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Eagles vs. Panthers 2015, 'Sunday Night Football' preview: Philadelphia looks to end Carolina's perfect run

The Panthers are trying to start 6-0 for the first time in franchise history. Standing in their way is an Eagles team that has won back-to-back games and appears to have its mojo back.

The Carolina Panthers are coming off an improbable win last Sunday in Seattle, one that kept their perfect record intact for another week. The Philadelphia Eagles were left for dead a couple weeks ago after a miserable 1-3 start, but are flying high now after two straight wins have catapulted them into first place in the NFC East. The two teams will face off in a key conference showdown at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday Night Football.

The Eagles' win on Monday night improved their record to 3-3 and put them in the driver's seat in the division race -- for now, at least. The projections at both Football Outsiders (53 percent) and ESPN's Football Power Index (65 percent) have the Eagles as the favorites to win the NFC East. Philly is playing its best football of the season on both sides of the ball, and has started to separate itself as the class of this muddled division.

The most encouraging sign of the Eagles' two-game winning streak is how dominant they were in beating the Saints and Giants by a combined 42 points. It's the first time they've won back-to-back games by 20-plus points within a season since 2004. But they face a tough assignment in trying to maintain that momentum this week, going on the road to face a Panthers team that is determined to prove its perfect 5-0 record is no fluke.

Carolina's win last week coupled with the Falcons' loss moved the Panthers into sole possession of first place in the division. After taking control of the NFC South, they'll now look to rewrite the record books on Sunday night. Another win, and the Panthers will have their first 6-0 start in franchise history. The only other time they won their first five games was 2003, which remains the lone season that the Panthers have made the Super Bowl.

The Panthers pulled off one of the most shocking wins by any team this season in rallying from a fourth-quarter deficit to beat the two-time defending NFC champs. The schedule only gets tougher from here on out, though. After hosting the Eagles, they welcome the Packers and Colts to Charlotte in back-to-back weeks. They then hit the road for five of their final eight games, including a trip to Atlanta on Dec. 27 that could decide the NFC South race.

Digits

The team that wins the battle in the trenches in this game is likely going to emerge as the winner on the scoreboard, too. The Eagles have finally embraced a run-first mentality and got their ground game back on track, averaging 138 yards and 4.3 yards per rush over their last four games. Since Week 3, only the Falcons (619) and Seahawks (584) have rushed for more yards than the Eagles (551), and no team has more rushing attempts than Philadelphia (127).

On the other side of the ball, the Panthers bring a top-10 defense into this matchup. They've allowed just one 100-yard rusher this season and opponents are averaging just 3.9 yards per carry this season. Primarily because of its talented linebacker corps, Carolina has the league's top-ranked second-level run defense (defined as yards gained per carry between 5-10 yards past the line of scrimmage), per Football Outsiders.

Lacking playmakers on the outside, the Panthers have also adopted a ball-control offensive game plan. They have the highest percentage of called rushing plays this season (51 percent), and rank third in the league in rushing yards per game (132.8). Carolina has rushed for at least 100 yards in 16 straight regular-season games, the second-longest active streak in the NFL.

The Eagles' run defense presents Carolina's toughest test to date. They rank third in yards per rush allowed (3.53) and eighth in yards per game (94.2), and haven't had a running back gain more than 100 yards against them since Frank Gore in Week 4 of last season. Their ability to create turnovers on the ground is what sets this Philadelphia defense apart. The Eagles have the second-most forced fumbles (10) and are tied with the Broncos (eight) for the most fumbles recovered this season.

Who to Watch

DeMarco Murray finally looked like the dynamic back he is against the Giants on Monday night, rushing for 109 yards and a touchdown while averaging 5.0 yards in a game for the first time this season -- and all against what had been the league's best run defense. Murray's growing understanding of Chip Kelly's shotgun running schemes plus a steadily improving offensive line has led to an increased workload for the star back, which in turn has gotten the Eagles back on track. During Philly's 0-3 start, Murray averaged 9.7 carries per game; during the last two wins, he's averaged 21.

But Murray will have to get past Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly, who piled up 14 tackles against the Seahawks during the Panthers' monster win last week. Forget any lingering effects from that concussion -- in his first game back from the three-week injury absence, Kuechly appeared in all 61 defensive snaps and played a major role in Marshawn Lynch gaining just 54 yards on 17 carries.

How to Watch

When: 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.

Announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya

TV: NBC

Online: NBC Sports Live Extra

Preliminary Judgment

Those in the business of picking NFL games are optimistic that Carolina can stay unbeaten after Sunday's game. The majority of ESPN's panel, as well as all eight of the guys at CBS Sports, are taking the Panthers. Meanwhile, six of SB Nation's eight experts are also favoring Carolina.

Odds

Carolina opened as a 3-point favorite at home and the under/over opened at 46.5, according to Oddsshark.com.

Further Reading

For more on the Panthers, head on over to Cat Scratch Reader. For everything Eagles, check out Bleeding Green Nation.