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Xs and Os: Eagles, Panthers Battle on Monday Night Football

Background/Storylines: Eagles (3-7) and Panthers (2-8)

I’m pretty sure that ESPN would retract this game if it could, because no one up in Bristol could have imagined the Eagles and Panthers combining for five wins through the first 11 weeks of the season. The Eagles needed a win last week to keep their season alive and possibly save their coach’s job, but they fell flat once again in a 31-6 thrashing at the hands of the Washington Redskins. Robert Griffin III, like Tony Romo, Drew Brees, and Matt Ryan before him, tore up the Eagles’ defense with well-designed keepers and the occasional vertical shot. With the season pretty much over and Andy Reid’s pink slip nearly written up, it’s time to look forward to next year. These next few games should help to start in the process of deciding who will stay, and who will go, and it starts at the quarterback position with rookie Nick Foles making his second career start.

The Panthers, while not as highly-touted as the Eagles, have been equally disappointing, with injuries to stars Jon Beason and Chris Gamble nearly destroying the defense. Beason and Gamble, Carolina’s two Pro Bowl defenders, have not and cannot be replaced on the Panthers’ D, although the emergence of rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly as a future All-Pro has Panthers fans feeling better about the future. Cam Newton, on the other hand, has regressed in his sophomore season, but still has the tools to pick apart any defense. With Steve Smith finally getting healthy and Brandon LaFell developing into a solid No. 2 receiver, it might finally be Newton’s time to start turning things around.

Fantasy Watch: Bryce Brown (PHI) and Cam Newton (CAR)

Carolina’s 19th-ranked run defense isn’t horrible at the defending the run, with James Anderson stepping in to help mitigate the loss of Beason this season in that department, but they won’t be expecting much from a rookie seventh-round pick. Brown, however, is a very strong runner with the ability to both outrun linebackers down the field and outmuscle safeties in the open field. He showed flashes of brilliance against New Orleans three weeks ago and Washington last week, and I have faith that he’ll put in a solid performance against the Panthers.

My projected stats for Brown: 69 yards, 1 touchdown (12.9 points)

Remember that guy RG3? Yeah, he torched the Birds for over 32 fantasy points. Yes, Cam Newton isn’t have quite as good of a season, but he can run and throw just as well as the rookie phenom. He’s going to have a field day throwing the ball down the field and running by (and through) would-be tacklers. The Panthers will also run the ball extremely well, but temper expectations for their backs because DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart will once again split carries.

My projected stats for Newton: 237 yards passing, 2 touchdown, 59 yards rushing (27.38 points)

Key Matchup: Jeremy Maclin vs Josh Norman

Even with the injury to Chris Gamble, the Panthers secondary has been able to somewhat recover thanks to the play of rookie Josh Norman. Yes, Captain Munnerlyn is a good No. 2 cornerback, but Norman has exceeded all expectations and will be a tough matchup for Jeremy Maclin. Maclin has been very inconsistent this year, going for 100 one week and then not recording a single reception the next.

With Jackson and Munnerlyn on the other side, the one-on-one match-ups will be very important. Norman is a very good on-the-ball defender, but he’s not as fast or as savvy as Maclin, so Maclin’s best bet is to run those intermediate crossing patterns that earned him a 77-yard TD earlier this year. If he can get over the middle and beat Norman to the ball, he’ll put the entire Panthers defense in a bad spot.

X-Factor: Mychal Kendricks (PHI) and Luke Kuechly (CAR)

One thing the Eagles need to do in order to win: stop Cam Newton and Greg Olsen from torching them on third down. RG3 ran for numerous third downs last week, just when an Eagles’ defender was closing in for the sack. Newton has a similar ability and if the Eagles want to get off the field, they need effective “spying” from Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans. Then, there is Olsen, who leads the Panthers in receptions, first downs receiving, and passes caught inside the red zone. That again, will be Kendricks’ responsibility. Since tearing things up early in the season, the rookie linebacker has fallen off a bit over the past few games, but if the Eagles want to win they’ll need him to step up.

Luke Kuechly has tried to be what Jon Beason was last year, and along with James Anderson he almost has. With 98 tackles—good for 3rd in the league—he’s been there making plays all year, and that will have to continue for Carolina. Bryce Brown is a tough runner, but Kuechly has stuffed plenty of tough runners this year—just ask Alfred Morris, Doug Martin, and Marshawn Lynch. If he can get up early and stop the Eagles’ running game, we could see a repeat of last week where Carolina capitalizes on plenty of mistakes by Foles and the Eagles offense.

Prediction: Panthers 34, Eagles 17

I think Foles will get his second touchdown of the year, but the Eagles will abandon the run game as Cam Newton opens up a big lead for the Panthers. This translates into more sacks and interceptions, and the Panthers hang on for their 3rd win, tying the Eagles at 3-8. The losing continues for Andy Reid as the streak is extended to seven.

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Categories: Eagles, Editorial

Author:Manav Khandelwal

I am the founder of Khandyman Sports, and follow all Philadelphia pro sports teams religiously. I also write for the Hoop76, covering the Sixers for ESPN, and am a credentialed Flyers reporter for Main Line Media News.

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