Leading shale driller EOG Resources (NYSE:EOG) thinks 2018 will be an exceptional year given its view that production and cash flow should soar, fueling high expectations as the company gears up to report its first-quarter results, especially after peers Devon Energy (NYSE:DVN) and ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) already posted strong results. Here's a look at a few things to keep an eye on when the oil giant reports earnings this week.

Did it produce a gusher, too?

EOG Resources currently expects to produce between 350,000 to 360,000 barrels of oil per day (BPD) in the U.S. during the first quarter. At the midpoint, that would be a 6% improvement from the fourth quarter. Hitting that mark would keep the company on pace to achieve its full-year guidance of increasing U.S. oil output to an average of 387,000 to 401,000 BPD, which is about 18% more than last year's average.

Several oil pumps in a row at dusk.

Image source: Getty Images.

It's important that EOG's production comes in at or above the midpoint of its guidance range given the strong results of its peers. Devon Energy has already delivered U.S. oil output at the top end of its forecast range thanks in part to completing two of the best wells ever drilled in the Permian Basin. ConocoPhillips, meanwhile, exceeded its production forecast due to strong results from its big three shale plays, which includes the Permian as well as the Bakken shale and Eagle Ford shale. Given those results, and what others in the U.S. have reported, it would be highly disappointing if EOG missed the mark, especially considering its history of beating guidance.

Did it unveil any plans for its excess cash?

In addition to producing a gusher of oil this year, EOG Resources also expects to generate a boatload of excess cash. The company's current plan has it on pace to make enough money at $60 oil to fully fund its $5.6 billion capital plan and a dividend that's 10% higher than last year's level with $1.5 billion left over. Meanwhile, with crude closing in on $70 a barrel, EOG's plan would produce even more excess cash.

The burning question is what the company plans to do with that money. Aside from the dividend increase and plans to pay off an upcoming $350 million debt maturity, the company hasn't clearly defined what it might do with its growing stream of excess cash flow.

Many of its peers have started allocating their windfalls toward share buybacks. Devon Energy just authorized a $1 billion program, while ConocoPhillips plans to buy back $2 billion this year after spending $3 billion in 2017. Meanwhile, several others have also announced share repurchase programs.

EOG Resources, however, doesn't seem to be considering a buyback partly because its shares trade at a premium to most other oil stocks. Instead, the company stated on last quarter's conference call that it's looking at acquisitions. Given that desire, investors should see if the company has anything coming down the pipeline.

A potential buying opportunity could be just ahead

Due to the strong reports from many of its peers, expectations are running high that EOG Resources will also report strong first-quarter results this week. Shares could slump if it misses the mark or if it can't find any good deals. However, a post-earnings sell-off could be a great opportunity for long-term investors to buy this top-tier oil stock.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.