Ray Didinger

Eagles-Panthers predictions by our (cough) experts

Eagles-Panthers predictions by our (cough) experts

Oh, the short weeks.

Aren't they fun?

Unlike some weeks, this Thursday Night Football game is a big one.

The 4-1 Eagles against the 4-1 Panthers (8:25 p.m./CBS).

Who will stay atop the NFC when the clock hits zero?

Our experts provide their predictions for Week 6:

Reuben Frank (5-0)
Can the Eagles keep it going? Things will be a lot tougher Thursday night than they have been the last three weeks, when the Eagles beat three teams with a combined 3-12 record. 

The Panthers are 4-1 with the NFL's No. 3-ranked defense and one of the league's most dynamic quarterbacks. It's a short week. The game's on the road. The Eagles are banged up. 

But you know what? I don't care. 

The Eagles are 4-1 also and I feel like they still haven't put together an all-around game, with big plays on both sides of the football. If they continue running the ball and stopping the run, they're going to be very tough to beat — for anybody. 

Tough game but I'm going Eagles.

Eagles 17, Panthers 16

Dave Zangaro (4-1)
The Panthers aren't the Chargers. 

So sure, the Eagles were able to go to California a couple weeks ago and get a big road win against Los Angeles. Winning this game in Charlotte against the Panthers on a short week is a completely different animal. 

Like the Eagles, the Panthers are also 4-1, except their last two wins came at New England and at Detroit. Maybe it'll help the Eagles that the Panthers had to come back from Detroit to play on a short week. But that cancels out against a team traveling to play on Thursday. Home teams win over 61 percent of Thursday Night Football games; it's a bigger advantage than normal. 

If the Eagles find a way to pull out a win, it would establish them as one of the best teams in the NFC. But this is going to be too hard without Lane Johnson. Remember, the Eagles are 2-8 without him since the beginning of 2016. 

I think the Birds keep it close, but close doesn't get it done. 

Panthers 24, Eagles 21

Derrick Gunn (5-0)
Carolina is coming off impressive back-to-back road wins at New England and Detroit. Cam Newton appears to have his 2015 groove back. In his last two games, Newton has completed 77 percent of his passes with six TDs and one INT. 

The Eagles totally dominated Arizona, but this is an upgrade in competition. The Birds could use Fletcher Cox in the trenches. He was a full participant in practice on Tuesday but his availability for Thursday night is unknown as a game-time decision. 

The Birds could use another one of those steady run games to keep the Panthers' defense on its heels. This game will be won in the trenches. The Panthers like to get physical on both sides of the ball, and the Eagles are determined to match them blow for blow. 

In the end, Carolina delivers the knockout punch.

Panthers 31, Eagles 24

Ray Didinger (5-0)
Carolina has played its best football on the road, winning at San Francisco, New England and Detroit. The Panthers have been less than inspiring at home, squeezing past Buffalo (9-3) and getting hammered by New Orleans (34-13). So the Eagles have that going for them, which is nice. But does it really apply to tonight's game at Bank of America Stadium? I'm not sure it does.

Newton makes the Carolina offense go and he is red hot, coming off the wins over the Patriots and Lions in which he threw for more than 300 yards in each game. It took him awhile to get over the loss of his favorite target, tight end Greg Olsen (broken foot), but he is spreading the ball around to rookie Christian McCaffrey (27 catches), Devin Funchess (24 catches, three touchdowns) and Ed Dickson (175 yards vs. Detroit). Newton is completing 68 percent of his passes after completing just 53 percent in a miserable 2016 season.

The Eagles are playing very well themselves and they thoroughly dominated Arizona on Sunday, but the short week, the travel and the loss of Johnson tilts this one in Carolina's favor.

Panthers 27, Eagles 24

Andrew Kulp (5-0)
Tough matchup to get a read on, but the Eagles are hitting the road on a short week, and Newton is red hot. 

Hard not to take the Panthers — only a year removed from a trip to the Super Bowl — over the upstart Eagles. Their secondary is still a concern and will have its hands full with Newton, Kelvin Benjamin and Funchess.

Panthers 26, Eagles 24

Corey Seidman (3-2)
Short week, no Johnson … I still want to go with the Eagles in this spot but it just feels like the McCaffrey breakout game. I don’t see Jonathan Stewart doing much against the Eagles but McCaffrey is going to be tough to stop in the red zone with all the other threats Carolina poses (Newton's running, Benjamin jump-balls). If the Eagles were at full strength (with Johnson and Cox), I think they’d win this game, but alas. 

