Giants @ Panthers +1.5
Hexagram 40: Finding Identity
These two teams are similar in that they both stumbled out of the gates amidst high expectations before getting back on track in their second game. Both looked like two completely different teams in their first two games. Because of the disparity in both the style and quality of play each showed from the second week to the first, it will be interesting to see who has Dr. Jekyll show up and who gets Mr. Hyde. More likely, both squads will look somewhere in the middle of their extreme performances. Wait, Jekyll is the good one right? Except in football, you'd rather have Hyde though wouldn't you? He'd make a much better middle linebacker at least. Anyway, both the Giants and Panthers seemed to struggle with their identities in their opener but seemed to figure out who they are and what they do best last week.
Last year, the Giants threw the ball a lot in order to get into the playoffs and eventually, the Super Bowl. Eli Manning eclipsed 5,000 yards as the Giants chose to pass the ball over 60% of the time down the stretch to fuel their playoff run. They had to do this at least partly out of necessity as they ranked dead last in yards gained per rushing attempt in 2011. Once the postseason began though, they ran the ball more and more effectively in adopting a more conservative attack. Their distribution between the passing and running was much closer to 50/50 in their playoff games. Coming into the season, it was uncertain which team they would be when they season began, but the G-men seemed to want to replicate the latter approach for the Cowboys Week One, without the same level of success. After going down early to Tampa Bay, New York had to resort to what they did best last year; letting Eli Manning sling the ball all over the field. Tweaking strategy to exploit a major weakness of an opponent is important, but I think a team will always have a better chance to win when they utilize their most dangerous players to maximum effect. After two weeks, I think the Giants know they will have to let Eli air it out in order to consistently win.
The Carolina Panthers similarly eschewed their primary strength from last year in their game plan for Week One. Despite ranking first in the whole league in average yards per carry at a staggering 5.4 (third in yards per game, 14th in attempts), the Panthers rushed only 13 times in their opening loss. They certainly got back to their bread and butter last week against New Orleans, running the ball 41 times for 219 yards and three different players scoring touchdowns on the ground.
Both teams know their identities now, so this game will come down to how effectively each can shut down the others' major strength. I'm giving the edge to the Panthers for five main reasons: NYG stud receiver Hakeem Nicks will not play, Panthers corner Chris Gamble has shut down everyone he's come across so far (giving up an average of 0.13 yards every time he drops back to cover according to ProFootballFocus.com), the Giants defense are bottom ten in the NFL in opponents' yards per carry, the Panthers are at home and they are getting the points. I think they will get the upset win at home in a high scoring affair.