Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Panthers-Giants...Let the hype begin

Trying to blow this game out of proportion will not be difficult this week. Here's why.

The Carolina Panthers and New York Giants will meet Sunday night, with the winner earning the #1 overall seed in the NFC. With that seed comes home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

That alone makes this the biggest regular-season game the Panthers have ever played in franchise history. Period.

Of course, if Carolina wins, they will also wrap up the NFC South title, which is one of the pre-season goals, but being home throughout the playoffs would be something this franchise has never had. Home field advantage doesn't mean automatic wins in the playoffs, but considering this team went 8-0 on the grass at Bank of America Stadium, it couldn't hurt. Imagine the atmosphere from the Monday night game against Tampa Bay. Now multiply that by 100. Welcome to playoff football for the top seed in the NFC.

This game is winnable for Carolina, no question. The Panthers are running ball as well as any team in the league right now. The defense has slowly regained the form it showed earlier in the season. Special teams have been on point as well. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, as the Giants will be a hungry and desperate team Sunday night. The G-men have dropped 2 in a row, and are in danger of losing that home-field advantage. Media in New York are reporting that Brandon Jacobs has said he will play Sunday night, no matter what his wonky knee feels like.

Injuries are creeping into the Panthers again, with Maake Kemoeatu (ankle) and Keydrick Vincent (groin) on the banged up list (an update on both comes Wednesday). Still, Carolina has shown they have depth, especially on the offensive line. Defensively, if Kemo can not go, look for Darwin Walker and Gary Gibson (among others) to help fill the void. Watching what the Cowboys D-line did to New York Sunday night, the Panthers would do well to emulate that scheme.

More on this one after we chat up the players on Wednesday, plus an update to this very blog once the Pro Bowl selections are announced in about an hour.

UPDATE: DE Julius Peppers and LT Jordan Gross were named as starters on the NFC Pro Bowl, while WR Steve Smith and LB Jon Beason made the team as reserves. Noticably absent, RB DeAngelo Williams, who only leads the NFL in touchdowns scored this season. Also left off, LG Travelle Wharton and K John Kasay. Kasay has missed 1 kick all season.

I can almost live with Wharton (Steve Hutchinson from Minnesota & Chris Snee from the New York Giants were voted as starters, with Leonard Davis from Dallas as the reserve). Leaving Williams off is a crime, however. I won't go out and say that Williams is a better overall back than starter Adrian Peterson (Minne.), but his year is on par, if not better than, Michael Turner (Atl) and Clinton Portis (Wash). Williams will likely brush this off on Wednesday (if he is available for interviews), but leading the league in TD's has to count for something. Maybe this will be a motivator for him in New York this Sunday.

Also, read a disturbing note from a Richmond Sr. fan, claiming I was a "homer" for Jack Britt during the 4-AA state final in Chapel Hill during the TV broadcast of the game. I am curious why such a comment was made. Britt was the underdog, based on their 0-8 record against the Raiders all-time. Richmond had the toughest road I can remember to get to the final (beating the West region's #3, #2, and #1 seeds, and then facing the East #1). Also, Britt had 2 double-digit leads on Richmond Sr. Britt was actually winning the game. Twice. As Richmond clawed back, I feel very confident that the broadcast reflected their amazing comeback in very complimentary fashion.

I said it on the broadcast, and I will say it again. Richmond won that game as much as Britt may have lost it (with that untimely fumble with 2 minutes to go). I congratulate both teams, and their fans on tremendous seasons. To call me a homer for either side is laughable, at best.

Mike Solarte

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