By Kevin McGuire
It is much too early to start calling any game in the regular season a possible NFC playoff preview, but when you have two 4-1 division leaders squaring off, it is impossible to ignore the possibility. The Carolina Panthers look to keep their hot streak from the past two weeks rolling against one of the more surprising teams in the early going of the 2017 season, the Philadelphia Eagles.
Division leaders collide
The Eagles have a nice early lead in the NFC East just five weeks in with a one-game lead in the loss column over Washington and a two-game lead on Dallas. A win on Thursday night would keep the Eagles in sole possession of first place in the NFC East, no matter what happens the rest of the week. Carolina is also in first place all by itself in the NFC South, although Atlanta has just one loss and one fewer game played so far.
QB Matchup: Cam Vs. Wentz
The Thursday night showdown this week may feature one of the best QB pairings you might see this season. Cam Newton is coming off back-to-back games with over 300 passing yards, and Carson Wentz is dialed in and establishing a rhythm with his wide receivers so far. Will both of these franchise quarterbacks continue to shine this week? If so, we could be getting a heck of a game.
The Eagles may be without one of their top offensive linemen this week. Lane Johnson left Sunday's game with a head injury and is likely to be questionable for Thursday night's game on the short week. Running back Wendell Smallwood could also be questionable after sitting out last weekend's game with a knee injury. The defense could be looking to get back some help in the secondary, but defensive back Jaylen Watkins is still questionable for Thursday night due to a hamstring injury.
Panthers struggle with run blocking
Running the football has not been a strong suit for the Panthers so far this season. The Panthers have just two rushing touchdowns so far (the Eagles have just three, to be fair), and they have one of the worst averages per rushing attempt in the NFL (3.4 ypa). This suggests the Eagles should be able to force this game to fall in the hands of Cam Newton throwing the football.
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