Kemoeatu out? Jacobs in?

The Carolina Panthers and New York Giants appear to be headed in different directions. The Panthers are clicking on all cylinders, while the Giants are stumbling down the stretch having lost their past two games. But all of that won't matter on Sunday night when the two 11-3 teams meet at Giants Stadium in a game that will determine the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.

The winner clinches home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Panthers are desperate to win this one, knowing they've been unbeatable at Bank of America Stadium where they are 8-0 this season and have outscored their opponents 234-111.

"We've got a very, very tough challenge ahead of us going to their place, to the defending world champions' house," coach John Fox said. "Right now, that's about all we need to focus on."

To upend the Giants, the Panthers will rely on their 1-2 punch of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, a duo that has been nothing short of sensational the last seven games.

Williams, in particular, has really stepped up his game.

Fox said he also thinks Williams has grown more comfortable under second-year offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson.

"He was a young player and the whole system was new to him as it was to our whole offense," Fox said. "I think Jeff Davidson has done a fantastic job. Like any system, it takes a while to get used to.

"Whatever business you're in, that first year is usually the toughest. So it usually gets better and more comfortable after that. A lot of that -- mentally, maturation, there are all kinds of words -- but he got better only through hard work, and it's a tribute to his work ethic."

The biggest concern for the Panthers might be on the other side of the ball.

If there's ever a game the Carolina Panthers need 345-pound defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu, it's this one. Unfortunately for the Panthers, it doesn't appear they will have him because of an ankle injury.

Kemoeatu's primary job has been to occupy blockers and free up other Panthers to make tackles and stop the run on first and second down.

Kemoeatu has not missed a game since coming to Carolina in 2006 and has missed only three in his seven-year NFL career. But he wasn't at practice on Wednesday, and earlier in the week he was seen by reporters with a boot on his foot and walking with the aid of crutches.

Although coach John Fox wouldn't give any specifics on his status for Sunday night, Kemoeatu's teammates were already talking about being without the big man in the middle.

"We're going to miss him, but I guess that's what backups are for," said defensive end Charles Johnson. "If somebody goes down, you've got to have people step up. I know we have good backups, and I know they're able to step in and do a good job."

Either Darwin Walker or Gary Gibson would likely start in Kemoeatu's place, but neither has the bulk Kemoeatu does. Walker weighs in at 294 pounds, while Gibson is 285.

Johnson said he expects to see some action inside as well. He moved over to tackle this past Sunday against Denver after Kemoeatu went out with an ankle injury.

"Probably so, probably on third-and-long I'll get in there and rush the passer," Johnson said.

Tyler Brayton could also line up some at defensive tackle.

"Maake's a very important part of this defensive line," Johnson said. "He's a big boy, and he holds that middle down, and gets deep penetration in the middle. We're going to miss him, but you know, that's why we we've got backups."

Said Fox: "Injuries are a part of the game. People around the league deal with it every week; the Giants have had to deal with it; we've had to deal with it. We've got guys on the team we feel good about that have played a lot of football all season long. It's not like Maake or anybody out there plays every play. We've got guys out there that have made great contributions and we'll expect the same thing this week against New York."

The Giants come into the game averaging a league-best 148.7 rushing yards per game and have 16 rushing touchdowns. To make matters worse for Carolina, the Giants are expected to get bruising running back Brandon Jacobs back from a knee injury.

"You look at Jacobs' stats, and they're scary," middle linebacker Jon Beason said. "He's got 1,000 yards on 195 carries. So he's a big part of their offense, so getting him back, they're going to be looking to get this win."

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