Before the season began when executives decided Carolina would visit Philadelphia on Monday Night in Week 12, they envisioned a resurgent Eagles team against an up-and-coming Panthers squad. Instead they got a match-up of bad teams who will have new coaches next year. There was reason to believe a Michael Vick versus Cam Newton matchup with both teams in the thick of the playoff race would develop. Things did not go as planned for either team.
Last year the Eagles were a disappointing 8-8 after making a major splash in the free agent market. While they did not qualify for the playoffs, Philadelphia won their final four games and seemed to be primed to succeed in 2012. After starting this year 3-1, the Eagles have lost six straight. It's the longest losing streak since Andy Reid took over as head coach in 1999. Not only has the team lost consistently, they will play tonight without Vick and RB LeSean McCoy because of concussions.
As for Carolina, two years ago the Panthers went 2-14. John Fox was fired and Ron Rivera hired as head coach. When Andrew Luck elected to stay at Stanford, Newton became the de facto number one pick. Newton immediately excited Panther fans throwing for 422 and 432 yards in his first two games albeit both loses. Carolina fans thought it was a sign of things to come, and it was. However, it was the close loses not the big numbers that have marked the last year and 10 games.
The Panthers are 1-11 in games decided by a touchdown or less since Fox was dismissed. Carolina (2-8) found a way to lose in creative fashion last week against Tampa Bay. Leading by eight points with just over a minute to play the Panthers faced fourth down and one at the Buc 49 yard line. Rivera opted to punt. A minute later Vincent Jackson caught a TD from Josh Freeman. The pair connected on a two-point pass and catch to tie the game. Carolina lost their eleventh straight coin toss. Tampa Bay got the ball and went right down the field scoring a touchdown and shocking Carolina in 27-21 in front of a lot of empty seats in Charlotte.
The seats likely will be filled tonight in Philadelphia, but Eagle fans may spend more time booing than cheering. Philadelphia has allowed more than 26 points a game over the last four contests. During the same span the Eagle offense has mustered fewer than 15 points per game. Playing in the absence of Vick, rookie Nick Foles failed to inspire confidence last week in Washington. The Skins blew out Philadelphia 31-6 while Foles was intercepted twice throwing for only 204 yards on 46 pass attempts.
While Vick is out after turning the ball over 13 times in nine games, Newton has been healthy but inaccurate. Thought to be the future of the Panther franchise, Newton has completed just 57-percent of his passes (29th in the NFL), while throwing more interceptions than touchdowns, and boasting a QB Rating of only 79.0 (27th in the league).
While Reid and Rivera audition for jobs elsewhere, Foles and Newton are playing for their future while trying to give fans a reason for optimism as the year winds down. For a fan of the league without a rooting interest, Carolina minus three might be the most important number.