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Saturday, September 21, 2013
W2W4: Giants at Panthers

By David Newton

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Either the Carolina Panthers or New York Giants will win for the first time this season in Sunday's 1 p.m. ET game at Bank of America Stadium.

Unless they play to a rare tie, that is.

Here are three keys for the Panthers:

Licking his chops: Giants quarterback Eli Manning has to be salivating over what he'll see in Carolina's secondary. There will be rookie Robert Lester starting at strong safety. Mike Mitchell is playing a new position, moving from strong safety to free. Left cornerback Josh Thomas is out after suffering a concussion in Week 2, and his backup, Josh Norman, has a deep thigh bruise. Veteran Drayton Florence is back from what he calls a "two-week vacation'' after being cut. This unit was suspect even before the injuries, allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 72.2 percent of their passes. That the Giants' passing game ranks No. 1 in the NFL makes this even more of a mismatch. But maybe this will be a reverse of last season, when New York came to town with key injuries at wide receiver and running back and posted a 36-7 victory. "If you're sleeping on our secondary, you'll get a rude awakening,'' Mitchell said.

Now or never for Newton: If Panthers' quarterback Cam Newton wants to prove he's a true leader, this is his opportunity. An 0-3 start would make him truly the "Forgotten 1,'' as the ESPN the Magazine headline suggested. But in order to take charge, offensive coordinator Mike Shula may have to turn Newton loose. So far in Shula's more-traditional attack, Newton has rushed only nine times for 53 yards. He's passed for only 354 yards. Twenty-seven quarterbacks in the league have thrown for more. The Giants haven't done much in terms of pressuring the quarterback or stopping the pass, so perhaps this is Newton's opportunity.

Playmakers make plays: That's the challenge by Carolina coach Ron Rivera. So far, Carolina has 20 pass plays of 20-plus yards. Opponents have eight. Carolina has three sacks, none from Greg Hardy, who suggested 50 was his goal this season. Opponents have seven, with Buffalo's Mario Williams collecting 4.5 last week. As mentioned above, Newton has passed for 354 yards; his counterparts have passed for 607. I could go on, but you get Rivera's points. Carolina's stars have to start starring to get this team over the hump.