On Thursday night in Charlotte, a national television audience will get to watch two of the growing forces in the NFL in 2017.
Two good-but-flawed teams—the Philadelphia Eagles and the Carolina Panthers—teetering on the verge of doing something special, or falling back to the pack. Take your pick. Two exciting young signal-callers, Carson Wentz and Cam Newton—the former the best third-down quarterback in the league this year, the latter with the NFL’s highest QB rating through five games. Two of the best ball-control offenses in the NFL.
And the chance to move clear at the top of the NFC at 5-1. Whoever wins will haul themselves away from a muddled chasing pack. The Packers can match that record on Sunday, while the Falcons are a game behind following a bye week. The Seahawks are slowly getting themselves together on offense but at 3-2, they already have some catching up to do.
Fantasy owners have plenty to look out for before the game at Bank of America Stadium in terms of injuries. Most significantly, on the Panthers’ side, is Newton. The Panthers’ latest injury report notes the quarterback was limited in practice on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday with a right shoulder problem. It would be a major surprise, though, if Newton—listed eighth among all QBs in standard leagues by The Sporting News—didn’t suit up on Thursday.
The Panthers had a problem earlier in the week with one of Newton’s most productive targets this season, Devin Funchess. The tight end is averaging 4.8 receptions per game this season but he was held out of practice Monday and Tuesday with a knee injury, according to NFL.com. Funchess should play, though, as he practised fully on Wednesday. So should running back Jonathan Stewart, although center Ryan Kalil will miss a fifth straight game with a neck injury.
The Eagles’ main injury concerns are on the defensive side of the ball. Fletcher Cox, the Pro Bowl defensive tackle, is listed on the Eagles’ latest injury report as questionable. Cox, who has a calf problem, did practise fully on Tuesday and Wednesday. Cornerback Ronald Darby is definitely out with an ankle injury. On offense, Wendell Smallwood did not practise Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday and was listed as questionable on the latest report.