A pair of first-place teams meet on Sunday night when the Carolina Panthers host the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 7. Carolina continues to quiet their skeptics, while Philadelphia is looking to show they are the Super Bowl contenders that they were predicted to be in the preseason.
The season could not have gotten off to a better start for the Panthers, who are 5-0 and coming off a win against the defending NFC champs. The Eagles are 3-3 with wins in three of their last four games.
Las Vegas oddsmakers have given this game one of the smallest betting lines of the week. Carolina is favored by three points and the over/under is 45.5 points, according to vegasinsider.com.
Cam Newton, MVP Candidate
Newton is in his fifth consecutive season as Carolina’s starter, but he’s never been considered among the league’s top quarterbacks. Even this season, he’s not putting up eye-popping numbers, but the Panthers’ hot start has earned him a place in the early MVP discussion.
Newton leads one of the league’s most productive offenses. Carolina ranks sixth with 27 points per game, and they’ve been very consistent, never scoring less than 20 points in any contest. What’s most impressive is that Newton is surrounded by very few weapons. Carolina’s top playmaker is tight end Greg Olsen, who recorded his first 1,000-yard season in 2014. The Panthers’ top three wide receivers are Ted Ginn Jr., Corey Brown and Jerricho Cotchery, who combined to total 564 yards last season.
There are a lot of quarterbacks that have put up better numbers than Newton in 2015. He ranks 22nd in passer rating (83.2), 29th in yards per game (216) and second-to-last in completion percentage (55.4).
Winning With Defense
In their first two seasons with Chip Kelly as their head coach, the Eagles were known for their explosive offense. But after having a top-three scoring offense for two straight years, it’s Philadelphia’s defense that has them in first place in 2015.
The Eagles have bent but not broken on defense, allowing their share of yards while ranking seventh in opponents’ points per game (18.3). They’ve been able to do so by creating turnovers, ranking second in the NFL with 16 takeaways. Led by defensive backs Malcolm Jenkins and Walter Thurmond, the unit has been able to make up for the offense's inefficiencies.
Philadelphia ranks 14th in total offense (353.8ypg), and their top offseason acquisitions have not played well. Sam Bradford ranks 28th in passer rating (80.0), and he’s thrown multiple interceptions in four of six games. The quarterback threw three picks against the New York Giants last week, but his defense bailed him out, allowing just seven points and returning an interception for a score. Thirty-one running backs have rushed for more yards than DeMarco Murray.
Are The Panthers For Real?
Five teams remain undefeated entering Week 7, and the Panthers’ 5-0 start might be the most surprising. Even after going this long without a loss, Carolina still isn’t being treated like one of the NFC’s top teams.
Before they won in Seattle, Carolina was a seven-point underdog against the Seahawks, who have a losing record after seven games. The Panthers are 2.5 games ahead of the Eagles in the standings, but by several measures Philadelphia is still considered to be the better team. Carolina opened the week as a 2.5-point favorite, indicating that they would be underdogs against the Eagles on a neutral field. Philadelphia has +1600 Super Bowl odds at Bovada.lv, while Carolina has +2000 odds to win their first ever championship.
Carolina’s victory over Seattle was their most impressive, but there’s no denying the team has an easy schedule. The Panthers still haven’t beaten a team that’s above .500, and Philadelphia has a better record than any of their opponents, thus far.
The Eagles are starting to look more like the contender that experts thought they would be, winning two straight games by at least 20 points. But their offense continues to struggle, and things don’t get any easier against the NFL’s No.5-ranked defense. Carolina has won nine consecutive regular-season games dating back to last year, and they should take care of business at home against an inconsistent Philadelphia team.
Carolina over Philadelphia, 24-17