And the whole world knows it’s the biggest game on the schedule; NBC, who initially had the San Diego Chargers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the night-cap, used its flex powers to feature the game that will decide home field throughout the playoffs in the NFC.
This game has the look of a low scoring affair. And it won’t just be because of the ferocious defenses that the offenses will have to contend with; early weather projections signal that the temperature will be in the teens at game time, with 20 mph winds and wind chills around zero. So don’t bet the over (37.5).
When the red-hot Panthers have the ball, we see them sticking with the winning formula that has propelled them to their 11-3 record: running the ball. DeAngelo Williams has exploded into one of the NFL’s finest runners this season and his back-up, 1st round pick Jonathan Stewart, is a talent himself.
But it won’t be easy. The Giants will have all hands on deck (defensively) and are extremely tough to run against when that is the case. With Fred Robbins back in the middle, to go along with Justin Tuck and Co., the Giants should be stout, but they will need Antonio Pierce to get out of his two week long funk and start making plays.
Jake Delhomme won’t do much in the passing game because it’s highly doubtful that the conditions will allow him to do so, but there will be some opportunities for plays if he can break containment and hit some receivers on the run, primarily WR Steve Smith, who’s as dangerous as they come.
When the Giants have the ball offensively, we see them following suit and committing to the running game which should have 270-pound RB Brandon Jacobs back and healthy. A heavy dose of Earth, Wind and Fire should soften up the Panthers’ front seven and create a few opportunities in the passing game.
And when the Giants do pass it, look for them to alter their previous game plans and incorporate more quick passes/slants to compensate for the loss of Plaxico Burress. It’s not wise to continue to run the same plays if the guy you designed them for isn’t there.
And because of the short game — run and quick passes — there should be one or two opportunities to take a shot down the field and they’ll need to capitalize on those situations when they occur, just like Tampa Bay did two weeks ago when Garcia torched this defense with the long ball.
All factors included, this football game will be tight. If Gilbride abandons the running game early and begins to wing it with Eli, the Giants won’t win. The wind is like Kryptonite to Manning as his worst performances have come in it.
But if Gilbride sticks to the run, look for the Giants to put their two-game losing streak behind them because this is their first true desperate game of the season, and the desperate team usually wins.
Also, while the Panthers are 8-0 at home, they’re just 3-3 on the road and have been thoroughly beaten in their past two road games: 45-28 to the Falcons and 27-3 to the Buccaneers. And this season, the Meadowlands has been kind to the Giants who have won six out of their seven games there.
So look for the Giants to move to 12-3 and solidify home field throughout, allowing them to rest some of their banged up players for the playoffs, while the Panthers will move to 11-4 and be one win away from the No. 2 seed, and a first round bye.