Another week, another win. It is insane, and something I never thought I would ever, ever say about the Carolina Panthers (13-0) in Week 14 of any NFL season. Being only three games away from the sensational "perfect season" is utterly surreal. I'm firmly of the belief they will do it. That isn't to say they won't be challenged, and to be honest, the biggest challenge they will face these last three weeks of the season will be the team they face this Sunday.
The New York Giants (6-7) are a strange team. Nobody has blown more leads in the 4th quarter than they have, and they would likely have double digit wins if they had only hung onto leads. That being said, this isn't a slouch of a team. They have a potent offense, and a defense that can be sneaky good when needed. This isn't a bad team, and if they Panthers take them lightly at all, they will make us pay dearly for it. However, we have only done that once this season, in my opinion, and we were able to leave the Bayou with a win.
With that, let's look at this weekend's matchup.
Panthers Passing Offense
The Panthers continue to lay it on their opponents. They haven't slowed down, espcially on offense. A week removed from hanging 41 on the New Orleans Saints, the offense laid 38 down on fellow divisional rival Atlanta Falcons. OC Mike Shula continues to utilize all the pieces he has to utter perfection. It certainly helps when QB Cam Newton and WR Ted Ginn Jr. are both on the same page, and when Ginn can haul in a pass. Dropped receptions aside, the passing offense continues to bomb opposing teams into submission. Luckily, TE Greg Olsen will be playing after suffering what looked to be a serious injury in last week's blowout win. The Panthers will need this side of the offense to shine, given the injuries in the run game. Given how porous the Giants pass defense is, that might not be that big of a problem.
This is not the Steve Spagnolo lead defenses of the past for these Giants. They are dead last in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 308 YPG through the air, nearly a full 30 yards more than the next closest team. They also allow the most first downs though the air in the league, with 191 converted. Needless to say, they are vulnerable. On the pass rush front, the Giants only have 16 sacks on the year, one more than the last place Falcons. To put things in perspective, the Panthers, who rank 3rd in the NFL in sacks, have 40. Despite the return of DE Jason Pierre-Paul and his club arm of death, the Giants are still not able to get to the QB with much frequency. Newton should be able to have plenty of time in the pocket to pick the brittle Giants secondary apart. One would think that a secondary lead by CB's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara would be more efficient in stopping the passing game.
Panthers Rushing Offense
This is where things will get interesting on offense. RB Jonathan Stewart will miss his first game of the season with a sprained foot. HC Ron Rivera decided to keep him out so as to not aggravate the injury further. Hopefully the week off will give him time to heal. On the flip side, this opens the door for a RB by committee for at least this week's game. RB's Fozzy Whittaker, Mike Tolbert, and Cameron Artis-Payne (FINALLY) will get their chance to show what they can do in relief of Stewart. In conjuction with Newton, the run game can hopefully not feel much of a drop off. Although I feel that the loss of Stewart will make things difficult; nobody on this team runs as effectively as Stewart does.
The Giants rush defense is middle of the pack, ranking 16th and allowing 110 YPG. They aren't terrible, but still have obvious holes the Panthers can exploit. Again though, the question will be if the Panthers can sustain a running attack without Stewart. If there is one matchup to watch on offense, it is the Panthers RB committee vs the Giants front seven.
RB Jonathan Stewart (Foot) - Out
WR Brenton Bersin (Groin) - Questionable
QB Cam Newton (Wrist) - Probable
TE Greg Olsen (Knee) - Probable
LB Devon Kennard (Hamstring) - Out
DT Markus Kuhn (Knee) - Questionable
DE George Selvie (Concussion) - Questionable
The Giants are desperate. The lead for the NFC East is as slim as it gets. Despite it being a terrible division, it is still wide open, and the Giants arguably have the best shot at winning it. Losing to the Panthers this week is simply not an option. The Panthers though have even more to play for. Many would think a 13-0 team would be good for just coasting the rest of the way. Fact is, the Panthers still have two major things to play for: homefield advantage in the playoffs and history. The first is important in solidifying their hold on the NFC, to ensure the NFC Championship game would be played in Charlotte if the Panthers advance. But playing for history is an even bigger draw. To be only the third team in NFL history to go undefeated in the regular season would be monumental, and something all of us would cherish. While the Giants have a division to win, we have a conference, a Super Bowl, and history to win. We should be the hungrier team come Sunday afternoon.