Panthers 24, Eagles 23

Andy Schwartz (5-0) 
Don't like the situation here.

1. Thursday night game.

Completely agree with Rob Ellis. The turnaround is too short, and the product suffers because of it.

2. On the road.

It's not Seattle or Kansas City, but still.

3. Against a rejuvenated Newton.

Newton after a rough first two weeks has found his mojo, beating up the Patriots and Lions in consecutive weeks. And doing so without tight end Olsen.

4. No Johnson

Hopefully Big V can keep it up against the Panthers, who are tied for third in the league in sacks with 17. (The Eagles are tied for 12th with 12.)

5. Maybe no Cox.

He's a game-time decision and even if he plays, will he be 100 percent? Holding him out and giving him another week and a half of rest before the Monday nighter at home against Washington would make sense.

Panthers 23, Eagles 20

Eagles-Cardinals predictions by our (cough) experts

Eagles-Cardinals predictions by our (cough) experts

The Eagles are 3-1 and in sole possession of first place in the NFC East.

After playing three of their first four games on the road, they now come home to play four of their next five in the confines of Lincoln Financial Field.

Not a bad position to be in.

The Eagles host the 2-2 Cardinals on Sunday (1 p.m./FOX) in Week 5 with a chance to stay atop the division.

Will they improve to 4-1 before their Thursday night game in Week 6?

Our experts provide their predictions:

Reuben Frank (4-0)
For all their weapons, all their speed, all their explosiveness, the Arizona Cardinals have scored a grand total of six offensive touchdowns this year. Only the 49ers and Dolphins have scored fewer.

For the third straight week, the Eagles are facing a potential Hall of Fame quarterback, one who is capable of piling up the yards and points. Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer all rank among the top 13 quarterbacks in NFL history in passing yards, so it’ll be another big challenge for this young, undermanned secondary. But the Eagles found a way to get past Manning and they found a way to get past Rivers, and I expect them to find a way to get past Palmer as well.

The Cards have a terrible offensive line and with David Johnson on the shelf, they don’t run the ball well at all. They’re averaging just 57 rushing yards per game and 2.7 yards per carry. They’re one of only 22 teams in NFL history with fewer than 230 rushing yards and an average below 2.8 yards per carry four games into a season.

I don’t think a one-dimensional team can come into the Linc and beat the Eagles. I see this being a pretty easy one.

Eagles 30, Cardinals 17

Dave Zangaro (3-1)
The Eagles are going to miss Fletcher Cox and Wendell Smallwood, no doubt. But the Cardinals just aren't a very good football team. It seems like fans are remembering that 13-win team from a couple years ago and this team just isn't nearly that talented. The Cardinals come into this game with a 2-2 record and both of their wins have come in overtime. 

No, the Eagles haven't been perfect. But they're the better team. Even without Cox, the Eagles will be able to pressure Palmer, who stands behind a weak offensive line that has let him get sacked an NFL-high 17 times. 

Bruce Arians said he wants his team to be balanced but without Johnson, it can't seem to get the run game going. That makes the Cardinals extremely one-dimensional. They still have speed on the outside and Larry Fitzgerald inside but if Palmer doesn't have time to throw, it won't matter. 

The Eagles should win this game before a tough Thursday night matchup in Carolina. 

Eagles 27, Cardinals 17

Derrick Gunn (4-0)
The Cardinals have been hard to figure out. They struggled to beat the Colts and 49ers and got handled by the Lions and Cowboys. Their offense is ranked No. 11 overall, but they've struggled to score, averaging just 18.5 points. And they can’t run the ball, either. Since their star running back went down with a dislocated wrist, the Cards' run game has been stagnant and it currently sits dead last in the league in rushing (57 yards per game).

Palmer has the second-most passing yards but has been the most-sacked QB in the league (17 times). Their No. 7-ranked defense is big and rugged but suffered a big blow when LB Markus Golden was lost for the season with an ACL injury.

Carson Wentz has matured into his role in the offense, making better decisions with the ball. The Birds' run game has given them a balance that takes pressure off the QB. Cox has been ruled out, but there’s still enough talent in the trenches to make life miserable for Palmer. The back end of the Birds' defense is giving up too many big plays and that could be a big problem this week because the Cardinals' speed at wide receiver is better than the Chargers'. If Jim Schwartz's guys get to Palmer, the Birds will get the win. 

Eagles 24, Cardinals 20 

*Here are Derrick's Week 5 NFL picks.

