In order to stay in hot pursuit of the ever-tightening NFC East race, the New York Giants (6-7) will have to do what no other NFL’s accomplished all season. Contain MVP frontrunner and quarterback Cam Newton and beat the perfect Carolina Panthers (13-0).
Knotted in first with Philadelphia and Washington atop the division standings ahead of Sunday afternoon’s potentially season-altering matchup at MetLife Stadium, the Giants and quarterback Eli Manning are coming off a huge 31-24 road victory over Miami that kept them in contention for the postseason.
The victory allowed New York to keep pace with the Eagles and Redskins, but another over Carolina would bolster the Giants hopes of returning to the postseason on several fronts. For one, after dropping many fourth-quarter leads the Giants could use a confidence-building win against what many consider to be not only the NFC’s best squad but potentially the team to beat for the Super Bowl.
Furthermore, should the NFC East come down to tiebreakers, New York is in need of help. The Giants need to bolster their 4-5 conference mark and 3-4 record with common opponents in order to put pressure on Philadelphia and Washington before they head to Minnesota for Week 16 and wrap up the regular season back home against the Eagles.
However, Las Vegas book makers have tagged the red-hot Panthers as 5.5-point road favorites largely due to their dominance of the entire league and to New York’s 3-3 home record this season. In fact, three of New York’s five squandered fourth-quarter leads have come at home this year.
And the Giants have yet to face Newton and the Panthers relentless league-best attack. Carolina continued its run towards an undefeated regular season by pummeling NFC South rival Atlanta 38-0 behind Newton’s three touchdown passes and a combined 142 total rushing yards.
The 26-year-old has already exceeded his career-best with 28 touchdown passes and a 96.9 passer rating, and his seven rushing scores are his highest total in the last two seasons.
The lopsided victory rocketed Carolina to No. 1 in the NFL with 31.6 points per game, and it remains the second-best rushing squad with 141.9 yards per contest. Blanking the Falcons and forcing four turnovers also keeps the Panthers in the top three in points and yards allowed, and first in the league with 33 total takeaways, eight more than the next closest team.
Still injuries are starting to take a toll during Carolina’s chase for perfection. The Panthers have already ruled out starting running back Jonathan Stewart (foot) against the Giants, but it’s viewed as more of a precautionary measure since the injury doesn’t appear to be very serious.
In order to keep up their vaunted rushing offense the Panthers will likely turn to veteran Fozzy Whittaker and rookie Cameron Artis-Payne in Stewart’s stead, and they also have fullback Mike Tolbert to divvy out some punishment to a Giants defense ranked No. 16 against the run.
New York was also quick to rule out the return of linebacker Devon Kennard. He’s expected to miss his third-straight contest due to a foot injury after sitting out two other games with hamstring strain, according to NJ.com.
Betting Odds: Carolina -5.5
Over/Under: 48 points
Prediction: New York over Carolina, 17-14