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Moment Carolina Panthers, fans have waited for has arrived

Head coach Chip Kelly of the Philadelphia Eagles looks on from the sidelines during a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lincoln Financial Field.
Head coach Chip Kelly of the Philadelphia Eagles looks on from the sidelines during a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lincoln Financial Field. Getty Images

The Carolina Panthers have hosted big games before. But don’t you love the three-game series that begins Sunday night with the Philadelphia Eagles?

Each of the visiting teams offers a quality that’s compelling. The Eagles are Sunday night, national television. The Colts are Monday night, national television. The Packers don’t need a night. They’re the Packers.

If you don’t have a ticket to any of the three, you’re not going to get one at a civilized price.

Because the Eagles dare to be different, a lot of people rejoice when they fail. And as much we implore coaches to gamble, we’re unforgiving when the gamble fails. Go for it, go for it, go for it – you went for it? What were you thinking?

Head coach Chip Kelly, you collected running backs in the offseason and you don’t play the way you’re supposed to. What are you thinking?

Kelly is thinking he has a style for which opponents will struggle to prepare. The Eagles don’t practice, he says. They train. The statement would be a little pretentious if it weren’t extremely pretentious. Philadelphia’s offense is like a perpetual fast break, and Sam Bradford is the quarterback/point guard who runs it.

How does an opponent prepare? The noise in Seattle’s CenturyLink Field last week was easy enough to beat; fill the air above the practice field with noise.

Carolina’s defense has tried this week to move at Philadelphia speed. It will be interesting to see who and how the Eagles attack. In Seattle last week, the Seahawks operated as if they lacked the credentials to use the side of the field on which cornerback Josh Norman posted. The only passes they threw to his side were behind the line of scrimmage, and Norman can tackle, too.

Obviously, I like the Eagles. I like the Panthers more.

Some games feel like a cause. The Seahawks game was such a game. Carolina couldn’t beat them. And then it did.

The Panthers have often been rolled in prime time. On a November Monday night last season the Eagles handled the Panthers 45-21. Carolina’s regular-season prime time record is 13-20.

That number is no more significant than Carolina’s 0-4 post-bye week record under Ron Rivera was going into Seattle. This team will, I suspect, thrive on the pressure a nationally televised game confers. There are so many natural veteran leaders in that locker room that the temptation to try to do too much will be dismissed.

The Panther who gets most amped up before a game, any game, is quarterback Cam Newton. But he’s 26. He’s played four seasons and five games, and he’ll channel his passion and energy.

The Panthers thus far have been only as good as they’ve had to be. They’ve won by margins of 11, 7, 5, 14 and 4 points. That’s an average of 8.2 points.

The outcome of every game with the exception of Tampa Bay (the Panthers won 37-23) has come down to a single play or a very few plays. And Carolina and Josh Norman and Greg Olsen and Cam Newton have made them.

Close game victories are a testament to leadership and poise.

In 2003, Carolina’s lone Super Bowl season, the Panthers also won their first five games. They won by an average of 6.6 points, and two of the games went to overtime.

Carolina’s offense wasn’t designed then and isn’t designed now to score 30 every game. Paired with a superior defense, the offense is designed to score enough to win.

This is the season for which the Carolinas have waited, and Sunday is the night. Fans might not like what they hear. But Carolina is a national story. After five games last season not one team was undefeated. This season there are five, and the Panthers are one of them.

The Philadelphia game is an event. Seats will be occupied, fans will be loud and Carolina jerseys will outnumber Philadelphia jerseys.

The Panthers will introduce themselves and their Bank of America crowd to a curious nation.

If either disappoints, man will I be surprised.

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