we’ll take a look at all 13 opponents on the Patriots’ regular-season schedule and break down each one of them. We’ve already featured the Bills, Jets and Dolphins, as well as the Buccaneers, Falcons, Bengals, Saints and Steelers. Now, it’s the Panthers.

Specifics: The Patriots will put the wraps on the NFC South portion of their schedule when they travel to Carolina on Nov. 18 for a Monday night game against the Panthers. (Unless something strange scheduling quirk takes place down the stretch, it’ll be the only “MNF” appearance all season.)

Say goodbye to … cornerback Chris Gamble, wide receiver Louis Murphy, defensive tackle Ron Edwards, tight end Gary Barnidge, linebacker Jason Phillips, guard Mike Pollak.

Welcome … wide receiver Domenik Hixon, cornerback D.J. Moore, wide receiver Ted Ginn, safety Mike Mitchell, cornerback Drayton Florence, linebacker Chase Blackburn, defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short.

Recent history: With the exception of Super Bowl XXXVIII, it’s been a fairly nondescript series of games between the two, with New England holding a 3-2 series lead, with wins in three of their last four games. The game that really stands out was the Super Bowl contest, one of the highest-scoring contests in the history of the big game, as Tom Brady and Jake Delhomme (Jake Delhomme!) engaged in a memorable shootout. The last time they squared off was on Dec. 13, 2009, in Foxboro, and that game was won by the Patriots, 20-10.

The Patriots should be worried because … Carolina quarterback Cam Newton really played well down the stretch last season, so much so that it could have been the start of his coming-out party. Newton led the Panthers to wins in five of their last six games, throwing 11 touchdown passes and just two picks in that stretch. (The Panthers finished 7-9, but seven of the losses were by seven points or less.) Even without the possibility of the read option, Newton established himself as threat to run the ball — he has 1,447 rushing yards, 5.7 yards per carry and 22 rushing touchdowns in two years in the league. Now, if he can add some consistency in the passing game, he could emerge as a real force in the NFC South.

The Patriots shouldn’t be worried because … not to sound like a broken record when it comes to talk about the NFC South, but New England should be able to put up points on the Panthers. Despite the fact that Carolina was involved in a bunch of close games, most of those were shootouts. The Panthers have former BC linebacker Luke Kuechly in the middle, as well as highly-touted draftees Lotulelei and Short. But it remains to be seen if this defense can help improve a defense that was statistically in the middle of the pack in 2012.

The skinny: This isn’t one of the marquee games on the schedule, but it could ultimately end up being one of the more underrated games of the season based on Newton’s progression as well as the evolution of the Carolina defense. The feeling right now is that the Patriots have an edge on the Panthers on paper, but if Carolina can get its relatively young team to jell on both sides of the ball, New England could be in for an interesting night. In the context of this conversation, it’s also important to note that the Patriots will be coming into this game after their bye — they’ll have 15 days between their Nov. 3 game against the Steelers and the Nov. 18 contest with the Panthers, which should help New England.

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