Panthers Must Stay Focused To Advance To 6-0 Under The Lights

The Carolina's cathartic state is at an all time high after a big comeback win in Seattle last week to get the cardiac cats back to 5-0 for the first time since 2003 and not to mention defeating an all too familiar nemesis who has continually slipped out Carolina's grasp the last few years. This team has an all too similar feeling to that 2003 Super Bowl team,  but there's too much football against good opponents left to talk Super Bowl or truly know where Carolina in 10 weeks. Although the Panthers cleared there first hurdle of getting past the pesky Seahawks, they now go under the prime time lights of Sunday night football in Charlotte against an Eagles team who's inconsistency could be an easy trap game if Carolina doesn't stay focused.

Last season, the Eagles defense took advantage of an extremely weak offensive line and banged up Cam Newton by sacking Cam nine times and disrupting any type of offense the Panthers wanted to get going. Newton, who was nowhere near healthy at the time, completed 25, of what has to be at least a near career high, 45 pass attempts for 306 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions. This game would prove to be the lowest point of the Panthers season last year, getting thumped 45-21 in prime time.

History tells us in this series that the winner typically wins by at least two scores, as only two of the nine match ups have been decided by a touchdown or less. Philadelphia leads the series 6-3 overall, but during the Newton and Rivera era, the series is split 1-1, the loss coming under the lights on Monday night football in Philadelphia last season.

Carolina and Philadelphia are completely different teams this season, however. Newton is healthy, the offensive line has been revamped, and Carolina has found ways to win without Kelvin Benjamin.  In Philadelphia, Chip Kelly cleaned house, bringing in quarterback Sam Bradford and the highest profile free agent running back, Demarco Murray. It hasn't worked out as Kelly hoped. The Eagles are 3-3, Bradford has been wildly inconsistent, and Murray hadn't produced much prior to Week 6.  The have shown some signs of life despite these struggles, putting together  a few wins behind a good defensive front.

This season's match between the Panthers and Eagles, nevertheless, should be much different that last year's. Cam has time to throw from the pocket, Carolina's defense is playing stronger football each week, and now with the return of Luke Kuechly, the Panthers are riding a confidence train of 5-0 coming off last weeks big win in Seattle. Where as the Eagles win over the Giants last week brought them to 3-3 on the year and got them their second consecutive win. 

The Eagles defense is ranked eight spots behind Carolina at a respectable 15th in the league. Philadelphia's defense, however, looks much better when looking at points allowed instead of yard allowed.  Philadelphia allows only 18.3 ppg, tied for 6th with Seattle, and leading Carolina (18.8 ppg) by a smidgen currently allows 18.3 ppg, while the Eagles trail closely behind at 18.8 ppg.

Carolina can attack the Eagles secondary if Cam gets adequate protection. The Eagles are allowing 260.7 ypg through the air so far this season, ranking them 19th in the NFL. With the Panthers passing offense ranked 29th in the league, they will look to get on track with the poor play of Byron Maxwell and the rest of the Eagles secondary as often as possible, granted Newton has time to look down field.

It could be some more tough sledding on the ground this week for Carolina because the Eagles front is tough.  Philadelphia allows only 94.2 yards a game, making them as tough as Seattle (94.1) against the run. While the Panthers had some success running last week against Seattle, those were hard earned yards by Jonathan Stewart and company.  The Falcons, Cowboys, and  Redskins have all broke the 100 yard mark rushing versus the Eagles. The Saints came close with 96. The Panthers will look to win another run game battle this week with the third ranked rushing attack in the NFL at 132.8 per game, but based on the numbers, it won't be easy.

I think the biggest key in this game will be to keep Cam Newton clean in the pocket. The Eagles offense has just not done enough this season for me to be terribly worried about them against Carolina's defense. However, this offense does have the talent and weapons to go off at any point, and you can surely expect Chip Kelly to use Darren Sproles's experience against the Panthers in this one. Which also brings up another key point, special teams must execute well like they did last week against the electric Tyler Lockett. If this game is close, the last thing you want taking the air out of the stadium is another Sproles punt return for a touch down. 

In the end the Panthers defense should be able to do enough in this game to allow the offense to take control late. I think this one could be closer than most think after coming off the win in Seattle, but in the end the Panthers defense makes a couple of big stops.

MY PREDICTION: 24-17, Panthers win.

By Tripp Morgan