While tonight’s Thursday evening clash doesn’t have the historical rivalry feel that the previous two games did (NY Giants-Dallas and Chicago-Green Bay) it still has a lot at stake. As Jamie mentioned in his player prop post earlier today, but it features an uber-important game as the loser falls to 1-2 on the season.
It isn’t often you have an out-of-divisional matchup in Week 3 that allows you to use the transitive property. In Week 1 the Panthers struggled in a 16-10 loss to Tampa Bay. Those same Bucs almost pulled a fast one on the Giants in Week 2, that is, until Eli rescued his team with 510 passing yards for a 41-34 victory.
We’ll get into specifics of the game later in the post but this game should be all about the quarterbacks. Both love to sling the ball around and while each team has a stable of capable running backs neither offensive line has been good enough to sustain a dominating ground game. What does it mean? Well, for starters, expect both teams to throw a lot – especially on first down. And, if there are a slew of incomplete first-down passes, expect more throws on second and third down.
It all boils down to an air show in Carolina tonight. Will either defense step up to the challenge?
Both teams enter this game with a lot on the line; starting 1-2 in a loaded NFC is far from ideal. In reality, the game is probably more important to Carolina for the following reason: The rise of Atlanta and seemingly imminent fall of the Saints means Carolina wants to keep pace with the Flyin’ Falcons. If not, it’ll be relegated for fighting for one of the conference’s two wild cards. The Giants, on the other hand, are no stranger to slow starts. History suggests the NFC East winner will be around 9-10 wins and, with so many divisional games on tap, the Giants will have every opportunity to slip into the playoffs once again.
The last time these teams met was two years ago. The Giants won comfortably, 31-18. That, of course, was the season that gave Carolina the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and Cam Newton.
We’re not yet three weeks into the NFL season and the Giants’ injury report is already in need of a binding. (Stop me if you’ve heard this before). If the Giants are to win it’ll have to be with defense. Tom Coughlin’s team will be without star WR Hakeem Nicks, starting RB Ahmad Bradshaw, WR Domenik Hixon and Pro Bowl tackle David Diehl. Now, if any team has shown the ability to win with fourth- and fifth-string WRs it’s the Giants. (David Tyree anyone!?!) Andre Brown will be the main weapon in the backfield and while there will be a slight drop off from Bradshaw, Brown showed last week (71 yards and a TD) that he’s more than capable of being a quality NFL RB.
The key matchup in this game: Cam Newton vs. the Giants’ secondary. While it’s just a two-game sample size, the Giants are surrendering 259 passing yards per game. That is a weakness the Panthers must exploit. Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell are both able to stretch defenses and catch the home-run ball. If those two speedsters clear the field it should allow Greg Olson to flourish over the middle. It should also allow the short-passing game to DeAngelo Williams.
The teams have played seven times since Carolina’s NFL debut in 1996. The closest spread was six points (Giants 34, Panthers, 28 in December of 2008). It doesn’t necessarily mean this game won’t be close, but sometimes teams just always tend to play in blowouts or nail biters against each other. In this case, the games are usually decided by 10 or more points.
One stat that you have to know before you make a last-minute play: The Giants are 36-15 ATS in their last 51 road games. That’s pretty incredible no matter how you look at it. It really showcases how the Giants are built to play anybody, anywhere, anytime.
That said, each matchup is different and this one completely favors the Panthers. Throw in the short travel week for the Giants coupled with all the injuries.
While the Giants could very well win this game – possibly going away – it seems like the perfect storm for the Panthers to continue rising in the NFC as a future power. Take the Panthers -1 ½ and, for good measure, take the over 49. More than likely it could be a last-minute, backdoor over with a meaningless touchdown.