It’s a clash of two of NFC’s best as the (4-1) Philadelphia Eagles travel to the (4-1) Carolina Panthers in a Thursday night clash (8:25pm ET on CBS, NFL Network & Amazon). This could be a preview of the NFC Championship this year.
Talk about a turnaround. At the end of the 2016 NFL season, both the Eagles and Panthers found themselves watching the playoffs from home after two disappointing campaigns.
Philadelphia started the year 3-0, which included a statement win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in their in-state rivalry. Playoffs looked like a lock but then Philadelphia played dismally on the road, losing each of their next four games away from Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles won their next home game before losing five in a row and finishing their season 7-9 and fourth place in the NFC East.
Following a season in which they went 15-1, it’s doubtful that the Panthers expected they’d open the year with five losses in their first six games. Battling through injuries and inconsistencies, the Panthers struggled for most of the year and only managed to win six games. Their 6-10 record had the Super Bowl runner-ups from just the year prior, missing the postseason entirely and finishing in last in the NFC South.
For both teams however, this year has told an entirely different story. The Panthers are 4-1, with their only loss coming against the New Orleans Saints in the second week of the season. Coincidentally, that was the same week the Eagles picked up their only loss, against the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.
At 4-1, the Panthers and Eagles are tied for the best record in the NFC and the NFL with the Packers, but only Philadelphia is an undefeated 3-0 in NFC play.
When the Eagles traded up to draft Carson Wentz, QB out of North Dakota State, second overall in the 2016 NFL draft, the belief was that the organization had found their franchise quarterback. Wentz’s rookie year was good but not without its growing pains and one of the biggest hurdles he faced was pass catchers who led the league in dropped balls. The criticism against Philadelphia’s offense was levied less on Wentz and more on the lack of weapons for the young quarterback.
Entering this season however, the Eagles firmly addressed this need, bringing in Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith to bolster the receiving corps. So far so good because Wentz is sixth among NFL quarterbacks in touchdowns (10) and passing yards (1,362) and ninth in rating (97.7).
Both Jeffrey and Smith have seen significant targets as well and have three touchdowns between them. Nelson Agholor, perhaps the biggest surprise on offense of this early season given his poor performance last year, has three touchdowns to lead the team and has caught 16 of 23 passes through his way. Wentz’s top target however is a familiar one in Zach Ertz. Tight ends are a young quarterback’s best friend and Ertz is establishing himself as one of the league’s best. On the year, Ertz leads all tight ends in receiving yards (387) and receptions (32). Those numbers are good enough to rank him seventh among any pass catcher (WR/TE/RB) in receiving yards and tied for third in receptions.
And then there’s the running game which was all but non-existent last year. Philadelphia made major improvements on that front by bringing in the bruising back, LeGarrette Blount. Despite a quiet first two weeks, including being completely shut out of the loss against Kansas City, Blount still has the 11th most rushing yards (323) and fourth highest yards per carry rate (5.8) among all NFL backs.
The success of the running game has certainly opened up the passing game and finding the balance among both has been a critical part of Philadelphia being as good as they have been this year. Another major part is the offensive line, which if it’s not the best in the NFL, is certainly up there. Entering the season, the Eagles did rank as having the best offensive line and so far, the results have supported that standing.
Carolina’s Stout Three-Quarter Defense Won’t be enough against Eagles
Once again, we are treated to a matchup of one of the league’s best offense against one of its best defenses.
Philadelphia has the third best offense in the NFL both in total yards (1989) and yards per game (397.8). They are fourth in both total passing offense (1295) and rushing offense (694) and are tied for sixth in points per game (27.4). The Panthers defense ranked as the sixth best overall in total yards allowed (1,370), third in yards per game (274), ninth in stopping the pass (971) and the run (399) and ninth in total points per game as well (18.8).
Considering Carolina has faced both the New England Patriots and Saints this year, two of the league’s most potent offenses, these defensive numbers are all the more impressive. And when you break them down even further, the Panthers are the best third-quarter defense in all of the NFL.
Over their four wins, Carolina has allowed opponents just 29 points in the first half of games. The team has yet to cede a single third quarter touchdown in those wins and has only allowed one third quarter touchdown and 10 third quarter points over their first five games overall. The problem has been the fourth quarter, which has given up 28 points combined to the Patriots and Detroit Lions over the past two weeks. The Panthers won both games by three points but neither should have been as close in the final minutes as they were.
Unfortunately for the Panthers’ fourth quarter woes, the Eagles have excelled in the fourth quarter, doing a much better job at putting away games than Carolina has. Philadelphia has scored 137 points on the year, 44 of which have come in the final quarter. It’s easily been the team’s best quarter.
Carolina has a great defense and will have opportunities to stop Philadelphia. However, if it’s a close game late, the Eagles will take advantage.
Our Preview’s Eagles vs Panthers Picks & Betting Predictions
Carolina are three-point home favorites but win or lose, I don’t see a cover happening here. The Panthers last two games saw them win by just three points, which would be a push here at best.
- So pick the Eagles to best the spread and if betting straight up on the moneyline, take Philadelphia to walk away with the win. However this preview will take the extra cushion of a points advantage and our betting prediction is to bet on Philadelphia +3pts @ +105 with MyBookie or BetOnline.
- As for the total, both the Panthers and Eagles have been scoring juggernauts as of late with their last two wins coming by a total of 60 points. Expect the total to exceed the 45 to 46.5 points predicted by the top online sportsbooks. The best option in our view is to go above 45 @ -114 with BetOnline. That is the lowest points total spread with any of the oddsmakers.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.