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Giants-Panthers: 5 storylines to follow

A few things to look to forward to as the Giants host Carolina in their home opener

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Carolina Panthers
kem Ekwonu
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The 1-0 New York Giants play their home opener Sunday at MetLife Stadium against the 0-1 Carolina Panthers. The Giants are a 2.5-point favorite, according to our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook.

Dealing with success

The Giants are 1-0 for the first time since 2016. The hype train is hurtling along at full speed. The Giants will be home at MetLife Stadium on Sunday for the first time in the Brian Daboll era, and the atmosphere at kickoff is likely to be raucous. The Giants are the betting favorite, something that has not happened often in recent years.

Will it stay that way?

This is a winnable game for the Giants. It is also a winnable game for Carolina. It is really a game between evenly-matched teams that could go either way.

Will the Giants be able to carry the momentum of their victory over Tennessee into Sunday, and leave the MetLife faithful happy? Or, will Giants fans — as they have too many times in recent years — be scurrying for the exit before the game is over?

Ickey and Evan

With the fifth overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, and all three of the top-tier offensive tackles remaining on the board, Giants’ GM Joe Schoen selected edge defender Kayvon Thibodeaux. Sitting with pick No. 7, Schoen knew he would have two of the three offensive tackles between Evan Neal, Ikem Ekwonu and Charles Cross to pick from at No. 7.

The Giants ended up with Neal because, as Schoen said, “Ickey was gone at six.”

Carolina had the sixth pick and chose Ekwonu, who is now their starting left tackle. Neal, of course, is the Giants’ starting right tackle. It is going to be interesting to watch these two talented young offensive linemen on Sunday.

Ekwonu gave up two sacks and two hurries, compiling a 17.9 Pro Football Focus pass blocking grade Sunday to go with an overall 41.2 score. Not good. Of course, he was generally matched up with Myles Garrett, so there is a reason for that.

Neal had a similar 40.1 overall score. His struggle was run blocking, where PFF gave him a 29.8 grade.

Being a rookie tackle in the NFL out an island against great players is not an easy life. How these two players fare on Sunday will be one of the fun sub-plots.

Mac is back!

Hey, we get to see Ben McAdoo with a big old laminated play card stuck in front of his face on Sunday at MetLife.

McAdoo is piecing his NFL coaching career back together after his tenure as Giants head coach ended when he was fired with four games remaining in the 2017 season. After two years out of the league, McAdoo was quarterbacks coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2020, a consultant for the Dallas Cowboys last season and now is offensive coordinator for Carolina.

Even if he got the gig partially because other candidates may not have wanted to hitch their wagon to a potential lame-duck head coach in Matt Rhule, getting back to the coordinator level is a big step for McAdoo.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Carolina Panthers
Ben McAdoo
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

In or out?

Thibodeaux (MCL) and Azeez Ojulari (calf) did not play against Tennessee. Rookie safety Dane Belton (clavicle) also missed Week 1. Rookie second-round pick Wan’Dale Robinson left after nine snaps with a knee injury of unknown severity.

Will any of them play against Carolina? Jihad Ward and Oshane Ximines did an excellent job on the edge against the Titans, but neither can bring the potential overall impact of Thibodeaux or Ojulari. Robinson is a big part of the offense the Giants are building. Richie James had a nice game against Tennessee, and Kadarius Toney should see his workload increase, but Robinson would be missed if he is out for a while. Without Belton, veteran safety Tony Jefferson was elevated from the practice squad.

Matching up with McCaffrey

The Giants gave up a pair of touchdown passes to a running back last Sunday, as Tennessee’s Dontrell Hilliard beat linebackers Austin Calitro and Tae Crowder for scores.

Sunday, the Giants face one of the best pass receiving backs, maybe the best pass receiving back, in the NFL in Christian McCaffrey.

The Carolina back has not been healthy the past two seasons -- a lot like the Giants Saquon Barkley — but he had 107 and 116 receptions in 2018 and 2019, with 1,005 receiving yards in an All-Pro 2019 season.

McAdoo and the Panthers are sure to try and exploit the defensive weakness Tennessee exposed in Week 1. Does defensive coordinator Wink Martindale have an answer?