THE SCOUTING REPORT: PANTHERS vs. GIANTS
WHAT: Carolina Panthers (0-0) vs. Giants (0-0)
WHEN: Sunday, 1 p.m. at the New Meadowlands Stadium.
SERIES RECORD: The Panthers lead the series 3-2, and are 1-0 against the Giants in the postseason.
LAST MEETING: Dec. 27, 2009. Giants fans aren't likely to forget this one too quickly. The Giants closed out their Giants Stadium era with this one with a 41-9 loss, one of the worst setbacks in franchise history because of a decided lack of effort with a playoff spot still within their grasp. The Panthers rushed for 247 yards, the most ever against the Giants in their 34-year tenure at the stadium. Jonathan Stewart's 206 yards was the third-highest individual rushing allowance in the defense's history, and the Panthers' leading rusher, DeAngelo Williams, didn't even play because of an ankle sprain. Matt Moore threw for three touchdowns, and the Panthers were 10 of 15 on third downs. The only real damage inflicted on the Panthers was receiver Steve Smith's broken arm, inflicted by safety Michael Johnson on the touchdown reception that put the Panthers up 31-0.
INJURIES: Giants -- LB Phillips Dillard (hamstring) is out. CB Aaron Ross (foot)is doubtful. LB Gerris Wilkinson (groin) is questionable. LB Chase Blackburn (knee), DT Chris Canty (groin), C Shaun O'Hara (Achilles and ankle), and CB Corey Webster (groin) are probable.
WHY THE GIANTS WILL WIN: The gang is all together again. Well, at least the starters are. CB Aaron Ross probably won't make it because of his plantar fasciitis, but starting CBs Corey Webster and Terrell Thomas are over their injuries enough to handle the outside receivers, including Steve Smith, effectively. The defensive line, which will be a multiple front unit which at times will feature three defensive tackles or three defensive ends at the same time, has looked good over the summer. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said fans probably saw just 10 to 20 percent of the defensive playbook in the preseason, so expect a lot of surprise personnel matchups and positional nuances like DE Osi Umenyiora standing up as a linebacker and DT Barry Cofield playing outside at end. The three main pass rushers remain Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, and Mathias Kiwanuka. All will play in steady rotation, and sometimes at the same time. The Panthers were the first team in 14 years to finish the preseason without an offensive touchdown. Antrel Rolle has proven himself a playmaking safety and could be quarterback Matt Moore's No. 1 terror. It's a question of how far the coaches will let Kenny Phillips go after gradually working himself up to 21 snaps in the preseason finale. He could come out early for Deon Grant if his micro-fracture surgery-repaired left knee gets tired. Offensively, the Giants go in loaded at wide receiver and should be able to hit the Panthers' secondary quickly with Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks. A little quick-strike scoring early in the game would set a positive tone, especially with Ahmad Bradshaw running and cutting through the tough defensive line. Having newly-acquired Darius Reynaud back on punt returns will help with the field position battle, but DJ Ware must get the ball out beyond the 20 consistently on kickoffs.
WHY THE GIANTS WILL LOSE: All that about the Panthers not scoring an offensive touchdown? A lot of that is because neither Steve Smith nor Stewart played. That won't be the case Sunday. Smith is one of the most dangerous receivers in the league, having caught 65 passes for 982 yards and seven touchdowns last year. And Stewart's rushing total from that Giants game set a record. Both Williams and Stewart, the only pair of running backs in NFL history to each have over 1,100 yards the same year, will be active and moving, so the suspect corps of linebackers will have to be working overtime. If either one or, heaven forbid, both get going, it could be over quickly. QB Matt Moore has a load of confidence coming in after winning four of five games down the stretch last year after taking over for Jake Delhomme. Tight end Jeff King will be a good, short-range target for Moore, which will be bad news if LBs Keith Bulluck, Jonathan Goff, and Michael Boley reprise last year's issues with covering tight ends and running backs. Look for the Giants to go a lot of three-safety looks with Rolle, Phillips, and Grant, with Goff coming off the field in passing situations. But if the Panthers get their run-first philosophy going early, Moore won't be passing much at all.
PREDICTION: It's a sure bet that the Panthers won't run away with this one like last year's encounter. The Giants won't let that happen in the first game at the new stadium. As to winning it, that's another story. A lot of the Giants' roster missed valuable training camp and preseason time with injuries, so it's a question of how quickly units like the offensive line and the secondary can congeal. We'll go the optimistic route this week, though. Giants 27-17.