'Thursday Night Football' time, schedule, picks: Your need to know for Eagles-Panthers
Raise your hand if you had these two teams a combined 8-2 through the first five weeks of the season
If you're going to emulate a football coach, Andy Reid isn't a bad choice. Doug Pederson, who is in his second year as the Eagles' head coach, worked on Reid's staff in both Philadelphia and Kansas City.
Last season, the Eagles got off to a hot start before limping to a 7-9 finish, while the Chiefs emerged as one of the AFC's best teams with a 12-4 record. But in terms of advanced metrics, the Eagles ranked fifth in overall efficiency in 2016, according to Football Outsiders while the Chiefs were sixth. And through five games, the 5-0 Chiefs are the NFL's best team, and the 4-1 Eagles rank fifth. Both have top-10 offenses that, not surprisingly, have a lot in common.
"I'm a big believer that you don't change just to change," Pederson said, via ESPN.com. "It's got to benefit the team, and it's got to help you win games."
It helps that both teams are loaded with playmakers, starting at quarterback. Thirty-three-year-old Alex Smith is having his best season while 2016 first-round pick Carson Wentz is eighth in passing efficiency, just behind Aaron Rodgers. There's also the Travis Kelce-Zach Ertz comparisons and the resurgence of Eagles wideout Nelson Agholor, who is No. 2 in value per play among all receivers and is averaging 16.6 yards per reception after managing 10.1 a season ago. Finally LeGarrette Blount, who is 30 and in his eighth NFL season, looks rejuvenated in Philly's offense; he's averaging 5.8 yards per carry and he ranks fourth in total value among running backs behind Kareem Hunt, Devonta Freeman and Leonard Fournette.
Meanwhile, with each passing week the Panthers look more like the 2015 squad that went to the Super Bowl and nothing like the unit that managed just six wins a season ago. The biggest reason for the turnaround? Cam Newton's health. He had offseason shoulder surgery that limited him early in the season. The results confirmed as much; in his first three games, Newton never completed more than 65 percent of his passes, had two touchdowns and four interceptions. In the two weeks since, Newton is completing 77 percent of his throws and has six touchdowns and one interception.
Newton's best effort came last Sunday in Detroit where he finished 26 of 33 for 355 yards with three touchdown passes and no turnovers. You tell us: How does his shoulder look? How about his timing and accuracy?
"There's certain throws that he's making again," coach Ron Rivera said of Newton. "That's a huge plus. Last week was indicative of that. As he gets stronger and stronger, we can do some more things we want to do."
Newton is playing with such confidence that there don't appear to be any lingering concerns about his shoulder, even on a short week.
"If we were to play today, I would have to be ready to play today," he said. "It doesn't make me any different, just like it won't make anybody else any different."
Buckle up for some deep passing
We saw above what Newton is capable of when he sets his sights on downfield targets, but Wentz isn't your prototypical dink-and-dunk West Coast Offense quarterback either. On Sunday, he threw four touchdowns against the Cardinals -- three came in the first quarter! -- including this dime to Torrey Smith:
Wentz has a passer rating of 102.2 on throws that travel more than 20 yards in the air, according to Pro Football Focus.
"He's soon to be a top-tier quarterback as he continues to grow," Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson said after Wentz led the Eagles to a 34-7 win on Sunday. "His ability to get his receivers open with his legs was the most impressive. ... He's a guy that has great pocket presence and he understands where the pressure and blitzes are coming from. He knows where the outlets are and he moves very well."
We've talked about Newton's progress and this table only solidifies how good he's been in recent weeks:
The numbers are courtesy of PFF by way of Will Brinson's fantastic read on.
And it's not just the deep-passing game where these two offenses are thriving. They're also the best in the league on third down.
The last time we met
It was Week 7 of the 2015 season. The Panthers came into the game with a 5-0 record while the Eagles were 3-3. Newton didn't have his best day (14 of 24, 197 yards, 1 touchdown, 3 interceptions) but Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford wasn't any better (26 of 46, 205 yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 interception). Mike Tolbert scored twice, Newton ran for another touchdown and the Panthers won, 27-16, to remained undefeated. In fact, Carolina won eight more before finally dropping a game to the Falcons in Week 16. The Eagles, meanwhile, would fire coach Chip Kelly before the regular-season finale, paving the way for Pederson and Wentz the following offseason.
Dispatches from Fantasy Island
If you need help at wide receiver,says you should consider adding Agholor.
Maybe the Eagles should feature Agholor a little more moving forward. He has two games this season with at least five targets, and he's scored at least 14 Fantasy points in a standard league in both. It's hard to trust Agholor in most leagues as a starter since he has 13 Fantasy points combined in his other three games, but you know the Eagles are going to throw a lot on a weekly basis, which gives Agholor a chance to be useful in deeper leagues. He's worth at least 1 percent of your FAAB dollars.
And if you're looking for a tight end, Ed Dickson, who came out of nowhere last week with five catches for 175 yards, is a good choice.
Dickson seems to be a big reason for Cam Newton turning things around, and maybe he's a decent replacement for Greg Olsen (foot) after all. In the past two games against New England and Detroit, Dickson has eight catches for 237 yards on nine targets. He had a career game against the Lions with five catches for 175 yards on five targets. Now, he's not a must-start option in Week 6 against the Eagles, but it's clear Dickson is involved enough to be used as a low-end starting option moving forward in deeper leagues until Olsen is back. He's worth 1 percent of your FAAB dollars.
They said these words
Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, who has been an outspoken in his efforts to raise awareness about social inequality, says the demonstrations will continue even as the NFL moves to require players to stand during the national anthem.
"I think we've seen even over the last year that you can take a player out of the league, you can threaten to do whatever you want to do, that's not going to deter players from doing what's right, or doing what they believe is right," Jenkins said Tuesday. "You might be able to change the manner in which that looks but I don't see players stopping their pursuit for justice or equality."
Who ya got?
"This is the game of the week, featuring two 4-1 teams. Cam Newton is back playing at a high level, but that Eagles front is tough to handle. Carson Wentz is coming off a big game, but I think he has issues here. Carolina takes it to go to 5-1." -- CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco, who has the Panthers winning, 24-17
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