The Last Word: Panthers vs. Giants

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Bryan Strickland

Offensive key: It's been a sluggish start for the Giants but not because of their defense - a unit that Panthers quarterback Cam Newton called the toughest one Carolina has faced to date. The unit has been good and has the ability to be even better with an elite run stopper in the middle (Damon Harrison), an elite linebacker acquired via trade (Alec Ogletree) and multiple notable playmakers in the secondary (Landon Collins, Janoris Jenkins). What the group hasn't done yet is create turnovers: Just one team has fewer than the Giants' three takeaways, while just one team has fewer turnovers than the Panthers' two. Turnover differential isn't the sexiest of stats but few are as important, and the offense needs to keep those early-season trends going if Carolina is to extend a seven-game home winning streak that dates to last October.

Defensive key: On paper, the Giants appear to have a formula for success - a dangerous running back in Saquon Barkley that requires multiple layers of attention from the defense, an all-world wide receiver in Odell Beckham Jr. that also requires extra attention and a two-time Super Bowl champion under center in Eli Manning. But New York's offensive line hasn't consistently set up its playmakers for success. Manning has been sacked 15 times (fifth most in the league despite often using Barkley as a safety valve), and the Giants' 18.6 points per game are fourth lowest. The Giants haven't scored 30 points since the final game of the 2015 season and haven't reached 20 in three of four games this season. New York's offense will break out at some point, but containing Barkley and pressuring Manning is Carolina's simple but proven formula for making sure this isn't the week the Giants awaken.

Gutsy guess: Last game I predicted the Panthers would put up 30 points for the first time on the young season and beat the Bengals 34-23; they responded with a 31-21 victory. It would be gutsy but also reckless to suggest that the Giants' streak of 36 consecutive games under 30 will end Sunday. Instead I'll predict something the Panthers defense will accomplish while keeping the Giants under wraps: Julius Peppers will record his first sack of the season and Dontari Poe will record his first sack as a Panther.

Bill Voth

Offensive key: I'd love to keep banging the drum for the need to establish a vertical game, but this week is pretty straightforward. The Panthers rank first in rushing yards. The Giants rank 29th in rushing yards allowed. So there's no need to get all that cute. Norv Turner may throw in a wrinkle here and there, but he's a guy that likes to keep doing something until the defense stops it. Simple stats show that whether it's Christian McCaffrey, C.J. Anderson or Cam Newton, the Panthers should be able to run. And run. And run.

Defensive key: A ton of time in the weight room has given Barkley a frame that allows him to get ridiculously low behind the line of scrimmage. That often makes it tough for defenders to see where he is and which hole he plans to hit. So like in Week 1 against Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott, the Panthers have to stay disciplined in their gaps and get multiple guys to Barkley after first contact. Carolina's run defense has been relatively leaky, ranking 28th in rushing yards allowed per attempt, but safety Eric Reid should help improve that number.

Gutsy guess: Reid will pay immediate dividends, finishing behind only Luke Kuechly for the team lead in tackles. The newest Panther will also force a fumble that will be recovered by fellow former LSU Tiger Donte Jackson.

Max Henson

Offensive key: Running backs always love to feel like they're in a rhythm, so McCaffrey probably wasn't thrilled the bye week came right after the best game of his young career. The Panthers need to see if he's still got the hot hand after a week off. Get McCaffrey going early, and it could be another big day against a Giants defense that's giving up 129.0 yards per game on the ground, fourth most in the league.

Defensive key: Newton hasn't exactly been lighting up defenses with deep shots down the field, but it's Manning whose earning the nickname "Captain Checkdown" through the first quarter of the season. The Giants quarterback has come under criticism after being held to just 6.2 yards per attempt in last week's loss to the Saints (only two of his passes traveled more than 20 yards in the air). Here's the deal for the Panthers: Manning and the Giants surely want to shut people up and connect on some deeper throws, so be on the lookout for that. And if Manning's quick passes continue, Carolina has to tackle extremely well. Beckham, Barkley and Sterling Shepard are all capable of turning short throws into big plays with their yards-after-catch ability.

Gutsy guess: Wide receiver Curtis Samuel, who is set make his 2018 debut Sunday, has never had more than 45 receiving yards in a single game. He's full of big play potential, and I say he sets a new career-high mark against the Giants.

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