As we look ahead to the first game of the week, the question to ask is the same every week – what’s the outlook for Thursday? This week it’s the New York Giants on the road to Bank of America Stadium to face the Carolina Panthers. Here’s the tale of the tape:
New York Giants 1-1
Injuries: With the relatively short week, the Giants have taken a conservative approach to their injury status this week and chosen to rest a couple of players who are carrying niggling injuries. The primary player in this case is WR Hakeem Nicks who has been playing whilst still recovering from a foot injury that occurred back in May. With less time than usual to recover, it was deemed better that Nicks be held out than to risk aggravating his injury. Also unable to play due to the short week is WR Dominik Hixon who did not have the full opportunity to pass concussion tests in the time available and thus is an automatic omission from the team whether he is healthy or not. OL David Diehl was another who was a victim of the short week as the sprain to his medial cruciate ligament or MCL was not the most severe and could have played with an extra day or two of rest. The other player being left out for this match who was directly effected by the shortness of the week is rookie DE Adewale Ojomo who had returned to practice on Tuesday in recovery from his hamstring injury but ran out of time to make the flight to Carolina. Finally, RB Ahmad Bradshaw’s sprained neck sustained last weekend will keep him out this week and could also keep him out the following week.
Of those players on the injury report who have made it to Carolina, the only one at that point who may not play is CB Michael Coe who is continuing to rehab from a hamstring injury sustained in the opening game against the Cowboys. Despite having said he is still in pain, it is expected that 2011 first round pick CB Prince Amukamara is set to make his 2012 debut. The talented but oft-injured corner is desperately needed as the Giants secondary is woefully thin and so it could be interpreted that his return from a high ankle sprain suffered in the preseason may be a rush job of sorts so this is still a situation to keep a close eye on. Veteran LB Keith Rivers is also expected to play as returned to full practice Wednesday and RB Da’Rel Scott also participated in full practice and is expected to be available and possibly play a large role in the absence of Bradshaw.
Three Keys To Victory: First and foremost for the Giants is the need for their secondary to step up. Panthers QB Cam newton is best known for his rushing ability but he also has a terrific arm and the Giants have been getting torched so far this season. While many this week will focus on the spot taken by the returning Amukamara and rookie Jayron Hosley, for me the most important spot in the secondary will be that of starter Corey Webster who has looked decidedly awful in the first two games. While we can expect the combination of Hosley and Amukamara to have issues, if Webster cannot improve his play this week then this narrows the margin of error for a Giants victory significantly.
Second of all is the offensive line and their failure to open holes so far this season. With David Diehl missing from this game, the Giants will have eight offensive linemen at most dress for today’s game and their lack of depth is showing. Redskins cast-off Sean Locklear is a prime example of this as he will be starting at right tackle when he is barely at the level of a standard NFL backup. This unit has had some issues with pass blocking but the biggest worry here is the inability to open holes for the running game as while backup RB Andre Brown had a good day last week it had very little to do with any good play from his offensive line.
Finally, I wish to focus on the MLB position as a crucial part of the Giants ability to win. One of the most notable needs for New York is the need to keep Cam Newton’s legs in check. The responsibility of managing this will largely stand on the shoulders of MLB Chase Blackburn who will need to read the plays of the Carolina offense and monitor the movements of Newton to try and contain the mobile QB. If there is one thing we see every week it is that when Cam Newton is free to run he tends to have a good day overall and as such if you can stop his running game you are more likely to put him off his game through the air and force extra mistakes.
Fantasy: After his remarkable 510 yard effort in week 2, Eli manning has been elevated back into the top starter picture but these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt – the Buccaneers defense isn’t all that good and we have seen before big games like this just as often as we have seen poor outings such as we saw week 1 against the Cowboys. Losing Nicks doesn’t help matters either although Manning has had to deal without his most trusted receiver before.
Speaking of Nicks absence, this should mean more opportunity for WR Victor Cruz who is a must-start for fantasy this week. The more pertinent question for fantasy owners is who might pick up the slack in the receiving corps. TE Martellus Bennett seems most likely although he is hard to trust given his butter fingers. Many have suggested Ramses Barden or perhaps rookie Reuben Randle could step up. To be honest, I don’t think this is an area for fantasy owners to speculate as we just don’t know enough. If you choose to gamble on one of these bit players, know that you are playing with fire and there is a good chance that none of them plays to the level required to make them startable in any league.
