An unpredictable start to the season has left this once red-hot bold predictions series a little icy. We sit at 8/30 on the season so far, but could a key matchup against the Panthers tilt things back in the right direction? Here are my five bold predictions for tomorrow’s game.
Smallwood’s big day:
Philly Sports Network’s own Shanmukha Akkapeddi dove deep on why Wendell Smallwood could be primed for a breakout this weekend and it’s safe to say this may have slightly influenced this prediction.
Can Eagles RB Wendell Smallwood prove his worth against the Panthers?
Despite a small sample size, Smallwood has been really impressive so far. In comparison to last year where he seemed fairly one dimensional as a runner who didn’t really specialize in any particular area, Smallwood has rounded his game and has been a real factor as a receiving option out of the backfield and decisively cutting into lanes before falling forward.
The Panthers run defense is allowing over 100 rushing yards per game and with the pressure building on Eagles running backs to perform as the trade speculation only grows, this could be the day we finally see a formerly injury-plagued Smallwood take flight once more.
My first prediction is for Smallwood to amass 100 all-purpose yards against the Panthers on Sunday.
Superman, meet Kryptonite:
Cam Newton is one of a kind. In fact, you could make the case he’s playing the most confidently since that incredible Super Bowl runner-up campaign. With an arsenal of weapons around him and a rebuilt offensive line, it’s not hard to see why. But Cam will be stepping into the Eagles nest…an arena he has really not fared well in up to this point.
In his last 3 meetings with the Eagles, Newton has tossed 9 interceptions and it just so happens that the Eagles defense is meaner than ever. While it lacks depth in key areas, the mean streak in the Jim Schwartz 4-3 scheme has seen the team dominate this season, becoming one of the league’s most feared run defenses and have also hit opposing quarterbacks more times than any other team in the league.
In front of a raucous crowd, I’m predicting Cam Newton to retain his poor record, being intercepted at least once and sacked twice, completing less than 60% of his passes.
Silencing the Mac Attack:
Christian McCaffrey has enjoyed a much stronger start to his second NFL season. The Stanford product already has 113 targets this year, which is just ridiculous and he is averaging 4.9 yards per carry on 71 rushing attempts. With the Eagles lacking some interior bulk, could be set to rip an aching unit down as Barkley did one week ago.
However, the Eagles run defense, as aforementioned, is among the leagues finest and it’s not like they haven’t experienced what Newton or McCaffrey can do before. Silencing McCaffrey may be the biggest key to taking the heart of the Carolina offense and that means blowing up screens and hitting hard. Luckily for the Birds, Nigel Bradham and Malcolm Jenkins exist.
Thirdly, I predict McCaffrey to be smothered on Sunday and consequently held to under 75 total yards and no touchdowns.
Bend but don’t break:
The Panthers don’t break off a lot of deep plays, but they have the personnel to do it. Torrey Smith, D.J. Moore and Devin Funchess have all proven themselves as potential deep threats and the Eagles will have to respect that, as all 3 average over 10 yards per reception. The defense showed a total resurgence last week, but it helped that the offense was finally lifting some of the load. If the Eagles are going to go toe-to-toe with this newly built Panthers team, keeping big plays to a minimum will be crucial in cutting out drives and keeping the unit off the field.
Penultimately, I predict the Eagles to only allow the Panthers into the red zone on 4 occasions, allowing no pass greater than 20 yards in the process.
Goedert’s sneaky surprise:
You may or may not have heard, but the Panthers have a linebacker who is good at Football. His name rhymes with Puke Dekely and he’s a little bit incredible. Anchoring the middle of the field, the elite linebacker has made life very tough for Zach Ertz in the last two meetings. Prior to receiving for just 18 yards last season, Ertz amassed 63 in 2015. If the Panthers are going to key in on Ertz and remove the anticipated security blanket…it may just open the door for an underdog.
Enter Dallas Goedert. The last time he went unaccounted for, the rookie went off for 73 yards and his first ever NFL touchdown against the Colts. He may not reach that feat again on Sunday, but as a red-zone threat, he could be a nightmare for a team allowing 81.82% of opposing red zone drives to be converted into touchdowns.
With that in mind, I’m predicting Dallas Goedert to haul in his second touchdown of the season from inside the red zone and amass 35 receiving yards.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports