Three-And-Out: Eagles-Panthers Predictions
PLAYER I’LL BE WATCHING
McManus: Sam Bradford.
Sorry to be so obvious, but I’d be lying if I said my focus was going to be anywhere else.
Given the evidence presented over the first six weeks, the Eagles appear to be equipped with one of the best defenses in football. The front seven is rock solid, reinforcements could be on the way in the form of Mychal Kendricks and Kiko Alonso, and the back end appears to be steadily improving as the familiarity grows. They might just be good enough to make something of this season.
But they’re going to need the cooperation of their quarterback. The defense ranks second in the league with 16 takeaways. Problem is, the team is just plus-two in the giveaway/takeaway department thanks to 14 turnovers on offense. Bradford has been charged with 10 of those — nine by interception with one fumble lost.
Chip Kelly said that one of the reasons he was interested in Bradford was because of the way he took care of the football. (He had 59 TDs to 38 INTs in St. Louis). So far, Kelly is not getting what he signed up for. The QB needs to snap out of it, and quick, because multiple turnovers on the road against Carolina will probably result in an ‘L’.
Paunil: Jordan Matthews.
You stole my pick, but I’ll go with a guy who could give Bradford some much needed help.
With Nelson Agholor out and Riley Cooper questionable, Matthews could get even more targets than his team-leading average of 9.3 per game. The potential problem with that? Matthews is second in the NFL in drop percentage, letting 10 percent of catchable passes hit the ground, according to Pro Football Focus. In the last three games, he caught the ball on just 54 percent of his targets.
However, Matthews had his best statistical game of the season against the Panthers last year, hauling in seven catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns. His head coach attributed that this week to Carolina’s defensive scheme.
“They played a lot more man coverage, I think, in that game,” Kelly said Thursday. “A little bit more man-free, and a lot of times in man-free, we are always looking for the matchup.”
The Eagles also reportedly won’t have to worry about Josh Norman — one of the best corners in the NFL — moving into the slot to cover Matthews. Two different Panthers shared that responsibility last season, but it appears Bené Benwikere will take on that task, after missing last year’s game due to injury.
OVER/UNDER: Combined TDs for Cam Newton — 2 1/2. Whaddya got?
McManus: I’ll go just under.
Newton has 11 touchdowns through five games — eight through the air and three on the ground. The dual threat is averaging 10 rushes and 45 yards per game with his feet, which can create all sorts of issues for an opposing defense.
“He’s such a playmaker, you have to plan on keeping him in [the pocket], but the athleticism kicks in and it’s about a bunch of effort trying to get him and taking good angles,” said Billy Davis. “He’s going to make his plays. Athletes like that make their plays, and we have to keep it to a minimum.”
The Eagles sacked Newton nine times and came up with three interceptions in a 45-21 home win last year. Newton was not healthy for that matchup, however. It will be a more difficult challenge this time around.
Paunil: I’m also taking the under.
Newton runs more than any other quarterback in the NFL, but the Eagles have only given up one rushing touchdown this season — and that only happened after Kirk Cousins fumbled a goal line snap. Newton also doesn’t scare me much with his arm, as he ranks 22nd in the league in passer rating, 23rd in yards per attempt and 33rd in completion percentage.
I expect the Eagles to spy him like they did last year with Connor Barwin, although it sounds like that may not happen as much as we think.
“I think Cam last year was different,” Kelly said. “Cam was coming off an ankle surgery and he wasn’t really running. They weren’t really running him that much. He’s playing different this year. I’ve said it before, I don’t think a lot of the things we did last year are really what we are going to be doing this year.”
McManus: Panthers 24, Eagles 21
I should confess that I’ve been flipping and flopping on this one a bit. The Eagles seems to be in a good place mentally and it’s hard to bet against this defense right now.
But I just don’t trust the offense at the moment. While it’s possible Bradford gets it turned around, what are the chances that it happens on the road against a Carolina team with a knack for confounding quarterbacks and coming up with picks? (They have eight interceptions through three games.)
Yes, the Panthers’ record is in part a product of a less-than-challenging schedule to date. But they’re a pretty good team, they’re at home and the Eagles are playing on a short week. That could be enough to tilt the odds ever-so-slightly in their favor in what should be a good game.
Paunil: Panthers 21, Eagles 17
You know, T-Mac, I provide an underrated service to our readers. After seeing my pick for the game each week, Birds 24/7 readers could make a lot of money in Vegas by betting against me. On second thought, maybe I should just starting doing that.
Anyway, I understand why you’ve been flip-flopping. This game just seems so ripe for an upset when you think about how the Panthers have only played teams below .500, and you add that to how well the Eagles’ defense has been playing.
But then you come back to reality, in which Bradford is still the quarterback, and you remember how much he likes to throw the ball to people who aren’t on his team. If the Eagles can get the run game going, Bradford merely has to be average for them to win this game. I’m just not confident enough in those two things happening to bet on the Birds.