KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
TV: FOX (Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston)
PREDICTION: Giants 31-17
KEYS TO THE GAME: Expect a physical game between teams hoping to thrive using a throwback approach. The Giants want to avoid a repeat of a dour 2009 Meadowlands finale. The Panthers looked like an offensive juggernaut in that game -- RB Jonathan Stewart set a franchise rushing record with 206 yards, QB Matt Moore had three touchdown passes and a 139.8 passer rating -- and the Giants couldn't get out of their own way (five turnovers) in a 41-9 thrashing. Tight bump coverage bothered the Giants' receivers last season. RB Ahmad Bradshaw could get the bulk of the playing time over Brandon Jacobs -- both will play -- and as an elusive slasher, he presents a threat to Carolina's overhauled defensive front seven.
FAST FACTS: The Giants are third in the NFL with 47 victories in home openers. ... The Panthers averaged 156.1 rushing yards per game last season and 152.3 in 2008. ... This is the sixth meeting between the teams. The Panthers lead, 3-2.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
The Carolina Panthers were the first NFL team in 14 years to finish the preseason without an offensive touchdown.
But nobody in the Carolina locker room seems to care.
The team's offensive stars shrugged off the notion of a touchdown-less preseason with a shrug of the shoulders on Wednesday.
They firmly believe that once the regular season begins Sunday against the New York Giants, they will simply be able to flick the switch and get things clicking.
"Yeah, I think so," said quarterback Matt Moore. "That's the plan."
Leading receiver Steve Smith, who didn't play at in the preseason, reiterated that by saying, "I think we can. I think we will."
Like Smith, last year's leading rusher Jonathan Stewart didn't play in the preseason, meaning the team was without two of its top skill position players.
Stewart likewise feels the Panthers will be just fine when they get back to what they do best, which is running the football.
"I think it's going to be a whole different show, period," said Stewart, who ran for a franchise-record 206 yards last December in a 41-9 win over the New York Giants. "Like I said, the regular season is totally different than the preseason."
When a reporter asked fellow running back DeAngelo Williams about the team's offensive struggles, he responded with a sarcastic, "In the preseason? You're talking about the preseason? Oh, OK."
So why are the Panthers so optimistic they can turn it around?
Williams said it's largely based around the team winning four of five games down the stretch last season under new quarterback Matt Moore.
"We beat a Vikings team last year with Matt Moore," Williams said. "We beat a New York Giants team with Matt Moore. We came close to beating a New England team. New Orleans Saints, granted they didn't have Drew Brees, but it's hard to get a win in this league. That's what makes me optimistic. I know what he's capable of doing. I know what our wide receivers are capable of doing, and our backfield, O-line and defense are capable of doing."
Even coach John Fox downplayed the team's preseason struggles.
"These are regular season games now and I think in the preseason we spend more time evaluating people and we do our best to pick the right 53 guys," Fox said. "There's not a lot of schemes going on or those type of things.
"We practice every day. There are a lot of things we see in practice you may not see in the preseason games. But we feel just as strongly as we did at the close of last season."
Williams cited the Indianapolis Colts' horrible preseason record -- and spectacular regular season record -- over the past several years.
"Granted, we're different than the Indianapolis Colts, but it's the preseason," Williams said. "I've told a lot of people we're saving all our touchdowns for the regular season. That's pretty much all I have to say about that."
On Dec. 21, 2009, the New York Giants returned "home" for the final time with the hopes of closing the building that bore their name for 34 seasons with a win against the Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers, though, had other ideas. Carolina, who was without their leading rusher, DeAngelo Williams, ran wild against the Giants defense for 247 yards on 46 carries -- the most rushing yards ever given up by the Giants at their former home, which they closed with an embarrassing 41-9 loss.
"That wasn't how we wanted to end our season," said cornerback Terrell Thomas."They just beat us to the ground. Nothing against them, but they ran the ball down our throat and they'll probably try to do the same thing this year."
This year, the Giants say they will be ready as they seek to open their new home, the New Meadowlands Stadium, the right way.
To make sure that they do that, the Giants have renovated their defense, starting with their defensive coordinator. Perry Fewell, who was hired to replace Bill Sheridan. Fewell has several new pieces to work with, including linebacker Keith Bulluck, safety Antrel Rolle, safety Deon Grant, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, defensive tackle Linval Joseph to go with returning veterans like Justin Tuck, Chris Canty, Michael Boley, and Kenny Phillips.
So far, there's reason to be optimistic that the run defense will be stouter. In the preseason, the Giants allowed opponents 392 rushing yards on 118 carries (3.3 yards per carry), with the longest run going for 22 yards.