The running game is also a potential gold mine for fantasy owners but one that also has it’s risks. There has been a massive amount of interest this week in Andre Brown as the potential starter for the Giants – in one league I saw an owner bid around 90% of his FAAB budget on Brown. One thing I will say is that while I am a big fan of Brown myself I am not going to dismiss the talent of Da’Rel Scott who is coming back from a knee injury and could be thrust into a heavy workload straight away. I would also point out that while rookie David Wilson does need a lot more time to improve he is still a tangible threat and the Giants could use this game as an opportunity to break him in a little and let him take his licks. My advise – if you must invest then invest in Brown but don’t be surprised if there isn’t much to be gleaned from this situation.
Carolina Panthers 1-1
Injuries: There is only one confirmed omission from the Panthers starting lineup at this point with OG Mike Pollak out with a shoulder injury. Of those with the questionable tag, it appears that OT Byron Bell and RB Jonathan Stewart will be game-time decisions at this point. In the case of Stewart, his playing time is likely to be limited whether he plays on not given that the toe injury he got in week 2 was on the same foot as the preseason injury that kept him sidelined in week 1. The other notable thing with Stewart is that he didn’t practice at all this week and if this follows true to form he is unlikely to play given he was held out in week 1 under the same circumstances. Byron Bell may yet play although head coach Ron Rivera did outline his options should Bell miss the game so his status is uncertain at best.
LB Thomas Davis is also listed as questionable with his hamstring injury this week but Rivera said he expects Davis to play. Special teams safety Colin James is also questionable with his shoulder niggle but is also likely to suit up despite not practising till Wednesday. Of those listed as probable, LB Jon Beason was the only one limited in practice this week but he is expected to play. All others – C Ryan Kalil and WRs Steve Smith and Kealoha Pilares – practised fully and will be available as per normal.
Three Keys To Victory: Interestingly my most crucial spot for Carolina to play best is the same as New York – this secondary needs to play better after getting shown up by Drew Brees last week. Yes, that was Drew Brees but this is Eli Manning who threw for 510 yards last week. Coastal Carolina rookie Josh Norman has been a pleasant surprise so far as he’s almost beaten out incumbent CB Captain Mannerlyn by literally outplaying him so far this season and he will need to play well this week given Eli’s propensity for throwing his receivers open. Chris Gamble will have his hands full just tracking Victor Cruz in what should be a good matchup all day.
Second is the running game that needs to put pressure on the centre of the Giants defensive line to help free up Cam Newton for greater success on quarterback plays. In week 1 the Panthers were miserable on the ground and Cam Newton had major issues as a result. While last week was a marked improvement, this will need to continue and do so possibly without Jonathan Stewart who was an obvious reason for the improvement shown in week 2.
Third but not least of all is the ability of the wide receiving corps to take advantage of the Giants struggles in the secondary. Steve Smith has continued to show why he’s one of the best small WRs the NFL has seen this century but the emergence of Brandon LaFell has given Cam Newton a much needed reliable second option. This game could easily wind up as a shoot-out and the Panthers need to take whatever chances they can to seize points given Eli Manning’s ability to defeat adversity as shown in last week’s amazing performance against the same Bucs team that the Panthers couldn’t put down in week 1.
Fantasy: Cam Newton is the clear-cut #1 player in fantasy for me this week given the soft Giants secondary but what does this mean for his receivers? For Steve Smith, this means the top WR spot this week as I don’t think the Giants will be able to contain him. I also have his partner Brandon LaFell in the top 20 as well given his play to date as I expect more of the same. As for the RBs, it is hard to trust them any week and I wouldn’t trust them this week either. Stewart probably won’t start but even if he does his snap count will be limited. Then there are DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert – let’s just say it’ll be a while before I’ll just forget the way they stunk up the joint against the Bucs and I would only start either one in 16 team or deeper leagues.
Betting Odds: The current line has the Giants as 2-2.5 point favorites depending on who you bet with and while this may not seem like much the Panthers are notorious for not covering spreads in September. I’m going to suggest taking the Panthers with the points but this game feels like a stay-away given it’s likely to be high octane offense on both sides.
Final Score: This one is very tough to predict but I’m going to take the home-team Carolina Panthers 38-36 in one of the most entertaining games offensively all year.
So what will be the Outlook for Thursday? Your guess as good as mine!