Thursday night's matchup between the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers could very well be one of the the most exciting games of 2012, as both teams are coming off of impressive wins in week 2 and fully expect to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Wait, what? The Super Bowl?
Before the season started, most analysts were in agreement that the Green Bay Packers would be world champions of 2012, and a few other sources decided to go with the San Francisco 49ers. Very few people, if any, said that the Panthers or Giants would surprise the league and win it all, but then again no one picked New York to lift the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the 2007 or 2011 seasons.
Surprises happen all the time in the NFL, or are they really surprises? Sometimes fans, media, and experts get so caught up in the hype of the previous year's elite quarterbacks (during the regular season) that they forget about the other upper-echelon signal-callers who are looking to make that jump into the top-4.
This applies to both quarterbacks in Thursday's game, Eli Manning and Cam Newton. Also, in Manning's case, there is an equally fair argument that he has already reached elite status. The Giants' leader has been named the Super Bowl MVP two times in the last five years, a tremendous accomplishment that has some experts cementing his status as elite.
On top of this, his routinely clutch performances in the fourth quarter are nothing short of amazing, as he displayed again last week when he overcame three interceptions to lead an eight-point comeback with seven minutes left in the game. Also, in 2011, he paved his way into the record books by throwing 15 touchdown passes in the fourth quarter of a single season, breaking the mark of 14 that was previously held by his brother Peyton.
When the Giants head into Carolina to battle a supremely confident Panthers' squad, the winner will be detertimed by the play of the two quarterbacks. With that said, we now take a look at three bold predictions.
1. Eli Manning will throw for at least 350 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Look for Manning to cool off from last week, when he threw for a whopping 510 yards against the Buccaneers, but expect the two-time Pro Bowler to continue his success and have a solid day against a Panthers' passing defense that is ranked 13th, giving up 225.5 yards per game through the air.
2. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz will light up the Panthers' secondary.
Nicks and Cruz form the best wide receiver tandem in the league, while the Panthers cornerbacks and safeties are nothing to rave about. Due to the fact that the Giants' two stud receivers are a mismatch for Carolina, expect the Panthers to play two deep safeties and make the Giants march down the field at a slow pace. For this reason, Nicks and Cruz will not have the monster games that they had last week (199 and 179 yards), but they will still be highly effective.
3. Cam Newton will also throw for 350 yards and account for 3 touchdowns.
The thing that has impressed me most with Newton in 2012 compared to a season ago is his completion percentage. Last season, he only completed 60 percent of his throws, whereas this year he is connecting on an incredible 69.8 percent. This translates into him passing for more yards on fewer throws, and against a banged up Giants' secondary, look for his numbers to be better than average.
Prediction: The Panthers win a close one, 35-31.