I've been up and down as to our chances of winning this weekend. Right now the game definitely has me on the edge. But regardless of what my gut is telling me, my brain says either team can win.
I see this game unfolding in two ways. Either its a slug fest turning into a shootout or one team will get an early lead and they will have wished it wasn't flex into prime time. While both teams want to punch each other out with the running game and they way both defenses are capable of playing, I can easily see this turning into a who has the ball last scenario.
Regardless of what path the game takes, here is what I see as the key match-ups the Panthers face on defense to stop the Giants.
Panthers DT vs Giants Brandon Jacobs
While Kemo had limited participation in practice on Friday, I have my doubts about him playing. It is not clear who would start or get the most playing time at that position. Going through the options from the DT or DE, we lose anywhere from 40 to 60 lbs at that spot. Brandon Jacobs loves to plow through the middle and give a beating to whoever awaits him on the other side.
For the Panthers this is a major key to victory. Stop Jacobs and the game become within reach.
Panthers LE Charles Johnson vs Giants RT Kareem McKenzie
Next to whoever plays at DT we'll have Charles Johnson. He's played well this year even though he is technically second string. In his second year Johnson had totaled six sacks. McKenzie is probable for the game but if was to leave or miss the game his backup gave didn't play well against the Cowboys. However, Johnson or Tyler Brayton, for that matter, will have a bigger role since they won't be playing beside the big body Kemo.
If the left side of our defensive line can hold it's own, then the secondary can solely focus on their primary responsibility.
Panthers SS Chris Harris vs 8 in the box
If When the Panthers decide to stuff the box with eight defenders Harris should be called upon as the bigger more physical player. He will be called upon to keep contain when the Giants RB get through our DL and LB. He also can't bite big on play action. While he hasn't forced fumbles as he did last year, it would a good game for one or more from him this week.
Can you tell there is a bit of emphasis on stopping the run. Our secondary has been more consistent in their play, and while they do give up yards, in the end have been able to hold their own. Gamble and Lucas, with Godfrey over the top, should be able to contain Eli and his receivers but only if we are effective in slowing down their running game.
This is a hard game to call. I cannot say we will win this game, but on the other hand it is possible to pull it off. I still wouldn't say we've played a complete game but we do have momentum. John Fox loves December and the playoffs and this is when his teams shine.