There aren’t too many people interested in looking back at Philadelphia’s 45-21 rout of the Panthers last season. It’s easy to imagine why Carolina doesn’t want any part of it, but the Eagles’ refusal to pay attention to the past has to do with Cam Newton’s physical condition. Last year, Newton was plagued by a variety of injuries. This time, he’s healthy, and any Eagle counting on him being as immobile as he was in 2014 will be extremely disappointed.
Newton’s good health has been a huge factor in the Panthers’ 5-0 start. Their bolt to the top of the NFC South has ended memories of last year’s rotten overall performance by the division and put the team in great position to bid for home-field advantage in the postseason. Philadelphia, meanwhile, has won two straight and hopes to take another big step toward correcting its 1-3 stumble from the gate. Now tied for first in the NFC East but holding a tiebreaker over the Giants due to Monday’s 27-7 victory, Philadelphia hopes to continue its momentum as it plays a final game before its bye week.
Philadelphia at Carolina
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
Point Spread: Carolina -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Sam the Sham
By throwing three picks against New York, Eagles QB Sam Bradford upped his total giveaways this season to nine, hardly an ingredient in a winning recipe. Bradford’s trademark accuracy, a big reason the Eagles traded for him, has eluded him so far, as the nine picks would indicate.
“[Bradford’s accuracy is] one of the reasons we really liked him,” Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said. “I thought he was really good with the football before he got here.”
While the Eagles’ ground game has been showing life of late, Bradford’s gaffes — five picks in the last two games — have prevented the offense from building the kind of pace and effectiveness Kelly wants. If he continues to struggle, the Eagles won’t be able to beat any of the NFC’s top teams. With Carolina cornerback Josh Norman, who has returned two of his four picks for touchdowns, lurking, there could be some big trouble ahead.
2. Spy vs. Spy
One of the main reasons the Eagles were so dominant against the Panthers last year was that linebacker Connor Barwin spent the entire game spying Newton and had 3.5 sacks. The 6-5, 245-pounder is strong enough to corral the sizeable (6-5, 245) Newton and pretty quick. But the Panthers have three new starters on the line this year and have been quite good at giving Newton time. And since the QB is healthy, he’s able to move much better than he did last season.
“One thing about Cam is you can spy him and run with him, but then can you tackle him?” asked Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis.
3. Soft Underbelly
Last year this time, Carolina was 3-2 before embarking on an 0-6-1 slide that it corrected with a 4-0 finish. The undefeated Panthers hold a half-game lead over the surprising Falcons in the South and are a half-game behind Green Bay for the NFC’s top record. Things look pretty good. But should Carolina fans be concerned? The Panthers' five wins have come against teams with a combined 9-20 record. None of the team’s victims has a winning record, with Tampa Bay’s 2-3 mark the best of the lot. The Eagles, meanwhile, have faced a slate of teams that has an aggregate 18-16 mark. Does that mean Philadelphia is more battle-tested? It will be interesting to find out.
The Panthers have won despite pedestrian passing (55.4 percent completion rate by Newton) and only one receiver (tight end Greg Olsen) who can be considered a threat. But Carolina has gotten the job done, albeit against an easy slate, and has the confidence of a team on the move, especially after last week’s dramatic comeback win in Seattle.
Being in first place in the NFC East is hardly reason for celebration, but the Birds have won two in a row and believe they have found some solutions to the problems that plagued them the first four weeks. The offense is moving the ball better, but Bradford has to cut back the interceptions. Meanwhile, the defense has been excellent and a big reason the team has won two in a row.
Prediction: Eagles 24, Panthers 20
— Written by Michael Bradley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bradley is a writer and broadcaster based in suburban Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @DailyHombre.