October 09, 2021
The 1-3 Philadelphia Eagles head into their Week 5 matchup against the Panthers — a game that was a popular pick to be a Birds' win prior to the season — as underdogs for the fifth straight game, largely due to their current three-game losing streak coupled with Carolina's better-than-expected 3-1 start to the year.
Still, despite that disparity in records, the Eagles' recent struggles under first-year head coach Nick Sirianni and solid start from new Panthers QB Sam Darnold, the oddsmakers don't expect this game to be one-sided. In fact, if it was being played in Philly, Eagles vs. Panthers might be a pick-em.
Instead, with the game taking place in Carolina, the Birds will be getting three points on Sunday, down a full point from where it opened, perhaps due to the fact that the Panthers will be without several key players, including star running back Christian McCaffrey. The Eagles, meanwhile, will be without Lane Johnson again as he continues to deal with a personal matter that will now keep him out of two straight games.
So, how will this all play out on the field on Sunday? We've already looked at some matchups to watch, broken down all the injuries on both sides and provided our own predictions — as well as a roundup of picks from both the local and national media — ahead of this one. Now, as we do prior to every game, let's take a look at five numbers to watch in the form of our weekly Eagles' over/unders...
[A quick reminder for those new to our over/unders: Unless explicitly stated otherwise, these are my own numbers based on how I think the players/teams will perform on Sunday — and the advice that follows is where I would put my money if I had to. This week, only the first two are actual numbers I've seen at a sports book, in this case FanDuel. The other three are my own.]
Depending on where you look, the point total for this matchup is anywhere from 45 to 46 points. The Eagles have shown at various points throughout this season that their offense can score points, topping 30 in two of their four games. The problem is, they've been inconsistent. The one thing, however, that's certainly become a trend for this team is the defense bleeding points. After giving up just 23 total points through the first two weeks, the Eagles gave up nearly four times that in their last two games.
The opponent should be easier for the Eagles defense in this one, as they'll get a Panthers team that's down its biggest offensive threat, Christian McCaffrey. And while they still have receivers in D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson that can take the top off a defense, not having to deal with McCaffrey is a big bonus for Jonathan Gannon's unit. On the flip side, the Eagles will be facing a much tougher defense than the one they faced last week in the Chiefs. Carolina is ranked third in the NFL in both points and yards allowed, and while they'll be without Shaq Thomspon, they're still a very solid unit that doesn't need to force a lot of turnovers to stop you from moving the ball.
But there's a catch. The Panthers haven't exactly played a difficult schedule, and last week against their toughest competition so far in Dallas, Carolina's defense allowed 433 yards and 36 points. They hadn't allowed more than 252 yards or 14 points in any of their first three games. In fact, they'd only allowed 30 points through three games before giving up more than that in the first three quarters against the Cowboys. Of course, we're not assuming the Eagles offense is as good as that Dallas offense — we only have to look back two weeks for proof of that. But we think between how bad the Eagles defense is and the fact that the Eagles offense is better than, say, the Jets and Texans, the over is the safer play here.
Through his first four games of the year, Hurts has thrown seven touchdown passes. More importantly, he's done a good job of spreading them out, meaning it's not one big game skewing those numbers. He's thrown multiple TD passes in three of four games, with the lone exception being the Week 2 loss to the 49ers in which he was held without a passing TD — although he did manage to run for a score in that one.
On Sunday, he'll be facing a Panthers team that prior to last week's loss to Dallas had only allowed three total passing TD through three games. That changed on Sunday when they allowed four to Dak Prescott. But that doesn't mean there aren't opportunities, despite them being the NFL's third ranked scoring defense. In fact, they allowed multiple to Jets QB Zach Wilson in his debut back in Week 1 — and he didn't throw another touchdown until last week. The Cowboys' 245 rushing yards got the lion's share of the headlines last week, but don't forget that the majority of the scoring came from Prescott.
Nick Sirianni likes throwing the ball down in the red zone, and if the Eagles can continue to move the ball down the field like they've shown their capable of doing, Hurts should have his opportunities. Now, let's just hope he doesn't have three of them called back because of penalties.
This has to be the week Miles Sanders finally gets a bunch of carries, right? Especially after what Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys were able to do to this Carolina defense last week. Right?
Well, after averaging 14 carries per game through the first two weeks of the season, Sanders has gotten nine carries (and 15 touches) TOTAL over the last two weeks. That might make a little more sense if Sanders was struggling with the ball in his hands, but on the rare cases that he does carry it, he's still one of the most productive and efficient running backs in the NFL. It's just that Nick Sirianni, for whatever reason, has decided to abandon the run almost entirely and as a result, Sanders — because it's clear the coaching staff prefers rookie Kenny Gainwell in pass-catching situations.
If the Eagles find themselves playing from behind again like they have the last two weeks, it's easy to see Sanders coming up short here. But if they can keep it closer — or play from ahead — I expect Sanders' carries to look a lot more like they did in Weeks 1 and 2. And since I'm predicting and Eagles' win on Sunday...
This is just a couple of yards over the Panthers' season average on the ground (107.5 YPG), and well below what the Eagles are giving up on a weekly basis (150.3 YPG) — and not even in the same league as what they've averaged over the last two weeks (180 YPG). But the Panthers will likely be without Christian McCaffrey, who injured his hamstring in the team's Week 3 win over the Texans and is doubtful for Sunday's matchup. Without him, the Panthers were able to keep right on their season average against Dallas, rushing for 113 yards, but even with McCaffrey in the lineup, the Panthers haven't been very efficient running the ball, averaging just 3.7 YPA, good for 25th in the NFL.
The Eagles defense, meanwhile, despite all their struggles on the ground, are 18th in the league in yards per carry allowed (4.4), a number certainly skewed by last week's 200-yard performance by the Chiefs in which they averaged 6.5 yards per carry on 32 attempts. Against Dallas a week earlier, sure they allowed 160 rushing yards, but that came on 41 attempts from the Cowboys (3.9 YPA). I don't think the Eagles rushing defense is as bad as it looked against KC. And while it might not be as good as it looked in the first two weeks of the season before Brandon Graham went down, it should be up for the task against Carolina, especially with all the emphasis that's been put on fixing that part of their game this week.
After no takeaways through the first two weeks, the Eagles have recorded one in each of the last two games. And while that hasn't led to wins, it's certainly something the team can build on if it hopes to fix what ails the defense. Against Kansas City, that lone turnover was the only stop the Eagles D made all game, surrendering six touchdowns on seven Chiefs possessions. And it wasn't much better against the Cowboys, who pretty much did whatever they wanted after that early fumble in the end zone that resulted in a Fletcher Cox touchdown.
Against Sam Darnold and the Panthers, who only have four turnovers on the year, it's hard to envision them breaking that pattern, although it would go a long way toward my prediction of an Eagles win being correct. That being said, I think they fall short of this one, but still pick up the much-needed victory.
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