Panthers vs. Giants overview

For just the third time ever, the Carolina Panthers are in the playoffs. They will travel to New Jersey to take on the New York Giants in Giants Stadium at 1:00 pm, which will air on FOX TV and will be hosted by Joe Buck and former Dallas Cowboys QB Troy Aikman. Chris Meyers and Pam Oliver will serve as the sideline reporters. Although this week is the first "official" week of the playoffs, the Panthers have been in playoff mode for at least two weeks now.

"As far as we are concerned the playoffs started last week in Atlanta and it was a very gratifying win in a stadium that had not been too kind to us," Head Coach John Fox said earlier in the week. "We know what kind of effort it takes to win in the playoffs and we have to combine that with good execution if we are to compete against a very good New York Giants football team."

The Giants come into the game ranked fourth in total offense, but 24th in total defense. The Giants pass defense has been the team's Achilles heal, giving up an average of 224 yards per game, which ranks 27th in the league. However, stats can be deceiving, as the Giants have a pair of pass-rushing bookends that have 26 sacks between them. Osi Umenyiora has 14.5, while Michael Strahan has tallied 11.5 on the other side. They will form perhaps the most formidable threat this weekend to the Panthers' chance of victory.

"If you look at their defense, it's Umenyiora on one side and Strahan on the other side," said Panthers QB Jake Delhomme. "Those two guys can really rush the passer and play the run well. Strahan has done it year in and year out. The young kid (Umenyiora) is doing the same thing. They're quick and they can really rush the passer. They'll give you multiple fronts, looks, and coverages, so you just have to try to be exact in what you do."

If the Panthers offensive line can give Delhomme time to find Pro-Bowl WR Steve Smith and get him the ball, Carolina stands a good chance of continuing on next week in either Chicago or Seattle.

"I'm excited whenever we can get the ball in Steve (Smith)'s hands," said Delhomme. "In that Redskins game, there were a lot of great individual efforts by (wide receiver) Santana Moss. I look at their defense and I'd like to get one-on-one opportunities for Smitty, but you don't know when they're going to happen. You just have to be ready at all times, because they give you so many different looks."

However, on the other side of the line the Giants' RB Tiki Barber is just as dynamic as Smith, and is one of the best in the league. Stopping Barber will be the #1 goal for the Panthers defense.

"He's a smart, tough guy," Fox said of Barber. "Those are two words I try to use for the type of personnel we try to get here and at that time tried to get there. Most guys tend to improve. They are tough enough to do the things it takes to develop the skills when they have talent, and you don't draft them unless they have talent, and they are smart enough to do it, too. Tiki was a very young player, but I saw him grow in my time there. I was there in '97 when we drafted him and then was there for five years. I saw him grow quite a bit in that time. Our Super Bowl year, we had what they called "Thunder and Lightning" with he and Ron Dayne, and Tiki proved that he was not just a third-down back then and I think he has proved that ever since."

Indeed he has. Barber averaged 5.2 yards per carry each game this season, and finished just 20 yards behind league-leader and NFL MVP Shaun Alexander in total rushing yards this season with 1,860.

The Panthers have proven they can shut-down high-powered rushing offenses, like last week in Atlanta, but have also shown that they can also be run upon, like the week before against the Cowboys.

Is this the team that owned the Atlanta Falcons this season, outscoring them 68-17, including a franchise-best 33 point win this week?

Or is this the team that gave up over 200 yards rushing to the Dallas Cowboys the week before, deflating their hopes for a division championship?

Panther fans are left wondering if the team really deserves to be there.

We'll all find out on Sunday.

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