One of the things I look at going into every game is how each wide receiver is likely to fare against his lineup matchup.
Let's start with Steve Smith. The depth chart has him listed as flanker, so his matchup would be Carolina's left cornerback Chris Gamble.
Gamble has a reputation of being a top-notch cover guy but the numbers over the years have not agreed with that assessment. In 2009, Gamble's 8.7 yards per attempt (YPA) ranked 80th in the league (out of 100 qualifying cornerbacks).
That isn't the only metric that shows Gamble to be a coverage liability. Teams either gained a completion or a pass penalty (e.g. pass interference, illegal contact, defensive holding, etc.) against Gamble on 60.3% of his targets last year . That rate tied for 69th worst, so he again rated among the bottom 1/3 of the league in a critical category.
Hakeem Nicks is the Giants' most talented receiver, but he will need all of those talents to get good production in his matchup against the Panthers right cornerback Richard Marshall. Marshall doesn't get anywhere near the publicity that Gamble does but he did beat him by a large margin in YPA (6.2 for Marshall).
Any YPA under the seven-yard mark means a player gets a red-rating in my matchup charts (red being the most difficult, with yellow being an average matchup and green being a favorable one), so Marshall ranks as a difficult task for Nicks.
The good news: If last year is any indicator, Nicks is more than up the task of taking on red-rated corners. He gained 8.9 YPA against that level matchup last year, a total that ranked 13th in the NFL.
Put it all together and it means Eli Manning should be able to air it out to either of his starting wideouts with success Sunday.
KC Joyner, aka The Football Scientist, uses game film to track, tabulate and analyze nearly every measurable statistic in an NFL game. He is a regular contributor to ESPN Insider and has a Web site at thefootballscientist.com.