Offensive key: Last week my offensive key focused on third down. The Panthers then went 3-for-9 against a Redskins team that ranked 27th in third-down defense. That's not why Carolina left with a loss – the early turnovers were THE killers – but it certainly was a contributor. This week the Panthers will face the league's third-best third-down defense in Philadelphia. So what the Panthers need to do to help themselves is limit third-and-long situations because that's where they've especially struggled in 2018. On third-and-6 or longer, Cam Newton has a 20.4 passer rating with three sacks and two interceptions.
Defensive key: OK, so I've got a thing for third down. Let's talk about it here, too. Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz led the league in third-down passing last season, and against the Giants last week, he was a ridiculous 13-for-14 for 167 yards and a pair of scores on third down. Wentz is coming off an ACL tear, but he appears just as slippery as he was before the injury. The Eagles' offensive line is pretty banged up, so the Panthers need to bring Wentz down when they get to the spot – especially on third down.
Gutsy guess: The Eagles are also reeling in the secondary, where nickel corner Sidney Jones was the latest to go down. It's unclear if they'll use an outside corner or safety to cover the slot, but I'll use that space for my guess which is a happy homecoming for DJ Moore. Pencil him in for 85 total yards and a score.
Offensive key: Like Bill, I'm going to revisit my offensive key from last week, which was protecting the ball against Washington. Carolina failed to do that, and it cost them in the end. I'm going to keep singing that tune as the Panthers face a Philadelphia team that has taken the ball away just six times all year. But as tight end Greg Olsen pointed out, it's not always as easy as it sounds. "I think it's a very fine line. Sometimes when you try so hard to protect the ball you get very conservative, very basic, very tentative. And that's not the answer either." Valid points. But lose the turnover battle again on the road, and it's hard to imagine the Panthers coming away with a win. Simple and plain, as Cam would say.
Defensive key: Quarterback Carson Wentz and his wide array of weapons started clicking at the worst time from a Panthers perspective. They'll move the ball and rack up some yards, but Carolina has to stand tall in the red zone. The Panthers currently rank 31st in the league in red zone defense, allowing touchdowns on 82 percent of those situations. The defense has to buck that trend and force Philly to settle for field goals to make an upset possible.
Gutsy guess: When Julius Peppers came up with a strip-sack last week, the ball bounced right into the hands of a Redskins offensive lineman. This week, the ball bounces the Panthers' way following a forced fumbled for a scoop and score, which would be Carolina's first defensive touchdown of the year.
Offensive key: This probably won't be the most intelligent thing you read today, but it doesn't make it any less true: The offense needs to do its part to make sure the Panthers don't fall behind. The offense did a nice job of nearly pulling off come-from-behind victories in Carolina's first two road games, but the Panthers fell short in situations where winning wasn't likely – a 14-point hole early last week at Washington and another 14-point hole early in the second half in Week 2 at Atlanta. The first four drives against the Redskins produced four first downs and two turnovers. The offense got going from there and in the second half scored on its first two drives and nearly the next one, but the next one was the last one in a 23-17 loss. You never know when it's going to be your last drive, so value each one as such.
Defensive key: The Cowboys don't have a pass-catching tight end post-Jason Witten, and the Giants didn't have Evan Engram when the Panthers played them. Carolina's other opponents have thrived on tight end throws: For Atlanta, Austin Hooper matched Julio Jones for the team lead in catches and scored a touchdown; for Cincinnati, Tyler Eifert matched A.J. Green for the team lead with six receptions and his backup scored a touchdown; and last week for Washington, the tight end duo was 1-2 in yards and scored a touchdown. Those tight ends aren't as consistently dangerous as Zach Ertz, who ranks second in the NFL regardless of position with 48 receptions and last year scored two touchdowns against Carolina.
Gutsy guess: Cam Newton has thrown for exactly 306 yards in both of his trips to Philly, but he's been anything but consistent. He did big things in his debut in 2012, throwing for two touchdowns and running for two more in a Monday Night Football victory. He did some bad things in his return trip in 2014, again on Monday night football, throwing for two touchdowns but committing four turnovers. He'll throw for 306 yards again with more touchdowns than turnovers - a plus-2 ratio.