Five fearless predictions for Thursday’s Carolina Panthers game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Bank of America Stadium:
1. Julius Peppers will get his 150th career sack ...
... and by game’s end he’ll have 151. Peppers enters Thursday one sack shy of becoming the fifth player in league history to reach 150 sacks. Peppers, 37, is second in the NFC with 5.5 sacks. He’s played well on Thursday nights, with 6.5 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception in nine games. And he’s matched against backup right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, subbing for the injured Lane Johnson (concussion). Advantage, Peppers.
2. Cam Newton won’t roll another 300
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Newton has returned to his 2015 MVP form with consecutive 300-yard passing games, against New England and Detroit. Newton will fall short of making it three in a row against an Eagles defense ranked 29th against the pass. Philadelphia will not stack the box as much as Detroit did last week, taking away some of the throwing lanes in the middle of the field. Still, Newton will throw for 275 yards and three touchdowns.
3. Eagles will win the turnover battle
The Panthers ended a three-game takeaway drought at Detroit on Kawann Short’s strip-sack on Matthew Stafford. But in their soft, quarters coverage scheme, the Carolina defensive backs often aren’t tight enough on receivers to get their hands on the ball. The Panthers’ only interception was by Luke Kuechly in Week 1 in San Francisco. The Eagles are tied for ninth with a plus-2 turnover margin, and will do nothing to hurt that number Thursday.
4. Carson Wentz will shine on third downs
The Eagles’ second-year quarterback has done some of his best work in the clutch, keeping drives alive with a league-leading 71.2 completion percentage (with six TDs and one INT) on third down. Wentz often looks to tight end Zach Ertz in third-down situations, and the Panthers’ safeties and linebackers can’t bite Wentz’s play-action fakes that create space for Wentz.
5. Nelson Agholor will get behind the Panthers’ secondary
The Carolina defensive backs did a good job limiting the damage vs. Tom Brady and Stafford by keeping receivers in front of them. But Agholor is a big-play receiver who has three catches of at least 25 yards, including a 72-yard TD last week vs. Arizona. Went will find Agholor, but there will be no late-game lapses for the Panthers’ defense this week. Christian McCaffrey will score again, Newton will stay hot and so will Carolina. Panthers 31, Eagles 20.
Eagles at Panthers
Bank of America Stadium
Thursday, 8:25 p.m.
CBS/NFL Network (Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson, Jay Feely)