Our Eagles beat writers predict what will happen when the Eagles play at Carolina on Thursday night.
Being the road team in a short-week game is a distinct disadvantage. Particularly when you're dealing with the number of injuries to key personnel that the Eagles are.
If this game was on Sunday, Lane Johnson probably clears concussion protocol and Fletcher Cox's calf would have three more days to heal. But it isn't and neither likely will be available against the Panthers.
My feeling is that whoever wins the third-down battle will win the 60-minute war. The Eagles are first in the league in third-down efficiency. The Panthers are second.
If the Eagles can convert 50 percent of their third-down opportunities and maybe force Cam Newton into a couple of third-down mistakes, they can win. But that's a tall order in a short week on the road.
Prediction: Panthers 27, Eagles 20
Hard to pick against the Eagles right now, but I'm going to. If the game were being held at the Linc or if the Birds were a bit healthier, I might feel differently. But Carolina and Cam Newton, after starting the season without a lot of juice, have played lights-out the past two weeks. And I generally like the home team in these strange Thursday night setups.
Kudos to Jim Schwartz, but I think there are plays to be made against the Eagles' young corners, Carson Palmer just wasn't able to make them. Newton will be much harder to throw off-balance or get out of sync.
That said, I expect the Eagles to show up. I'm at the point where I expect Carson Wentz to make things happen and keep his team close, regardless.
Maybe it comes down to this: If the Eagles win at Carolina, we have to start thinking about them as a team that ought to do more than just contend for a playoff berth, and I am not there yet. Wouldn't mind being there with the Eagles; it's been a while. I'm sure the view is still nice. But I'm not quite there yet.
Prediction: Panthers 28, Eagles 26
Both teams will be without key fixtures on the offensive line. The Eagles won't have right tackle Lane Johnson (concussion) and the Panthers will be missing Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil (neck). Both losses will hurt, but Halapoulivaati Vaitai will be hard pressed to match Johnson's level against Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers. Tyler Larsen is a capable backup to Kalil, but his performance could depend solely upon whether Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (calf) can go. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has been on fire the last few weeks. Receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess have gotten separation downfield and multifaceted tailback Christian McCaffrey has been tough to cover underneath. But the Eagles offense poses its own set of challenges. The Panthers will have to pick a poison in defending Carson Wentz and his skill players. But they have three of the very best linebackers in the NFL – Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, and Shaq Thompson – and their ability to make the Eagles one dimensional could be the difference.
Prediction: Panthers 27, Eagles 20.
It's impressive how the Eagles navigated the first five weeks of the season, and with a hot quarterback, a win is always possible despite key injuries. But the Panthers have a scorching quarterback to go along with a tough-minded team and home-field advantage. That's why I'm giving the edge to Carolina. Three of their victories have come against teams with winning records. Cam Newton is playing as well as anyone in the NFL right now. The Panthers can get pressure around the left side with Julius Peppers, so right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai will have a major challenge on a short week. That front seven is among the best in the NFL. The Eagles need another big game from Carson Wentz, which is certainly possible. I think Alshon Jeffery has his best game in an Eagles uniform Thursday. Will that be enough? They still have Newton to worry about, and the attention devoted to spying Newton and tracking Christian McCaffrey could create opportunities elsewhere for Carolina. The Eagles are playing with house money in this game. If they go into Charlotte and win as underdogs to advance to 5-1, it's a true statement win. If they lose and drop to 4-2, opinions shouldn't change about this team. My guess is the Panthers win a close one, but the Eagles still enter a mini-bye in a respectable position.