Ray Didinger (4-0)
This was one of those games that looked tough — even a little scary — when the schedule first came out. The Eagles haven't had much luck against the Cardinals (1-5 since the January 2009 title game) or against the NFC West in general (2-9 in the last 11 meetings). I thought the Cardinals coming here early in the season when the weather was still good was a difficult matchup for an Eagles defense that had so many questions in the secondary.

The Eagles still have questions in the secondary — they rank 30th in pass defense — and we all know what the ageless Fitzgerald has done to the Eagles over the years, but the Cardinals aren't the team we thought they would be. The loss of Johnson, their star running back, has crippled the offense. They can't run the ball (2.7 yards per carry), so defenses are happily teeing off on Palmer, who is being sacked (17 times) and hit (43 times) more than any other quarterback in football. This should be a fun day for Schwartz's defense.

This looks like a matchup of one team on the way down and one team on the way up. The Eagles are the team on the way up.

Eagles 28, Cardinals 17

Andrew Kulp (4-0)
Fitzgerald could do some damage against this Eagles secondary — assuming Palmer has time to throw. Palmer will follow Rivers before him, and Manning before him, and get the ball out quickly. However, the Cardinals' O-line might be even worse than that of the Chargers or Giants, so even without Cox for the second week in a row, expect the 37-year-old quarterback to get bum-rushed.

Arizona's defense is what's kept the team in a lot of games, and I suspect it will do the same here. But while the Eagles' secondary might surrender a few big plays against a speedy receiving corps, the front should also be able to force some three-and-outs and provide the offense with favorable field position. Wentz is taking care of the football, and Jake Elliott is feeling it right now, so it should be just enough.

Eagles 23, Cardinals 21

Corey Seidman (2-2)
This is a great spot for the Eagles' defense against a bad Cardinals offensive line that has allowed 16 sacks in its last three games and a turnover-prone Palmer, who already has five interceptions and a fumble.

It should be a tough day for Alshon Jeffery, so the Eagles will need more out of Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor. I also expect an Eagles defensive touchdown in this one.

Eagles 27, Cardinals 17

Andy Schwartz (4-0) 
Hmm, are the Eagles due for a clunker? 

Could be, especially considering it’s the Cardinals. Ricky Proehl and MarTay Jenkins still give me nightmares.

And now they still have the venerable Fitzgerald, who always hammers the Eagles.

You can bet Schwartz will quadruple team Fitzgerald and force the Cardinals to beat the Birds another way. 

But they won’t. Not this week.

Fitz will still get his, but the Cards — sans Johnson — don’t have enough firepower, especially after a cross-country trip. 

Eagles 23, Cardinals 17

Eagles-Chargers predictions by our (cough) experts

Eagles-Chargers predictions by our (cough) experts

The Eagles (2-1) are flying high after last week’s dramatic win in the home opener over the Giants.

Can they avoid a letdown against the Chargers (0-3) in Los Angeles on Sunday (4:05 p.m./FOX)?

Our experts provide their Week 4 predictions:

Reuben Frank (3-0)
Long road trip ... dangerous AFC opponent ... coming off an emotional division win ... Last year, the Eagles lose this game. This year, they win it. It's not yet reflected in their won-loss record — heck, the Eagles were 3-0 last year —  but I think this team has grown. Last year? After blowing a 14-point fourth-quarter lead? They would not have come back and won. There seems to be a serious-mindedness, a maturity, an all-business mentality in this locker room that starts from Malcolm Jenkins and Jason Peters and trickles down through the roster. Two areas I think the Eagles can take advantage of: The Chargers' rush defense — 31st in the league — and Philip Rivers' interceptions — four already this year and a NFL-high 56 since opening-day 2014. So I've got Wendell Smallwood topping 100 rushing yards for the first time in his career, a pick-six from Jenkins and a win in the Eagles' first game in L.A. in 27 years.

Eagles 30, Chargers 20

Dave Zangaro (3-0)
I know the Chargers are 0-3 and the Eagles are coming off a huge win that should swing momentum in their favor. 

But this game has a bad feel to me. 

The Chargers are nowhere near as bad as their winless record suggests. Two of their three losses came to the Broncos and the Chiefs and they lost to the Dolphins by just two points. Meanwhile, the Eagles are coming off an emotional win but have to travel across the country, which is never easy, to face a team with a veteran and dangerous quarterback. 

Oh yeah, and they'll go into this game without Fletcher Cox and without any decent depth in the secondary. That’s a problem. 

Rivers had a terrible game against the Chiefs. Just awful. He completed 50 percent of his passes and had a passer rating of 37.2. He's going to bounce back this week. 

