Thursday Matchup: NYG @ CARThursday, September 20, 2012
Thursday Night Football
NY Giants @ Carolina
The Giants' offense took off in Sunday's 41-34 shootout win over Tampa. Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Martellus Bennett, and Andre Brown all set career highs of some sort in the kind of game that can foreshadow an offensive tear. Vegas put a 49.5-point over-under on Giants-Panthers, the second highest Week 3 projection behind only Chiefs-Saints. If you've got a stud available Thursday night -- on either team -- don't think twice. Start 'em. ... I watched the Giants-Bucs tape and didn't come away thrilled with Brown. He's a workmanlike runner, trusted in blitz pickup and able to gain yardage blocked open by his line. I think he flashed quick feet, but did not make people miss and has average burst. But Brown was clearly the feature runner after Ahmad Bradshaw (neck) went down and figures to operate as a three-down player against a Panthers team opposing running backs have touched up for 280 yards on 54 carries (5.16 YPC) through two games. Carolina gave up two rushing TDs last week. Heavy playing time against a weak run defense can certainly be a recipe for fantasy success. Brown is a worthwhile flex play. ... David Wilson was the change-of-pace back when Bradshaw was healthy, and remained the C.O.P. back behind Brown when Bradshaw went down. Wilson is a far more gifted runner than Brown, but remains error prone and is not trusted by the coaches. Wilson had a brutal first-quarter drop over the middle against Tampa. Despite the Bradshaw injury, Wilson played just six snaps. There are brighter days ahead for Wilson, but the first-round rookie is not a fantasy option in this game.
Giants third receiver Domenik Hixon was concussed early in Week 2 and Bennett's role increased immediately. It jumped off the tape how often Eli looked to and targeted Bennett in the red zone, not even including his 33-yard fourth-quarter score. Looking back, I wish I had placed Bennett higher in my preseason fantasy rankings. I think he's going to score ten touchdowns and hold his own in receptions and yards. He's an every-week starter and should be locked into lineups in this possible shootout. With both Nicks (foot) and Hixon ruled out, I feel bullish about Bennett's Week 3 fantasy prospects. I'd play him over any tight end not named Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, or Vernon Davis. ... Cruz worked over Eric Wright, Ronde Barber, and Brandon McDonald for 179 yards and a touchdown on 11 catches in Week 2, seeing a game-high 17 targets. Cruz leads the entire league in targets through two games and is set up for another active night. Look for Cruz to square off with LCB Chris Gamble and slot CB Captain Munnerlyn for the majority of Thursday night's snaps. Ramses Barden and rookie Rueben Randle figure to rotate at Nicks' "X" receiver spot, and neither is on the Week 3 radar as a fantasy starter. ... Vegas actually dropped its over-under by a point and a half after news broke of Nicks' inactivity. I still think Manning is a solid back-end QB1, as usual. New York projects to have passing success in this favorable matchup.
After a sluggish opener, the Panthers experienced an offensive explosion of their own against the slump-busting Saints defense in Week 2. Carolina obliterated New Orleans with read-option run plays, keeping its opponent off balance via deception and misdirection. Cam Newton's rushing stats are supplemented by playcaller Rob Chudzinski's commitment to the college-style running game concepts, and he's also got a favorable Thursday night pass-defense matchup. Through two weeks, the Giants have generated an underwhelming four sacks while allowing Tony Romo and Josh Freeman to combine for 550 yards and a 5:3 TD-to-INT ratio on 37-of-57 passing (64.9 percent). The game tapes and New York's 9.65 YPA allowed both suggest Perry Fewell's defense is susceptible to shot plays downfield. Chudzinski, Newton, and Steve Smith butter their bread with vertical strikes. ... The Giants often employ alleged top cornerback Corey Webster in shadow coverage of opposing No. 1 wide receivers. It's not working out so well. Per Pro Football Focus, offenses are averaging 15.5 yards every time they aim passes Webster's way so far this season. Smith opened the year with back-to-back 100-yard games and should stay hot on Thursday night.
Greg Olsen's Week 1 usage as primarily a pass catcher and slot tight end seemed to bode well, but he was reduced to an in-line blocker against the Saints. For his part, Olsen blocked his tail off in the victory. I'm concerned that his week-to-week receiving usage will depend on Chud's week-to-week game plans. Olsen could easily get stuck on the line helping backup RT Garry Williams block Justin Tuck. Williams is starting in place of injured Byron Bell. I'd start Bennett, Dennis Pitta, and Kyle Rudolph over Olsen in Week 3. ... Brandon LaFell is worth a long WR3 look after totaling 115 yards against New Orleans, 90 on six receptions and 25 on a Statue of Liberty-type run play. LaFell quietly has 310 yards and two touchdowns in his last four games. If Smith draws Webster, LaFell will see a lot of Michael Coe, Justin Tryon, rookie Jayron Hosley, and perhaps hobbled Prince Amukamara in coverage. ... Jonathan Stewart (ankle) is not expected to play on Thursday night. We'd all feel a lot better about DeAngelo Williams' fantasy start-ability, of course, if he had capitalized on his Week 1 opportunity to be Carolina's feature back with Stewart initially on the mend. Williams didn't, and looks like a complete roll of the dice. In the end, though, I'd really struggle to bench Williams when he seems like a lock for 16-22 touches in a potentially high-scoring affair. The Giants' run defense has been hit or miss.
Score Prediction: Panthers 31, Giants 28