Tonight’s Thursday night matchup is between two teams who are tied for the best record in the NFC. While that may of seemed far fetched a few months ago, both teams have enough offensive firepower and strong front seven’s defensively where playoff runs wouldn’t be far fetched. Now on a short week, it’s time to see who can bring it.
Like last year, Carson Wentz has gotten off to a hot start. Unfortunately for him, the Panthers defense has been stout against the pass as only Tom Brady has attacked them with much success. A big factor to watch in this one is that Wentz will be without his starting right tackle in Lane Johnson who on a short week, wouldn’t be able to make it back from the concussion protocol. Wentz performed much better as a rookie when Johnson was there to protect him, so it will be interesting to see how he responds.
While the Panthers have been stingy against tight ends to this point, Zach Ertz so far has been matchup proof from a fantasy standpoint so far. So far, Ertz has seen more than nine targets a game and is well on pace for the breakout season that many have hoped for. The Panthers athletic linebackers could present some interesting challenges, but Ertz’s volume should make him worth starting in fantasy formats. After a string of tough matchups, Alshon Jeffery has an easier one this week. Considering that Jeffery should be good for at least six to eight targets and the Eagles could be reliant on the pass in this one, Jeffery is certainly worth a start. Torrey Smith still has big play ability and Nelson Agholor has emerged as a deep threat. However, both are too inconsistent to rely on from a fantasy perspective.
Considering Wendell Smallwood hasn’t practiced since he got injured a few weeks ago, it’s unlikely he plays tonight. That should mean LeGarrette Blount leads the backfield in touches. Due to the threat of playing from behind and the Panthers ability to stop the run, Blount is a risky back this week as he could be touchdown dependent. Corey Clement and Kenjon Barner also figure to see snaps at running back tonight.
After a start that had some worrying about if he could recover from his surgically repaired shoulder, Cam Newton has been on a tear these past few weeks. While the Eagles tremendous front seven has led to great results against the run, the secondary has had their share of struggles. It wouldn’t be surprising if Newton has another big night for the national audience.
The real beneficiary of Newton’s hot streak the past two weeks has been Devin Funchess. In that span, Funchess has hauled in 14 passes with three going for touchdowns. Considering the volume that has been there and the woes the Eagles have had in coverage, Funchess has the makings of a high floor and high upside fantasy option. Kelvin Benjamin hasn’t been targeted as Funchess of late, but should also be starting in various fantasy lineups. Ed Dickson had a monster game this past Sunday, but while some targets should be there, that line was likely an anomaly.
Jonathan Stewart is still seeing the majority of the touches in the Panther backfield, but the efficiency hasn’t been there. Due to the volume he is probably best served as a flex play. Christian McCaffrey has the potential to make a huge impact on a weekly basis, but so far it hasn’t happened yet. To this point, McCaffrey has seen more than 15 touches in just one game and due to his contributions as a receiver, is currently a better fit for PPR leagues.
While I do expect this one to start off as a defensive struggle, the absence of Johnson at tackle and not knowing how Wentz will respond is a deciding factor in predicting this one. This game could be a huge step in Wentz’s development as going on the road and beating a tough Panthers defense is no easy task. Despite that, things are in place for Newton to continue his recent surge so my prediction is Eagles 17 Panthers (-3.5) 23.