Saquon Barkley
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants are off to a better start than essentially everyone anticipated (even if it’s only Week 2). In Brian Daboll’s first game with his new team last Sunday, the rookie head coach showed off tremendous guts by calling for a two-point conversion with just over a minute remaining. This came after the Giants scored a touchdown to come within one point of the Titans.

The two-point attempt, a shovel pass from quarterback Daniel Jones to running back Saquon Barkley, was successful. The Giants went up 21-20, which stood as the final score after Titans kicker Randy Bullock missed a game-winning field-goal attempt as time expired.

So the Giants are 1-0 despite entering the season with incredibly low external expectations. And they have a great opportunity to win their second straight game against an 0-1 Panthers squad.

Can Barkley build on his incredible 194-yard Week 1 performance? Can the Giants defense keep quarterback Baker Mayfield, running back Christian McCaffrey, and the Panthers offense in check?

Giants vs. Panthers

When: Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022.
Where: MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET.
TV: FOX.
Radio: WFAN 101.9 FM.

Giants’ keys to victory


Limit McCaffrey. We know the type of quarterback Mayfield is. We know he’s unlikely to dominate a secondary on a consistent basis. Even if this Giants defensive backfield is as thin as ever with starting corner Aaron Robinson missing the game due to appendicitis.

McCaffrey is the star of this offense and always has been (whenever he’s healthy, that is). The 26-year-old only racked up 33 rushing yards on 10 carries in Week 1 but figures to see more action against a banged-up Giants front seven that doesn’t employ as much run-stuffing talent following the release of linebacker Blake Martinez. Limit what McCaffrey can do and the Giants should be able to force Mayfield into making mistakes.

Saquon, Saquon, and more Saquon. This offense should run through a fully-healthy Barkley, who recorded 164 rushing yards, a touchdown, and the aforementioned two-point conversion against Tennessee. The Panthers run defense is nowhere near elite and struggled against the Browns last week. Cleveland ran for 217 total yards, with Nick Chubb racking up 141 yards on 22 carries.

Pressure. Wink Martindale is a blitz-happy defensive coordinator. On passing downs, he needs to retain that reputation and force Mayfield into making mistakes. The issue, however, is it’s unclear the weapons he’ll have at his disposal to do so. The Giants may be stuck with outside linebackers Oshane Ximines and Jihad Ward if rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux (knee) and Azeez Ojulari (calf) sit out for a second straight week.

X-factor

Although Mayfield is limited, this Giants secondary still has a challenge with the absence of Robinson, the team’s starting boundary corner opposite Adoree’ Jackson. It’s unknown who will replace Robinson, but the options are far from intriguing.

Whether it’s rookie Cor’Dale Flott (who’s more of a slot corner), recent waiver-wire pickups Justin Layne or Nick McCloud, or anyone elevated from the practice squad (Zyon Gilbert or Fabian Moreau), that individual will undergo a brief turnaround toward extended on-field responsibility.

Did you know?

This is the fourth time since 2015 the Giants will be facing the Panthers in the regular season. And in all four matchups, the Giants have had a different head coach manning the sidelines (shows you how much turnover this organization has needed to endure in recent years).

Tom Coughlin was in his final season as head coach during the 2015 matchup. The two NFC teams then faced one another in 2018, Pat Shurmur’s first year as Giants head coach. Then, last season’s matchup — Joe Judge actually won a game that day.

Now, Daboll is running the show in East Rutherford. Will he improve the Giants’ 5-7 all-time record against Carolina dating back to 1996?

The pick

I’ve got to go with the Giants in this one. The halftime adjustments Martindale made to only allow seven second-half points against the Titans caught my eye, especially considering how bad this defense is supposed to be. And the fact Barkley seems to be putting his struggles and injury history in the rearview (for now, at least) is incredibly promising for the offense.

The Panthers don’t sport the roster the Titans do. The Giants should be able to exploit that by just sticking with the gameplan, running the offense through Barkley, and limiting the overall impact of McCaffrey. Giants 20, Panthers 10.

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Ryan Honey is a staff writer and host of the Wide Right Podcast.