If you are a New York Giants' fan you know that this afternoon's game vs. the Carolina Panthers (1 p.m. ET/FOX) is an absolutely critical one for the Giants. This is not the first time we have brought it up, but no NFL team has made the playoffs after on 0-3 start since the 1998 Buffalo Bills. Even in a weak NFC East an 0-3 start is not a good idea.
Can the Giants get in the win column today? I have maintained since the preseason that this seems like a Giants' team that, in contrast to some Giants' teams of recent vintage, could be much better at the end of the season than it is now.
The Giants have several players rounding into form after preseason injuries. Jason Pierre-Paul, Henry Hynoski and David Baas are among them.
There are many young players being relied on for the first time to play key roles. David Wilson and Da'Rel Scott in the backfield, and we have seen the growing pains there already. Rueben Randle and Jerrel Jernigan at wide receiver. Something that struck me when I reviewed the interceptions thrown by Eli Manning so far this season is that six of the seven were thrown in the direction of those young players. The Giants have a rookie right tackle who is still getting acclimated. Defensively, they have a young group of linebackers and their best cornerback, Prince Amukamara, is a third-year player still establishing himself in the NFL.
The more these players play, and the healthier the Giants' roster gets, the more you have to believe the Giants have a chance to finish the season playing well.
Head coach Tom Coughlin seems to agree with this theory, telling Giants.com this week that he believes the Giants are on an ascending line.
"I think we are. As I looked at (Wednesday’s) practice and I talked to our captains last night after practice, there is a feeling that we are getting a little bit better. Is it drastic, do you see it in huge leaps and bounds? No, that’s not how it works. It works in small increments," Coughlin said. "I’m also very much aware of the opposition week in and week out and the teams that we play. In this league, anybody can beat anybody. So that’s where we find ourselves. Do I feel like we are ascending, do I feel like we are getting better? I do feel like we’re getting better."
For any of that to matter, though, today is a game the Giants need to win. Going 0-3 with a difficult road game vs. the 3-0 Kansas City up next would be a recipe for disaster.
This game, however, sets up nicely for the Giants. What the Giants' offense does best is pass the ball, leading the league at 390.5 yards per game. Manning and Co. should be able to pick on a wounded Panthers secondary this afternoon. The Panthers placed starting safety Charles Gofrey on IR this week. They will be without safety Quinton Mikell (ankle) and cornerbacks Josh Thomas (concussion) and D.J. Moore (knee).
It is hard to imagine the Giants continuing to turn the ball over at the alarming rate they did in the first two games. They have 10 turnovers and are -8 in takeaway/giveaway ratio. If they can protect the ball and get some semblance of running game functioning it's hard to imagine them not putting up a lot of points.
Defensively, the biggest challenge will be handling the running of DeAngelo Williams and quarterback Cam Newton.
The Giants are obviously, an imperfect team. It is, however, hard for me to imagine this team falling to 0-3. I think Eli and Co. get up off the deck today and defeat Carolina.
Prediction: Giants 38, Panthers 27
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