PHI-CAR Matchup Report
Charlotte, NC - The Philadelphia Eagles will have to wait two weeks to showcase their most-talked-about offseason addition, but Michael Vick wasn't the only help the team provided Donovan McNabb in the offseason.
The Carolina Panthers, meanwhile, remain largely the same - for better or worse.
Two rookie speedsters and an All-Pro left tackle should make McNabb and the Eagles' offense more dangerous as they kick off their season Sunday at Carolina, where Jake Delhomme and the Panthers are eager to erase the memories of their ugly exit from the NFC playoffs.
Oddsmakers from online sports book Sportsbook.com have made the Eagles -2 point spread favorites (View NFL odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 63% of bets for this game have been placed on the Eagles -2 (View NFL bet percentages).
The Eagles (9-6-1) weren't any more in the spotlight than most teams this offseason after a 32-25 loss to Arizona in the NFC championship game.
That changed on Aug. 13 with the signing of Vick, who hasn't played in the NFL since 2006 after serving an 18-month federal prison sentence for his role in operating a dogfighting ring. Vick played in Philadelphia's final two preseason games, but isn't eligible to play in the regular season until Week 3 against Kansas City.
Vick's role when he returns is unclear, but he isn't expected to take too many snaps from McNabb, who will make his 10th straight opening day start with plenty of new weapons at his disposal.
Coach Andy Reid's team spent its first-round draft pick on receiver Jeremy Maclin, a dynamic athlete out of Missouri who is also expected to contribute to the return game. The 6-foot Maclin is a slightly larger version of DeSean Jackson, who gained 912 yards and scored four all-purpose touchdowns as a rookie in 2008.
Second-rounder LeSean McCoy should keep Brian Westbrook fresh in the backfield, and both runners will have an imposing offensive line to open holes. Philadelphia acquired All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters from Buffalo in April, and he'll team with free agent guard Stacy Andrews - brother of right tackle Shawn - up front to provide stability to a unit that was hit hard by injuries a year ago.
"I'm confident that the guys will be able to get this thing going," said McNabb, who threw for a career-high 3,916 yards last season with 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. "When you fill in new guys in different positions, sometimes it's tough because you have to adjust now from preseason to games, and there are going to be times throughout the game where we are going to look crisp and there are going to be times when we don't."
Carolina (12-4) looked like it might be headed toward the franchise's second Super Bowl appearance after finishing second in the NFC, but fell apart in its first playoff game. Delhomme threw five interceptions in a 33-13 home loss to the Cardinals in the divisional round, sending the Panthers into a tumultuous offseason.
Twenty of Carolina's 22 starters return, but there are still plenty of question marks.
Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers declared he wanted to play elsewhere, skipped offseason workouts, then begrudgingly agreed to return on a one-year, $16.7 million deal. It's a good thing he did, considering defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu tore his Achilles' tendon not 30 minutes into the first training camp practice, the first of numerous key injuries.
Linebackers Thomas Davis and Na'il Diggs have missed time, as has Jon Beason, the team's top tackler the past two seasons. Despite suffering from a sprained MCL, Beason expects to play Sunday.
"We've had a lot of nicks throughout the preseason,'' coach John Fox said. "I don't think we've had our whole starting group out there at all.''
Those nicks helped contribute to an 0-4 preseason in which the first-team offense scored just one touchdown.
Yet, freshest in the team's mind - particularly Delhomme's - was the offense's performance in the last game that mattered.
"I let my teammates down,'' Delhomme said. "That crushed me more than anything.''
Like McNabb, Delhomme has a pair of talented runners behind him. DeAngelo Williams led the NFL with 18 rushing touchdowns and finished third with 1,515 yards, while backup Jonathan Stewart was 24th with 836 yards and had 10 scores. Stewart, however, missed nearly all of training camp with an Achilles' injury.
Receiver Steve Smith - third in the NFL with 1,421 yards - also had an injury scare in the preseason, suffering a shoulder injury that severely limited him in exhibition games but isn't expected to be an issue Sunday.
Hoping to stop Smith and the Panthers' offense will be new Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, who took over after longtime assistant Jim Johnson passed away prior to training camp after a bout with cancer.
"There is one thing I know, and that is that this system, it works," McDermott said. "Jim has spent a considerable amount of time in his coaching career researching and finding things that work and finding things that didn't work, quite frankly, and I'm going to respect that and we're going to build on that. From there, we'll add wrinkles."
One Johnson mainstay that McDermott won't have is safety Brian Dawkins, the five-time All-Pro who signed with Denver in the offseason. Rookie Macho Harris is expected to take Dawkins' free safety spot after beating out Quintin Demps in the preseason.
Philadelphia leads the all-time regular season series with Carolina 4-1. The Eagles have lost three of their last four road openers, while Carolina has lost four of five to start the season at home.
Posted: 9/10/09 1:35AM ET