NFL Week 3: NY Giants-Carolina & The Sunday Undercard

The New York Giants rallied for a must-have win at home against Tampa Bay last Sunday, while the Carolina Panthers took out New Orleans to even their own record at 1-1. Now last year’s Super Bowl champs pay a visit to one of this year’s trendy picks, as the Giants-Panthers will kick off NFL Week 3 on Thursday night.

Eli Manning’s targets are going to be limited, as Hakeem Nicks will miss the game with a foot injury, and with only Victor Cruz as a proven target, it will hamper Manning’s ability to exploit rookie cornerback Josh Norman. We can expect veteran Chris Gamble to trail Cruz around most of the night and the Giants are going to beat Norman, it’s going to have to be their own rookie, wide receiver Reuben Randle, to do the damage. New York is further beat up with offensive tackle David Diehl and running back Ahmad Bradshaw sitting out.

Carolina doesn’t have the same problems. While Jonathan Stewart is questionable with an ankle injury, the Panthers can easily turn to DeAngelo Williams or Mike Tolbert to carry the load on the ground. And when you look at the way Josh Freeman threw the ball against the Giants secondary last week—or, for that matter, the way Tony Romo exploited it in Week 1—there’s no reason to think Cam Newton can’t have a solid night. The one thing Carolina does need to worry about is its inability to get pressure from the perimeter of the pocket. Their defensive ends have yet to record a sack, a killer problem in a 4-3 scheme. Manning made Tampa Bay pay dearly for their inability to pressure him and he can do the same to Carolina, even with a stripped-down receivers’ cast.

Even given all that, Carolina just seems to have all the edges in this game, from homefield to the injury situation to what’s likely a hunger to make a name for themselves on a national stage. They’re favored by 2.5 points and that number looks small.

TheSportsNotebook will preview other key nationally televised games in tomorrow’s feature, but for now let’s run through the 11 games on the Sunday undercard—i.e., those that won’t be televised much beyond the local market…

NY Jets-Miami:  Everyone in the AFC East is 1-1, and with New England going to Baltimore on Sunday night, there’s a good chance the winner of this game holds sole possession of first place. I don’t think the Dolphins can get the running game going with Reggie Bush the same way they did last week against the Raiders, but the Fish defense should be able to create its own set of problems for Mark Sanchez. The Over/Under on this game is 40, the lowest total in the NFL this week, so the oddsmakers are anticipating an ugly one. Miami was the place Tim Tebow made his debut last year and you have to think there’s a good chance we see a lot of him in the fourth quarter this time around.

Philadelphia-Arizona: A lot of storylines in this game, from a rematch of the 2008 NFC Championship Game, to Kevin Kolb facing his old team, but no immediate storyline is more important than the fact both teams are 2-0. It’s being assumed in the media the Eagles will get their past their little problem of turning it over four times a game, but given the way Arizona can pressure and the way corner Patrick Peterson leads a ball-hawking secondary, it would seem to foolish to think this is the week Philly suddenly learns to take care of the ball. As long as Kolb plays mistake-free, the defense can carry him to another win.

Atlanta-San Diego: Have the Chargers really figured out their September problem under Norv Turner or is the 2-0 start just a byproduct of playing Oakland & Tennessee? Has Philip Rivers really overcome the turnover problems that plagued him last year or is that another issue that has more to do with the Raiders and Titans. We’ll find out here, as the Falcon offense is hitting on all cylinders and will put a lot of pressure on Rivers to produce points in a hurry. The flip side is that it’s a long trip on a short week for Atlanta after their Monday Night win over Denver.

St. Louis-Chicago: St. Louis has a lot of reasons to feel good about themselves after two weeks, but one problem is the inability of defensive end Chris Long to get to the quarterback thus far. If Long and fellow defensive end Robert Quinn aren’t collapsing the pocket all afternoon against the porous Chicago offensive line, when will they? Even if they do though, the Bears have had extra prep time and their defense will give Sam Bradford his most physical test yet. The 7.5 point line is on the high side, but it’s tough to see Chicago giving this one up at home.

Pittsburgh-Oakland: This game is really about the ability of Oakland’s defensive front four to get physical. They were embarrassed last week at Miami and the Steeler running game and offensive line is in a shambles right now. If the Raiders play with the urgency their situation requires and make it a point to get Darren McFadden the ball on offense, they’ll win.

Cincinnati-Washington: Both teams bring big defensive problems to the table. The Bengals’ secondary has been lit up two straight weeks, including by Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden of all people, and now Robert Griffin III is the opponent making his home debut. Marvin Lewis is making some personnel changes in the secondary, but in all likelihood this game still probably turns into a shootout. Washington’s defense was awful in St. Louis last week and the news that outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, merely the best player and cornerstone pass rusher (and premier GEICO commercial actor) is gone for the year, will further open things up for Andy Dalton. As a Redskins fan, I’m still depressed over the Orakpo injury and in a self-pity display on how my troops can’t catch a break.

Detroit-Tennessee: At the start of the season I might have seen this is a good spot for the Lions to get caught on the road, but the Titans look dead in the water right now. They simply have to get Chris Johnson and the offensive line going or Jake Locker is going to have get in a passing battle with Matthew Stafford. Which in turn means the Lion front four can tee off on the pass rush. Either way, it gets ugly quickly if the Tennessee running game doesn’t report for action.

Buffalo-Cleveland: The Bills have a shot to get to 2-1 here, but to do that Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to have take good care of the ball for the second straight week. And the Browns’ defense is doing a nice job at forcing the turnovers, although that opener against Philly might have been more about the Eagles’ offense than the Browns’ defense. Whatever the cause, that’s what the game will come down to. C.J. Spiller ensures Buffalo will run the ball and as long as they don’t turn it over, they’ll get a road win.

Jacksonville-Indianapolis: Jacksonville is doing a poor job at getting rookie wide receiver Justin Blackmon into the offense for the first two games. I’ll allow that some of the problem might be that Week 1 was obviously his professional debut and Week 2 was against Houston, neither of which are ideal breakout spots. But if the excuses are still needed after this one, I need to rethink my pick of Blackmon as an impact rookie for this coming season.

San Francisco-Minnesota: The Vikings have played close games thus far, but that was against Jacksonville & Indy. Now San Francisco comes in with no injury problems and no reason to think this is the kind of team that’s going to lose its concentration. Any time an NFL team goes on the road you have to respect the fact they could get a close game, but there’s no reason to think Frisco doesn’t leave the Twin Cities at 3-0.

Be sure and check back for TheSportsNotebook’s Friday feature of the major national games, with Tampa Bay-Dallas (Fox) and Kansas City-New Orleans (CBS) in the early time slots, Houston-Denver (CBS) as the main late afternoon fare, New England-Baltimore (NBC) on Sunday Night and Green Bay-Seattle (ESPN) on Monday Night Football.