That preseason showing against the run is something that New York feels it can build on as it moves forward to the regular season. And what better way to test it than against the Panthers, the very same team that gouged them on the ground last year?
"The strength of their offense is their running game," said Bulluck, who is projected to start at strong-side linebacker. "They had two 1,100-yard running backs (DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart), so it's a great test, especially for a team like us who wants to be at the top of the league in defense."
To make sure they are successful in corralling the Panthers' rushing attack, Bulluck and his teammates have been looking at what Carolina has done in the preseason rather than going back and revisiting the tape from last year's debacle.
"Although in the preseason they don't show you the full package, you can still get an idea of what they might do and how they might attack you," Bulluck said.
Regardless of what the Panthers do throw at the Giants' defense from a rushing standpoint, Thomas believes it is all about being physical, something he admitted wasn't always the case for the team last year.
"We're known as a physical team," Thomas said,"and we weren't physical that day. We're going to come out and show the league that this year, we're back to being that physical team we've been known as in the past."
--QB Jimmy Clausen will be the team's No. 2 guy heading into Sunday's game against the Giants.
--G C.J. Davis has been released after reaching an injury settlement with the team.
--LB Jordan Senn (ankle) has not practiced the last two days and is likely to miss this week's game against the Giants.
--RB Tyrell Sutton (shoulder) has not practiced the last two days and is likely to miss this week's game against the Giants.
--RT Jeff Otah (knee) has not practiced the last two days and is likely to miss this week's game against the Giants.
--RT Geoff Schwartz will start this week in place of Jeff Otah. The Panthers were 3-0 last season with Schwartz filling in at right tackle.
--RB Mike Goodson will be the team's third-down back this week with Tyrell Sutton likely on the shelf with a shoulder injury.
--CB Captain Munnerlyn said he will return punts for the Panthers.
--WR Brandon LaFell could get the start this week over Dwayne Jarrett for the Panthers when they open against the Giants.
--Head coach Tom Coughlin said that G/T Shawn Andrews has been doing a good job of picking up the offense so far, as he continues to work himself back into football shape."He's coming, he's coming," Coughlin said."We have lengthened him out each time we've worked him. We feel like he's getting there and he'll have to contribute."
--S Kenny Phillips' comeback from microfracture knee surgery has been progressing so well that the Giants didn't list him on their opening injury report.
Phillips, who has gradually seen his workload increase during the preseason, could be back in the starting lineup for the first time in almost a year.
"The goal is to get him ready to go," said Coughlin, who added that the easing of Phillips back into the flow is over."We're going to see what he does (in practice this week)."
--QB Eli Manning, DE Justin Tuck and LB Chase Blackburn were elected the Giants players as the team's 2010 captains on offense, defense and special teams respectively.
Manning, a former first-round draft pick by San Diego for whom the Giants traded in 2004, has been voted a team captain four consecutive years. Tuck, a former third-round pick in 2005, and Blackburn, a former undrafted free agent who made the team in 2005 as a utility man at linebacker are first-time captains.
In addition to the three season-long captains, head coach Tom Coughlin will name two additional game captains on a weekly basis.
--The Giants made a couple of changes to their practice squad. They terminated the contracts of S Sha'reff Rashad and CB Seth Williams, and replaced them with CBs Brandon Hughes and Brian Jackson.
Hughes is a 2009 fifth-round draft pick of the Chargers; Jackson was a 2010 rookie free agent who was in camp this year with the Jets.
--CB Aaron Ross (foot) remained limited in practice, though head coach Tom Coughlin said that the cornerback did a little bit more in practice today "He moved a little better (and) played some scrimmage," said Coughlin. "He warmed up well and moved around pretty well."
Coughlin, however, stopped short of saying that Ross has shown him enough to ease any concerns about being inserted into the lineup on Sunday. "I would wait on that. I'm not ready to say that," Coughlin said.
--RB Ahmad Bradshaw, the new starting running back, said there is no animosity between him and former starter Brandon Jacobs, whose locker is adjacent to Bradshaw's. "It's no problem," Bradshaw said. "This is what I play the game for. I want to take pride in being the starter and whatever I can do for this team."
Despite being named the starter, Bradshaw said that he really doesn't expect his role in the offense to change that much. "I think I may get more touches just being the starter. Regardless of who's in there, we still have the same responsibilities."
--C Shaun O'Hara (ankle/Achilles) and LB Gerris Wilkinson (groin) both of whom were limited in Wednesday's practice, were able to take a full workload on Thursday.
--LB Phillip Dillard (hamstring) was the only Giant to not participate in Thursday's practice.
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