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A lot changes in the NFL landscape from year-to-year, but the New England Patriots manage to stay consistent. Even without star quarterback Tom Brady through the first four games, the Patriots still maintained their high standards by going 3-1 while employing backup quarterbacks. They’ve maintained the top spot in the Super Bowl futures market during Brady’s absence, so now the question is, how much better will they be now that he’s back?


Brady Returns

Tom Brady has finished serving his four-game suspension and is ready to return, and his timing couldn’t be better. The Patriots’ offense went cold last week, failing to score a single point in their first-ever shutout loss at Gillette Stadium. Brady gets to ease in with a matchup against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. The Browns are the only team that hasn’t won a game yet this season, which is why the Patriots are laying 11 points.


Panthers Losing Bite

The Carolina Panthers lost just once in the regular season last year, and they’ve already lost three times this season. A close loss in Denver on opening night was understandable, but double-digit losses to the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons means something’s not right. Their defense has crumbled, giving up 29.5 points per game so far (28th in the NFL) after allowing just 19.3 last year.

On offense, the running game hasn’t been as effective as last season, when they tied for the most rushing touchdowns (19). They have just two so far, and they’ve also given up 13 sacks in four games after permitting just 33 last season. There’s a lot to fix and they might not have quarterback Cam Newton, who’s on concussion protocol, to help the team host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football.


Raiders on the Rise

The Raiders have started the season 3-1 and have looked like one of the best teams in the AFC. They’re inside the Top 10 of ESPN’s Power Rankings for the first time since 2003. What’s more impressive is that all of their wins have come on the road. Every time the Raiders have started 3-0 or better on the road, they’ve made it to the Conference Championship Game.

This week, they’re 4-point home favourites against the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers are 1-3, but might be better than their record suggests as they’ve blown fourth quarter leads in their three losses.


Important Injuries

Cam Newton (CAR): Newton is dealing with a concussion and hasn’t yet been cleared for Monday Night Football.

Dez Bryant (DAL): Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wouldn’t rule Bryant out, but NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport is reporting that Bryant’s hairline fracture could keep him out of action this week.

Trevor Siemian (DEN): Siemian sprained his non-throwing shoulder and is expected to be a game-time decision. The Broncos are 6-point favourites when they host Atlanta this week.


*Odds as of October 5, 2016