For the first time in quite a while, the Patriots are looking like a troubled franchise.

They’re one loss away from their first three-game losing streak since 2002.

Their AFC East lead is dwindling.


Bill Belichick kicked four players out of practice Wednesday for being late to a team meeting.

And Tom Brady has missed consecutive practices with a multitude of injuries (though it’s unclear if they’ll affect his availability Sunday).

Yes, it’s a rough time to be a Patriot.

Just in time, though, come the Panthers.

Carolina is 5-7 (to New England’s 7-5), and has lost two of its last three. Their quarterback situation is murky. And they’re a southern team coming to Gillette Stadium on a day where it’s expected to be cloudy and in the mid-30s.

Seems like just the ticket for the beginning of a recovery — and the start of an earnest playoff push.

But that’s exactly how we were thinking about Miami last week.

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