KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
LOCATION: Gillette Stadium
SURFACE: Artificial turf
WEATHER: Forecast Foxboro, Mass.
TV: FOX (Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa)
PREDICTION: Patriots 27-16
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Panthers get RB DeAngelo Williams back from an ankle injury, and he'll team with Jonathan Stewart for a run-heavy gameplan. QB Matt Moore is expected to make his second consecutive start, and combined with his inexperience is the fact Carolina needs to protect its defense. The Catch-22 for the Panthers is the secondary is where New England is really struggling. Offensively, the Patriots continue to move the ball through the air, but they've bogged down of late in the red zone and on fourth-and-short.
FAST FACTS: This will be the Panthers' first regular-season game at Gillette Stadium. ... The Patriots are 6-0 at home.
--WR Muhsin Muhammad returned to practice Thursday after taking a day off. He should play this week.
--DE Tyler Brayton may not play this week after sustaining a concussion last week. He has sat out both days of practice so far.
--WR Dwayne Jarrett should be back this week after missing last week with an ankle injury.
--QB Jake Delhomme did not practice for a second straight day and is not likely to play this week.
--DE Charles Johnson is expected to return this week after missing three weeks with a pectoral strain.
--CB Captain Munnerlyn will be back this week after sitting out last week with a concussion.
--LB Na'il Diggs was held out again Thursday with a lingering rib injury.
--DB Bret Lockett was placed on injured reserve with a groin injury Dec. 9. Lockett had played in 10 games this season, mostly on special teams where he tallied five tackles.
--DT Titus Adams was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster Dec. 9. The 6-4, 305-pounder had spent the first 13 weeks of 2009 and all of 2008 on the New England practice squad.
--QB Jeff Rowe was signed to the practice squad Dec. 9. The 6-5, 221-pound former Nevada star originally entered the league as a fifth-round pick by the Bengals in 2007 and spent time with Cincinnati and Seattle over the last two-plus seasons.
--WR Darnell Jenkins was also added to the practice squad Dec. 9. The 5-10, 191-pounder originally entered the NFL out of Miami as an undrafted free agent in Houston in 2008. He spent the bulk of his rookie season on the team's practice squad, but joined the active roster for the final two games. He spent time on the practice squads in Houston and Cleveland earlier this season.
--QB Tom Brady did not practice with his teammates on Wednesday in Foxborough and was listed on the team's injury report "right shoulder/right finger." Brady's wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, gave birth to a baby boy in Boston.
It's not quite official, but you can go ahead and pencil in Matt Moore as the Carolina Panthers starting quarterback this week against the New England Patriots.
Jake Delhomme did not practice Thursday because of a broken finger on his right hand and a source close to the situation said he won't play this week against the Patriots.
It's possible coach John Fox could list Delhomme as "out" on the injury report on Friday like he did last week.
So will he get the job back at all this year?
When asked about his philosophy on whether a player should get his starting job back when he's healthy enough to return, Fox said he largely takes it on a case-by-case basis.
"It's really not one way or the other," Fox said. "It's not automatic you get it back; it's not automatic you don't. There's not much automatic about this profession."
He went on to say, "If a guy comes back and he looks to be the best that week he comes back, then that's the guy that starts. You put out there who you think gives you the best chance to win, even just that (one) game. Sometimes the matchups are different. Sometimes different players have different strengths and weaknesses, so whatever matches up for that opponent I think is the route you go."
Meanwhile, running back DeAngelo Williams practiced for a second straight day on Thursday and should be good to go this week against New England.
Coming off its first two-game losing streak since early 2006, falling to just 7-5 and a precarious one-game lead in the AFC East and having not won a game in an opponents' building all season, New England's woes were compounded Dec. 9 when four players -- Randy Moss, Adalius Thomas, Derrick Burgess and Gary Guyton -- were sent home for the day after arriving late to an 8 a.m. team meeting.
The news, first reported by the Providence Journal, came during a surprisingly disruptive snowstorm that turned a Wednesday morning commute into chaos throughout the area. But apparently the weather was not an acceptable excuse to coach Bill Belichick, who went beyond the usual penalty for being late for a meeting -- a fine -- and sent the players, who've all started five or more games for the Patriots, back home.
"Anything that happens with discipline on the team stays between me and the players on the team," Belichick said simply.
His quarterback, who like the All-Pro Moss is a team captain, was a bit more forthcoming.
"You guys find out everything these days," Tom Brady said just a few hours after the four players were sent home from Gillette Stadium. "That's coach's decision. And the guys that are here ... I've got to do my job. I've got plenty of things to do. Like I said, I've got to show up every day and bring whatever I have -- the energy and the leadership that I have -- to this team, because that's what all those guys (do). That's what our job is."
A day later, the four players had returned to Gillette Stadium, and Thomas addressed the situation for more than eight minutes in front of his locker.
"There's one thing about Mother Nature -- you can't control that," Thomas said. "You can't run people over getting to work. There's nothing to apologize about. I wasn't trying to be late. I don't know what to say. You leave home, there are people there, cars sitting in the road, you're sitting there, what are you gonna do? It's not the Jetsons. I can't jump up and fly. What am I supposed to do?"
The former Pro Bowl linebacker also doesn't think the move was made in some way to motivate the players in question or team as a whole as it works through a trying time.
"Motivation is for kindergartners," he said. "I'm not a kindergartner. Sending somebody home, that's like, 'You're expelled until you come back and make good grades.' Get that (expletive) out of here. It's ridiculous. ... I don't know, teaching tool? I don't know. I can't figure out what Bill thinks or knows."
Each player's job this week is to get the team back on the winning track, playing what's supposed to be characteristic late-season football in New England heading toward the postseason. Clearly the status quo hasn't been good enough, and Belichick seemingly sent his team a message while sending some key players, including the NFL's leader in receiving yardage, home for the day. A day later all the players were back at practice as the team prepared to take on the Panthers on Sunday in Foxborough.
"I think (the law) would've been laid down at any time of the year, regardless of whether we lost," linebacker Tully Banta-Cain told the Boston Globe. "That's not acceptable here. That's Bill's deal, and I think in general, everyone's sense of urgency is a little higher now. We're in that part of the season where it's a four-game season.
"The antennas are way up. I think if anything it just brings the sense of urgency up even higher."