Last Updated: 2017-10-12
Is there a more annoying narrative in sports than [INSERT PLAYER/TEAM HERE] is BACK?! Probably not, right? Well, guess what? Cam Newton is back. At least, that’s what it looks like, as the Carolina Panthers are off to a 4-1 start and Newton has looked like the Cam of old in the last two games. The Panthers will look to ride that momentum into a short week when they welcome the Philadelphia Eagles to Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte to kick off Week 6. The Panthers opened a three-point favorite with extra juice and the preferred side early in the week has been the host team, with the line now having extra juice or sitting at 3.5.
Through five weeks of the season, the Eagles are also 4-1, but it seems like their 4-1 record is less celebrated. Philadelphia’s win and cover over Arizona made it three straight up wins in a row and two covers in a row. The Eagles are 3-2 ATS overall, with their lone loss at Arrowhead against Kansas City. The Panthers have one loss in between four wins. That loss came against New Orleans and it seemed to signal a downward trend for the Panthers, but they’ve won each of the last two games as an underdog. Both teams are 3-2 to the over heading into Week 6.
The memories of sports fans are interesting. The Eagles started 3-0 last season and then the wheels fell off, as Carson Wentz got burned out with the weekly rigors of the NFL and a deeper playbook. This season, the much improved Wentz has been a stabilizing factor for this Eagles attack. He has a 10/3 TD/INT ratio and has completed 62 percent of his throws. He’s been under a fair amount of pressure with some offensive line injuries and an up-and-down ground game, but he’s hung in there and has played like a seasoned vet and not a second-year player. Legarrette Blount has been a good bruiser between the tackles to complement scat backs like Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles, though Sproles saw his season end with a torn ACL/broken arm combo on the same play. This Doug Pederson-led offense is still working to fire on all cylinders with some new faces like Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, but Wentz has a lot of weapons and he has spread the ball around nicely. The Eagles have 12.4 yards per reception and their 5.8 yards per play ranks in the top 10. Wentz needs to work on throwing his receivers open, though. The Eagles only have 419 yards after the catch.
Wentz has had to be on point because the defense has not been a whole lot of help. The Eagles defense has allowed six yards per play and ranks 30th in the NFL in that category. What is particularly upsetting about the defense’s performance is that the offense has run the second-most plays in the NFL. The Eagles have 12 sacks and eight takeaways, but have simply given up too many quality gains. Philadelphia has only allowed 13 receptions of 20+ yards and three rushes of 20+ yards, but they have allowed a lot of plays in the 10-to-15-yard range and have allowed 704 yards after the catch. That will be an important thing for the defense to lock down against a mobile quarterback with two good receiving weapons out of the backfield.
Cam Newton is gradually looking like the Cam Newton of yesteryear. He has completed 68.3 percent of his passes with an 8/5 TD/INT ratio for the season, but has gone 48-of-62 for 671 yards, six touchdowns, and a pick over the last two weeks. He looks a lot healthier right now and has even used his legs to extend plays and give his receivers some time to get open. Certainly the short week has to be a concern, but there is more flow and continuity to this Panthers offense with him able to do the things that have given him success. Unfortunately, the running game is still a bit of a hindrance. The Panthers have 3.4 yards per carry, as both Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey have had issues. With Greg Olsen out, Newton has found a rapport with tight end Ed Dickson, but his favorite targets remain Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, and Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey leads the team with 27 catches, so the Panthers have tried to get him into space to create. Because the first three weeks and the last two weeks look dramatically different, it’s hard to gauge this offense all the way.
What really helps is that last year’s defensive performance looks more like the exception than the norm. The Panthers have 17 sacks through five games and have played fairly well despite only managing three takeaways thus far. Carolina has only allowed 13 plays of 20 or more yards, so they are forcing the defense to sustain drives to move the ball and score points. Opposing pass attacks only have 9.1 yards per reception, so the secondary has made some good adjustments and the pass rush has been able to get there, mostly with four-man pressure. That makes it really easy to defend when the back seven can focus on covering receivers as opposing to rushing the quarterback.
Free NFL Pick: Carolina Panthers -3
And that is a big reason why the Panthers are the preferred side here on Thursday night. The Eagles have some offensive line concerns and the Panthers are getting a lot of pressure off of the edges. The Eagles defense was supposed to be better than this, but it has had some serious problems containing opposing receivers. It seems like a tall target like Kelvin Benjamin and a versatile receiving back like Christian McCaffrey can win the X’s and O’s there. The Panthers are a decent look on the short week at home to begin with, but the matchup seems to favor them as well.