Through five weeks the Eagles and Panthers have established themselves as two of the NFC’s best. Here are five things to consider heading into Thursday’s showdown.
1. This is Thursday Night Football. Don’t take much from the game and try to apply it to the rest of the season. Win big, lose big, play great, play awful; none of it matters. Thursday night football is a fluke. As Bill Belichick clearly demonstrated last Thursday, the goal is to end the game as quickly as possible. If you can grab a win along the way… great.
2. While both the Eagles and Panthers (along with the Packers) stand atop the NFC, I don’t believe either one is a lock to win their division or even reach the playoffs. Right now, both smell a lot like 10-6. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them finish between 9-7 and 11-5. 13-3 would be a shock. Both squads are good, but neither team is that good, especially the Eagles. That Philadelphia defense is still suspect in the secondary (though help is coming) and big plays have plagued them, especially in the 2nd half. The Panthers have a higher ceiling but can only go as far as the mercurial Cam Newton takes them. Three weeks ago he was moping around and many (myself included) wondered if this was the end of Cam. Next thing you know he carves up the defending champs, offends women nationwide and poof… he’s an MVP candidate again. Take that, Dannon.
3. Carson Wentz is the truth. If you asked me what two attributes I’d want most from my 2nd year starting quarterback, I’d tell you “confidence and fearlessness.” Wentz demonstrates both. You can always fix mechanics, improve accuracy and better understand defenses. However, none of that matters if you’re panicking in the pocket on 3rd and long. I honestly cannot remember the last time I saw Wentz panicked.
4. Carolina would do well to avoid trailing in the 4th quarter. Wentz and the Eagle offense have been exceptional at milking that 4th quarter clock the last two weeks. In Week 4, after seeing their 9 point lead over the Chargers trimmed to 2, the Philadelphia offense took over with 6:44 remaining on the game clock. They never relinquished possession. 13 plays and 59 yards later, the game was over. In a blowout over the Cardinals a week ago, Wentz and the offense again put together a 4th quarter drive that went 13 plays and 58 yards while burning just over nine minutes of game time .
5. It’s likely this contest will greatly impact the playoff race come January. Whether it be a playoff berth or seeding, count on the outcome mattering, which is a darn shame. A game with such high stakes shouldn’t be played on just three days of recovery. There’s an easy fix here and the NFL continues to ignore it. I understand their reluctance to part with the Thursday package and all the revenue that comes with it. Why not improve it then? I’m going to repeat this for the 3rd year in a row… Make the season 18 weeks long and give each team a second bye week. One bye heading into their annual Thursday night contest and the other their traditional week off. There would be a few tweeks needed to accomplish this but it’s not that complicated. And it extends the season. No one sits at home on a Sunday in February and says to themselves, “I’m sure glad there’s no football on today.” Extend the season by a week, improve your disastrous Thursday night product and ensure contests that impact playoff destinies are played at the highest level possible.
These teams are pretty even. I’m a homer, so I’m taking the Eagles, which isn’t wise consider their right tackle is out and who knows how effective Fletcher Cox will be in his return (if he plays at all). Oh well. EAGLES If I were Charles Barkley; Eagles +3