You’ve given up on Thursday Night Football?
If so, that’s fair. It’s been an abysmal NFL endeavor.
Both teams stumble into the game unprepared and sore from playing just four days earlier. The short week isn’t the only reason why Thursday Night Football has been a bust. The matchups are usually god-awful. You don’t want to spend your Friday eve with the Browns-Jaguars? You’re excused.
Many of you are in the boat that if it’s not the season opener or Thanksgiving, you’ll pass on the Thursday NFL dish.
I totally get it. However, you may want to loosen your stance this week.
We have a doozy – the Philadelphia Eagles and the Carolina Panthers.
Both teams are 4-1 and have the look of serious contenders in the NFC. The following is a look at both teams and why this game – which may be the matchup of the week – is worth spending your Thursday night with the NFL.
Carson Wentz: This kid is the real deal. How good is the second-year player from North Dakota State? If he keeps progressing, he should be one of the next elite quarterbacks in the NFL and could be an MVP candidate as early as next year. Who knows? Maybe he’s good enough to be a MVP candidate right now. Wentz threw four touchdown passes in a win against Arizona on Sunday. I can’t wait to see how he fares against the solid Carolina defense.
Wentz will miss injured tackle Lane Johnson, but expect him to still excel. Cam Newton is a former NFL MVP, but don’t be surprised if Wentz is the better quarterback on the field Thursday night.
The defense is the goods: The Eagles’ defense is underappreciated. It is a solid group. It needs star defensive lineman Fletcher Cox to be ready (he’s questionable), but this is a resilient unit. It is especially effective against the run. Philadelphia has allowed opponents just 62.8 yards a game. It is second in the NFL. The Eagles will challenge Newton to pass frequently.
They can run the ball: The Eagles are better this year because Wentz has a better supporting cast. Yes, his receivers are better and the Eagles can run the ball this season. That’s a huge difference. They’re averaging 138.3 yards rushing per game. That is a 25-yard improvement from last year. LeGarrette Blount is proving to be just as punishing in Philadelphia as he was in New England. Wendell Smallwood, who is questionable, is a decent change-of-pace option to Blount. It’s not all Wentz in Philly. He has help and it’s paying off.
Cam Newton is back: Early in the season, some scouts thought Newton did not look like a quality starting quarterback. However, Newton has shaken the rust from an offseason injury. In the past two weeks, Newton looks whole again and has been super effective. In road wins at New England and Detroit, Newton has thrown for a combined 671 yards with six touchdowns and an interception. His success has made him a very dangerous player.
The defense is back: Carolina’s defense was its hallmark when it went to the Super Bowl in the 2015 season. Injuries contributed to a disappointing season in 2016. Yet. The Panthers are healthy and they’re playing good defense. The Panthers are ranked third in overall defense in the NFL this season. Carolina is fifth in passing defense, allowing just 194 yards in the air. It will present a big challenge for Wentz.
Christian McCaffrey: McCaffrey, the No. 8 draft pick in April, isn’t necessarily off to a smoking start. He has had his moments, but the Stanford product is a fascinating player who is worth watching in this game. He has made a bigger impact as a receiver out of the backfield than as a rusher. So, the Newton-McCaffrey connection is a key to this game, especially since the Eagles are more vulnerable against the pass than the run.