The Carolina Panthers are 0-2 and their coach is on the hot seat. The New York Giants are 0-2 and their two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback supposedly is pressing.
"They're as desperate as we are," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of the Giants.
The good news for both teams is that somebody will break into the win column. Giants team reporter Dan Graziano and Panthers team reporter David Newton are here to break down this not-so-epic showdown, set for 1 p.m. Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
Let's get straight to the heart of this: Which team is the most desperate?
Newton: No question, the Panthers. A loss to the Giants will increase speculation that coach Ron Rivera could be fired during the upcoming bye week. Eighty-one percent of more than 10,000 fans who voted in a Charlotte Observer poll already want Rivera gone. The Giants have proved they can rebound from an 0-2 start, going to the Super Bowl in 2007. They have a proven winner in quarterback Eli Manning. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is 13-21 as a starter, so he has proved nothing. This is the fourth time since 2009 the Panthers have started 0-2. Their best rebound was 8-8 in '09. They went 2-14 in 2010 and 6-10 in 2011. Another loss and all hell could break loose.
Graziano: Obviously, the Giants are in a bit of a different spot. They're not about to fire a two-time Super Bowl champ who might be the greatest coach in franchise history. And they're fully committed to the quarterback who was MVP of those two Super Bowls. This is the Giants' first 0-2 start since 2007, when they famously rebounded to win the first of Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning's titles. But if they can't recover from this one, Coughlin and Manning will miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. Not exactly burnishing the legacy. Manning is off to a tough start, having thrown seven interceptions in two games already. But David, my question for you is, given all of the injuries in the Carolina secondary, do the Panthers even have anyone back there to catch Manning's passes?
Newton: If you're asking whether the situation is so dire that I've been asked to step in, no. But remember what happened in Week 3 last year? Carolina's secondary was healthy, and the team was 1-1. Manning didn't have running back Ahmad Bradshaw or wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Domenik Hixon, who by the way has disappeared in the Carolina lineup. So what happened? Backup running back Andre Brown rushed for 113 yards, and Ramses Barden caught nine passes for 138 yards. Manning completed 77.1 percent of his passes, and the Giants rolled 36-7. My point is, does it matter? Carolina's only hope is that the defensive front seven keeps Manning under constant duress and he continues his interception tear. Speaking of interceptions, what's up with seven in two games from the two-time Super Bowl MVP?
Graziano: The total is slightly inflated because the Giants have been playing from behind in the second half and Eli's been heaving it up for grabs out of desperation, but he'd be the first to tell you too many of the turnovers have come at critical times when the game was still in the balance. He has made some poor decisions, but it's all magnified by the complete lack of offensive balance. The Giants are first in the league in passing yards but dead last in rushing yards with only 73 in two games. Brown, whom the Panthers remember from last year, broke his leg in the preseason finale. David Wilson has had his role reduced since fumbling twice in the season opener. Brandon Jacobs and Da'Rel Scott are getting meaningful reps. And the biggest problem is that the line can't block for any of them. I do recall the Giants getting the run game together in that game in Carolina last year, but the Panthers' defensive front looks tougher to me this year. Is it?
Newton: Without a doubt, the front seven is stronger. Rookie Star Lotulelei has proved to be a solid first-round draft pick. Greg Hardy has been a beast at end and tackle, even though he doesn't have a sack yet after suggesting he might get 50 this season. End Charles Johnson ... heck, they're all playing well. Holding the Seahawks to 70 yards rushing was impressive. The Bills were able to break a few long runs, but most of those were after the secondary was decimated and the Panthers were making crazy kinds of adjustments. If the Giants' running game is as bad as you say it is, that would be Carolina's only saving grace. Having said all that, what do you think will be the key on Sunday?
Graziano: Well, the Giants are going to want to throw, especially if they can get mismatches in the secondary, as it appears they will. So I'd say the key is ol' Eli Manning throwing the ball to the players on his own team as opposed to the other one. If he can keep the turnovers to a minimum Sunday, I don't see any reason to think he can't outscore Cam and the Panthers. The Giants' defensive front hasn't looked like itself from a pass-rushing standpoint, but, as Jason Pierre-Paul continues his recovery from offseason back surgery, that should improve. And it's not as though they haven't had success against Newton before. They should be able to force him to throw the ball, and, if it comes down to a shootout between Manning and Newton, the difference could be the quality of Manning's receiving corps. Should be fun, David. Look forward to seeing you there.
Newton: Interesting use of the word "fun" since neither of these teams has had any this season. You're right, Manning has the edge if this becomes a shootout, and the Giants have an edge, regardless. But these teams are 0-2 for a reason, and I believe it'll be closer than you say with the Giants still prevailing. You mentioned Carolina's defensive front earlier. Well, I believe it's going to step it up and get to Manning three or four times. Pressure by the front seven is the only way the Panthers can help the makeshift secondary, and they've been challenged to rise to occasion. But in the end, I like Manning to outperform Newton to run Carolina's record in games decided by seven or fewer points under Rivera to 2-15.