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-Wildcard Preview: Panthers & NYG
By Chris Pokorny, PFCritics Writer
January 6, 2006
This week, the Carolina Panthers will take on the New York Giants for the third game of the 2005-2006 NFL playoffs. Both teams come into the playoffs showing some signs of inconsistency, but both of them have impact players. The Panthers can always rely on the explosive Steve Smith to make a play in the passing game, while the Giants can run it for 200 yards with Tiki Barber any day of the week it seems. Carolina reached the Super Bowl just two years ago and had to go through three games on the road to get there. Eli Manning is the quarterback that the Giants want leading their team in this game, but his recent struggles are a major concern for the Giants. Now that these two teams meet in the playoffs, who will come out on top?

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NFC Wildcard Playoff Game - Team Stats
Carolina Panthers - #5 vs. #4 - New York Giants
- Overall Record: 11-5
Road Record: 6-2
22nd overall
(19th rush, 17th pass)
3rd overall
(4th rush, 9th pass)
- Overall Record: 11-5
Home Record: 7-1
4th overall
(6th rush, 11th pass)
24th overall
(12th rush, 27th pass)
Last 5 Games of 2005-2006 Season
Quarterback vs. Quarterback
Jake Delhomme: 79 of 132 for 983 yards, 8 touchdowns, 4 interception, 2 fumbles.

Delhomme has had some games this year where he simply has not had it going, but that could be blamed on his lack of offensive weapons. Considering he's had to rely soley on Steve Smith most of the time, he has done an outstanding job. Two years ago, he was fearless in the playoffs.
Eli Manning: 92 of 172 for 1098 yards,  4 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, 1 fumble.

Note: Manning will be facing a lot of pressure from the New York media to win, but that's not what he'll be worried about. After an unbelievable start to the season, Manning finished the season averaging more picks than touchdowns per game, despite having tons of weapons.
Running Backs vs. Running Backs
DeShaun Foster: 99 carries, 485 yards, 4.9 avg, 2 touchdowns. 9 catches, 73 yards.
Nick Goings: 22 carries, 90 yards, 4.1 avg. 9 catches, 95 yards.

One of the major complaints regarding the Panthers was that they didn't have a running game the first half of the season. After Stephan Davis' season ended, Foster stepped it up and looked like the starting back that the team envisioned. Goings will see action in certain situations.
Tiki Barber: 135 carries, 742 yards, 5.5 avg, 3 touchdowns. 23 catches, 218 yards, 1 touchdown.
Brandon Jacobs: 11 carries, 18 yards, 1.6 avg, 2 touchdowns.

Note: No one in the NFL finished the season hotter than Tiki Barber. How in the world can you rush for over 200 yards twice in a matter of three weeks? Barber is an all-purpose back, but will often give way to Brandon Jacobs down near the goal line.
Receivers vs. Receivers
Steve Smith: 28 catches, 402 yards, 3 touchdowns.
Ricky Prohel:
10 catches, 199 yards, 3 touchdowns.
Keary Colbert:
13 catches, 116 yards, 1 touchdown.

The Panthers passing game is Steve Smith. Despite Colbert having a great rookie season last year, he may give up some time to Drew Carter in this game. Prohel is a good veteran, but in the end, Delhomme has no problem throwing the ball 15 times to Smith. It's not special what Smith does while making the catch, it's the running room he creates for himself after it.
Plaxico Burress: 16 catches, 286 yards, 1 touchdown.
Jeremy Shockey:
27 catches, 305 yards, 1 touchdown.
Amani Toomer:
24 catches, 278 yards, 3 touchdowns.

Note: Unlike Delhomme who only has Smith to throw to, Manning has four guys that he can rely on. Burress has been the perfect fit in his first year as a Giant, Shockey has had several big games, and Toomer is actually catching touchdowns now. You can add Barber to the list as well, who produces about the same. The Giants can spread the field at any time.
Defense vs. Defense
Opponents/Scores: Atlanta(6), Tampa Bay(20), New Orleans(10), Dallas(24), Atlanta(11).

Note: The Panthers didn't start the season very well defensively, but they have come on strong in the second half of the year. If Julius Peppers can get pressure on Manning early, he will be vulnerable to throw the same amount of interceptions that he's been throwing as of late.
Opponents/Scored: Dallas(10), Philadelphia(23), Kansas City(17), Washington(35), Oakland(21).

Note: The Giants would not have been able to make the playoffs without their defensive upgrades, but their still not intimidating. They can get some pressure up front, but it'll be tough to cover Smith, especially if they leave him one-on-one.
Special Teams vs. Special Teams
John Kasay: He is autmatic from under 39 yards, going 17-of-17 this year. He has the leg for 50+ yarders, but was only 3-of-8 from that range this year.

The Panthers have the ability to explode in the punt return game, but there's nothing out of the ordinary besides that.
Jay Feely: If you take away the "choke" against Seattle, then Feely was an outstanding 35-of-39 this year. He can kick fairly well from any range.

Note: The former Pro Bowler Chad Morton has some experience in getting good field position in the return game.
Final Analysis
Carolina Panthers vs. New York Giants
When I see the Panthers this year, I picture the same exact team that made the Super Bowl just two seasons ago. They weren't favored to make the Super Bowl, but all of their entire team, including John Fox, appeared to be "built" for the playoffs. The same goes for Jake Delhomme, who was able to throw a beautiful deep ball with confidence.

At this point, having a running game is sort of a "luxury" for the Panthers. They have established it lately, but they were able to win without it earlier in the season. If Foster can't get it going, the Panthers won't waste any time calling the same plays.

Defensively, it'll all come down to whether or not the Panthers can stop Tiki Barber. Despite having weapons, Eli Manning has not dominated the average defenses as of late, and will have trouble against Carolina if he tries to do everything himself. Barber doesn't turn the ball over, but the Panthers have to make sure that Barber doesn't break anything over 20 yards on a consistent basis.
Forget about the pressure that Manning is supposedly facing that this is a "must-win". There is no doubt that Manning will be focused at the start of the game, but his throws often tend to overshoot his receivers, allowing the opposing team to intercept him. Tom Coughlin has playoff experience and will properly prepare his team for this game.

Although it doesn't seem to matter who Barber faces this season, he will find things tough against the fourth best run defense in the league. The last time Barber struggled was against the 49ers, who held him under 100 yards. If the running game isn't working, Barber will definitely find success on screen plays, which almost always catch defenses off guard when timed correctly.

Out of Shockey, Burress, and Toomer, it is a must that Manning gets Shockey and Burress involved early. Even if they don't catch the ball, they have to feel like they're an intregal part of the game plan from the start. Toomer is more likely to come up with a big catch when you least expect it, but the other two can get frustrated if they don't see the ball, even if it is a playoff game.
NFC Wildcard Prediction
Winner - Carolina Panthers
All bets are off on this game with how many scoring changes we will see. The Panthers are a very good road team, while the Giants are a very good home team. The elements and the importance of the game will not anyone, except Jay Feely maybe. I hate to keep using the line that a team will win based on experience, but I expect Delhomme and the Panthers to reach the Super Bowl still, even though every game will be tough. The Giants offense can't really be blamed for this loss, except for the fact that Manning may throw one interception. Not many people are talking about this game, but this could be as exciting as the Rams vs. Panthers double overtime contest two years ago. Final Score: Panthers 37, Giants 31 in overtime.

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