I think the Eagles have the defense to almost never get blown out this season, but I have a bad feeling about this one. 

Chargers 24, Eagles 21 

Derrick Gunn (3-0)
This could be that proverbial trap game for the Eagles. Going back to the 2016 season, the Chargers have lost 14 of their last 19 games played, but most of those contests have been close. When he’s in a zone, Rivers can be lethal but he will also serve up his share of interceptions. In Rivers’ last 40 games, he has thrown 47 picks. He’s already thrown four in three games this year, which includes three last week against Kansas City. Rivers has also led the league in interceptions in two of the last three seasons.

The loss of Darren Sproles is huge for the Eagles, but Doug Pederson feels comfortable that his backfield by committee can pick up the slack.

Looks like Rodney McLeod and Jordan Hicks will return this week, but the Birds could be thin again at cornerback, and Cox is also out. Jim Schwartz’s blitzes couldn’t get a hand on Eli Manning last week, and it doesn’t get any easier this time as Rivers has only been sacked four times this season.

The Birds’ ground game chewed up a porous Giants’ run defense, and this week the team faces the Chargers’ 31st-ranked D against the run. Keep an eye on the Chargers’ pass rushers LB Melvin Ingram (second in the league with 5.5 sacks) and DE Joey Bosa.

I like the Chargers’ ability to lose this game more than I like the Eagles’ ability to win it.

Eagles 24, Chargers 23

Ray Didinger (3-0)
Yes, this is a classic trap game for the Eagles. Coming off a huge emotional win, flying all the way across the country to play an AFC foe that is 0-3, yada, yada. You've heard it all week and I have to admit there is something to it. The Chargers aren't going 0-16. They're going to pick off a few W's this season and this could be one of them.

Ingram and Bosa are a nasty pair of pass rushers and they will be coming after Carson Wentz in a big way. However, the Chargers rank 31st in run defense, so it would make sense for the Eagles to keep their ground game going. They ran all over the Giants last week and if they can do the same this week it will keep Ingram and Bosa in check.

Rivers is a savvy quarterback — he calls his game at the line of scrimmage in the manner of a Peyton Manning — but he threw three interceptions last week against the Chiefs and Antonio Gates, his favorite target, is slowing down. The Eagles will miss Cox but they will have Hicks so that helps. It won't be easy but ...

Eagles 24, Chargers 20

Andrew Kulp (3-0)
The Chargers have a 10-29 record in their last 39 games, dating back to December 2014. Rivers? Turnover-prone and old. Gates? Even older. The team's top two draft picks? Injured. The leading rusher, Melvin Gordon, averages 3.3 yards per carry; the leading receiver, Keenan Allen, averages 10.3 yards per reception; and the offensive line stinks, as usual.

I fully expect the Eagles to struggle. The O-line has its hands full with Ingram and Bosa. The defense is without its best player in Cox. The game is being played 2,400 miles away in Los Angeles. But the Chargers have secretly been one of the worst teams in the league for years. It might not be pretty, but the Eagles should find a way to win.

Eagles 23, Chargers 20

Corey Seidman (2-1)
Hate to say it but I think the Eagles are losing this one.

The Chargers should be able to get pressure on Wentz unless Lane Johnson and Peters have truly great games. Rivers should be able to connect often with Allen in the slot unless Patrick Robinson turns in a season-best performance. The Chargers also have the home-field advantage and they're incredibly desperate because their season will be over if they lose this game.

The Eagles are 2-1 and the Chargers are 0-3, but we saw last Sunday that records and last week's performances don't matter a whole lot this early in the season.

Chargers 30, Eagles 27

Andy Schwartz (3-0)
This is a tough spot for the Birds.

They’re traveling across the country.

They’re banged up.

They’ve beaten the Chargers on the road only once (1-5) in team history.

And for the second straight week, they will be facing a team desperate for its first win.

After beating Manning and the Giants, the Eagles face another veteran QB in Rivers. Rivers and Manning, you may recall, were the primary components in the 2004 draft-day swap. Manning went first overall to the Chargers, and Rivers fourth to the Giants.

Rivers is coming off a brutal game in a 24-10 loss to the Chiefs. He completed just 20 of 40 passes for 237 yards, no touchdowns and three picks. “Painful to watch” seems like an accurate description.

So it’s easy to say Rivers will bounce back, torch the Eagles’ gimpy D, and get the Chargers their first W as an L.A. team.

Forget that. The Eagles haven’t beaten the Chargers on the road since 1974. They’re due. And besides, the Chargers should have stayed in San Diego. Karma’s a …

Eagles 27, Chargers 24