The Super Bowl champions head to Charlotte with a depleted roster.
Two NFC teams will be looking to sustain their Week 2 momentum when the Carolina Panthers host the New York Giants tonight at 8:20pm EST on the NFL Network. The defending champions lost to the Cowboys in the season-opener and were down two touchdowns against the Buccaneers, but then Eli Manning rallied the G-men for 25 fourth-quarter points and a victory. The Panthers had a rough showing at Tampa Bay in Week 1, but then bounced back at home with a 35-27 victory over the Saints last Sunday. This quarterback matchup is a special one, with former top picks Manning and Cam Newton trying to lead their respective squads to a 2-1 start.
When the New York Giants have the ball:
Who is going to play? The quick turnaround this week is not doing the Giants any favors, as star wideout Hakeem Nicks, running back Ahmad Bradshaw, right tackle David Diehl and backup receiver Domenik Hixon are out for this game. Manning will still have Victor Cruz and tight end Martellus Bennett as top targets, but New York’s depth will be tested. Many football pundits believed first-round pick David Wilson would back up Bradshaw this season, but fourth-year journeyman Andre Brown got the call against the Bucs and gained 71 yards on 13 carries.
The Panthers defense gave up 325 passing yards to Drew Brees last week, but also intercepted him twice. That will be the goal against Manning, who threw three picks last week before rallying his team with 295 second-half passing yards. The Panthers gave up 163 yards on the ground last week, and that number must decrease tonight with both Bradshaw and Diehl out. Expect Cruz to get the most attention from the Carolina defenders.
When the Carolina Panthers have the ball:
We know it all starts with Newton, who has thrown for 556 yards in two games and leads the club in rushing. He should find success tonight attacking the Giants secondary. Top receiver Steve Smith has two 100-yard efforts on the year, and Carolina fans have to be excited by the continued production of Brandon LaFell (155 yards and a score in 2012). If the Panthers can mix in some production from runners DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, they should score plenty of points against New York.
The Giants defense has been fairly pedestrian so far, giving up a ton of yards in the Cowboys loss and several big pass plays versus Tampa Bay. Newton definitely presents a challenge with his run threat, as well as a big arm. New York could load the box to try and stop the Carolina run game (219 yards in last week’s win over the Saints), but the banged-up Giants secondary could struggle without support. The Panthers receiving tandem of Smith and LaFell consistently puts up solid numbers, so New York will need improved play on the back end.
This primetime contest should come down to turnovers and the run game. Manning and Newton have thrown some early picks this season, but both quarterbacks should have big nights through the air. The team that protects the ball and gets a little help from the ground game should prevail. In a Thursday night thriller, I’ll take Carolina at home over an ailing New York team.
Panthers 27 Giants 24
---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)