New York Giants vs Carolina Panthers: CAR +1.5 (Bodog)
MarketsThe look-ahead line for this game had the Giants as one point favorites and it's virtually the same line just a day away from kickoff. I can tell you with absolute certainty that this is a silly point spread. First of all, New York is still being treated as if they are the Super Bowl champions at top form.
If you've watched the first two weeks and most of last year, you'll know that isn't really the identity of this Giants team - especially in September. I have the Panthers as two point favorites in my system, so this is more of a value play than anything else.
Injury Watch Part I
Another injury to keep an eye on is the loss of David Diehl. They have already switched the roles of Sean Locklear and Will Beatty on the left side, so now they have experiments and duct tape at both tackle spots. Sean McDermott is an aggressive defensive coordinator coming out of the late Jim Johnson mold, so you can be sure he'll be testing Eli Manning's protection throughout the game with some blitzes.
The Panthers also have injury issues on their O-line. Byron Bell is listed as questionable, and if he can't go they'll rely on Garry Williams or Bruce Campbell. That was a side that was already getting help, so that will continue on game-day.
So who has the advantage here? I'm sure most will say the Giants when you consider how good their D-line can be, but keep in mind the Panthers have the much better running game and a tough, mobile QB to handle the rush. Meanwhile, Eli is shifty in the pocket, but he's not about to morph into Mike Vick anytime soon. Severe inexperience in the backfield could also figure in.
Injury Watch Part IIThe other big area of concern for both teams is in their secondaries. The Giants have Corey Webster healthy on one side, but the other side has been a revolving door all season. Prince Amukamara was supposed to be the guy, but he's out. Michael Coe looked promising as a fill-in, but he's questionable (and closer to doubtful). This leaves rookie Jayron Hosley to start, but his skills are better suited for the slot. They also have Justin Tryon in the mix, but he's just as much of an unknown as Hosley.
Webster was supposed to be their top guy in this unit, but he's been targeted much more than expected through two weeks. There is little doubt that Cam Newton will be going vertical and should have some good opportunities on play-action.
The news is a little different for the Panthers. Captain Munnerlyn has been demoted to the slot, which isn't something he's happy about. Munnerlyn could turn out to be a key name on Thursday since he's a bit over-aggressive at times. On the bright side, don't be surprised to see him come on a corner blitz. In his place on the outside is rookie Josh Norman. It's a credit to him that the coaches trust him enough to throw him into the fire, but Manning will be going after him under the bright lights of prime-time.
UPDATE: Hakeem Nicks has just been ruled out and joins Domenik Hixon on the sidelines.
Bottom LineOn a neutral field, I would have the Giants as the slightly better team, but after you factor in home field advantage there's no way New York should be favored. Also remember that the Panthers haven't had a prime-time game like this in quite some time.
Eli will get his points in the air, but so will the Panthers. I like Newton's mobility as an X-factor here, and I'm putting some faith in the improved (and finally healthy) Panthers linebackers as well. I think they have enough to squeeze out a win against the over-valued G-men.
NFL Pick: CAR +1.5.
The rest of my Week 3 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.