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TSN's Panthers vs. Giants Matchup


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The Warroom picks the Panthers and so does Bahr. Arnie Spanier takes the Giants.

Why To Watch

The Panthers come to the Meadowlands as the wild-card underdog, but that might be in name only. The season could have ended very differently for Carolina, which lost 20-10 to Tampa Bay in Week 14 and surrendered the division tiebreaker. The Panthers got the wild card; the Bucs ended up with the NFC South title and the No. 3 seed in the postseason.

Panthers head coach John Fox is a former Giants defensive coordinator and would like nothing more than to go into Giants Stadium and get a win. He has one of the league's top defensive units, led by defensive ends Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker, and a formidable front four that can pressure the QB. Middle linebacker Dan Morgan is one of the league's top tacklers, and Ken Lucas and Chris Gamble are both shutdown corners with a nose for the ball.

One of the major keys to this game will be how that defense matches up against Giants running back Tiki Barber. Barber has rewritten the Giants' record book this season, and at times he carried the team on his back, rushing for more than 200 yards in three different games. And although the passing attack has been spectacular at times, with contributions from wide receivers Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer and tight end Jeremy Shockey, quarterback Eli Manning has struggled and is facing playoff pressure for the first time. Barber's ability to run the ball and take pressure off Manning will be key.

Carolina has found recent success in the running game as well, as halfback DeShaun Foster started getting more work six weeks ago. His success, including a 165-yard effort in the regular-season finale, has taken pressure off veteran QB Jake Delhomme and opened up opportunities for wide receiver Steve Smith.

The Giants' defense is led by defensive ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, but the unit is suspect in the secondary and has struggled against the run recently, especially with a host of injuries to the linebacker corps.

The difference in this game could be playoff pedigree. Most of this current Panthers team was part of Carolina's run to the Super Bowl two seasons ago and has an understanding of what it takes to win in the playoffs. The Giants haven't been to the postseason since 2002, and many of the players, most notably Manning, will be experiencing the postseason for the first time.

Panthers Keys For Success

1. Hit Manning. Carolina can generate an explosive pass rush with just its front four, allowing the linebackers to stay in coverage. But when the Panthers bring more than four rushers, they must get to Manning. He is not elusive and will expose himself to injury by holding the ball too long in the pocket.

2. Get the ball to Smith. Smith is having an MVP-type year and is the major reason the Panthers are in the playoffs. Look for the Panthers to free him up on cross routes and screens, forcing the defensive backs to cheat up to the line of scrimmage. Delhomme then will be free to hit Smith deep on corner/post routes vs. safeties Brent Alexander and Gibril Wilson, who do not have the speed to stay with Smith.

3. Run off tackle to the right. The Panthers should continue to pound the ball with Foster to take pressure off of Delhomme.

By running the ball to the right side, Foster can get behind one Mike Wahle, one of the league's best pulling guards, and follow him off the blocks of right tackle Jordan Gross and right guard Tutan Reyes.

Giants Keys For Success

1. Tackle soundly. Antonio Pierce, if he plays, and Nick Greisen give the Giants a formidable duo in the linebacker corps. They, along with Reggie Torbor, must do a better job of getting into their gaps and wrapping up and bringing down the ball carrier. Late in the season, they were missing tackles and allowed running backs to break arm tackles. Giants defensive coordinator Tim Lewis must go back to basics and concentrate on getting the whole unit to make form-fitting tackles. Too often, the defender is ducking his head and trying to make leg tackles, which Foster will break right through.

2. Get Barber 30-plus carries. Barber is a workhorse, and he'll need plenty of opportunities against Carolina's solid defense. Barber is patient and has excellent cutback skills. By attacking the outside of the line of scrimmage and then cutting back against vs. Panthers' overpursuing linebackers, Barber can get huge gains, eat up the clock and dictate the tempo of the game.

3. Get the wide receivers involved. Shockey is always a focal point of the Giants' offense, but the Giants will have to get Burress and Toomer involved against the Panthers. Burress and Toomer will have tough matchups vs. cornerbacks Chris Gamble and Ken Lucas, but they need to be used to stretch the field and open running lanes for Barber. The Giants need to take advantage of these matchups by running slants and hitches early, then use their height on fade routes and out routes, especially in the red zone.

The Bottom Line

Delhomme is playoff-tested and understands the intensity of the postseason; Manning is too erratic for the bright lights of the playoffs. The Panthers' defense will throw different looks at the young QB and force him into making mistakes. Smith will light up the Giants' below-average back seven and walk out of New York a winner.

Pick: Panthers 24, Giants 21

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