Measuring stick game.
We know the Eagles are good. They’re playing good football and their 4-1 is a testament to that.
But just how good are they? Are the Birds merely a playoff team? Or are they a legitimate title contender? While it’s still earlyish in the season, I think we’ll have a better answer to those questions after tonight.
A win will not be easy to come by. This is a tough spot for Philadelphia. There’s simply not a lot of time to prepare for Thursday night games. There’s even less time to prepare when you’re the road team.
One thing Eagles head coach Doug Pederson really deserves credit for this season is how well-prepared the team has been. They’ve gotten off to strong starts. Now we’ll have to see how the team handles this situation without as much time to prepare.
The Panthers are a tough team. They’re 4-1 as well and they have a number of talented player. Cam Newton has been looking a lot more like his 2015 NFL MVP self lately after struggling in 2016. The Panthers have some big targets for him in Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess. Tight end Ed Dickson is surprisingly coming off a big game. Running backs Jonathan Stewart, Christian McCaffrey, and Curtis Samuel are able to contribute. The latter two are also factors in the passing game.
On defense, the Panthers have some similarities to the Eagles. Carolina’s secondary isn’t spectacular, but they have a stout defensive line. Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei are strong on the interior and could cause some problems for Jason Kelce. Linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis are factors in the middle of the field.
With all of that said, this Panthers team shouldn’t be unbeatable. It’s only a few weeks ago that the New Orleans Saints came into their house and beat them by 21 points. I know it’s a division game and wacky things can happen, but still, that’s bad.
Besides, the Panthers aren’t the only team with a good quarterback in this matchup. I don’t know if you realized, but Carson Wentz is playing some pretty good football right now. He ranks top 10 in a number of categories at this position. If he can continue to stay hot, the Eagles pretty much have a chance against any team in this league. He should be able to attack a Panthers secondary that’s dealing with some injuries.
This could really be the game where Alshon Jeffery goes off. The South Carolina native will likely want to make a big impression while playing in the general vicinity of where he’s from. He’s poised for a big game in this one based on his matchup alone. Jeffery has had to deal with some very good cornerbacks in the first five games of the season: Josh Norman, Marcus Peters, Janoris Jenkins, Casey Hayward, and Patrick Peterson. James Bradberry, who the Panthers have been using to shadow receivers, is far from an elite corner. Jeffery hasn’t been the dominant force he was expected to be since signing with the Eagles — tonight is the time for that to change.
On defense, the Eagles’ cornerbacks figure to match up well with Carolina’s receivers. That’s not something you’d typically to hear about Philly’s secondary but Benjamin and Funchess are bigger, slower players. What the Eagles’ corners lack in speed they make up for in competitive physicality. They should give the Panthers pass catchers some good battles.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Panthers’ offensive line holds up without starting center Ryan Kalil. The Eagles might get Fletcher Cox, who is questionable, back for this game. The combination of Cox and Tim Jernigan could create some problems for Newton. Newton’s mobility might be able to mitigate the Eagles’ pass rush, however.
The obvious big concern that’s taken way too long to address here is the absence of Lane Johnson. Philadelphia will be without arguably their most important player (outside of Wentz) on offense. You all know by now their record with him (9-3 in their last 12) as opposed to their record without him (2-9 in their last 11). That’s a big, big loss for the Eagles’ offensive line. Halapoulivaati Vaitai really needs to step up.
I think this will be a good game. I’d be much more interested to see how this matchup between two of the NFC’s top teams would play out on a Sunday, but oh well. I can’t help but feel this game will be close. And while I think the Eagles could certainly win, I just think this is a pretty tough spot for them. I’m saying this game goes down to the wire in overtime and the Panthers win.
For more predictions, check out BGN’s weekly NFL game predictions.
Score prediction: Eagles lose in overtime, 24-21.
Bold prediction: Alshon Jeffery catches three touchdowns tonight.
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