Although they are not in the same division, the New York Giants seem often to turn up during critical periods of the Carolina Panthers’ history. Three quick examples:
1. Following the 2005 season, the Panthers throttled Eli Manning and the Giants 23-0 at Giants Stadium in an NFC wildcard game. On that day, the Panthers became the first team to register a road playoff shutout in 25 years. Manning had three interceptions and only threw for 113 yards.
2. In 2008, in the next-to-last game of the regular season, the Giants edged Carolina 34-28 in overtime, knocking the Panthers out of contention for the No. 1 playoff seed.
3. Almost exactly a year ago, Manning and the Giants drilled Carolina 36-7 in a prime-time Thursday night game in Charlotte. Marty Hurney would later point to that game as one of those that got him fired as Carolina’s general manager.
Now comes Sunday’s game, which could be as significant as No. 3 if it goes the wrong way. It is heavily rumored that coach Ron Rivera may not survive an 0-3 start — that team owner Jerry Richardson could get fed up and, along with general manager Dave Gettleman, fire Rivera during the upcoming bye week if the Panthers don’t beat the Giants.
The pressure is on for both sidelines — the Giants have started 0-2 as well. But if the Panthers want to guarantee that Rivera is here in October, they better beat New York.
• Manning, of course, will go after Carolina’s secondary. It wasn’t too good even before four defensive backs went down last week and now is in even worse shape. He would love an outcome similar to last year’s, when the Giants scored on their first four possessions and led 20-0 at halftime. But Manning has thrown an astonishing seven interceptions through two games — at least three more than every quarterback in the league.
• If I were the Panthers, I’d get Chase Blackburn in the game for some snaps at Jon Beason’s weakside position. It couldn’t hurt. Beason is trying to play himself back into condition but the results have not been pretty thus far.
• Feel free to skip this prediction, because I have missed the outcome of the Panthers’ first two games this season already, in both cases picking the Panthers to win. For some reason — it must be my inherent stubbornness — I’m going to do it again. Carolina 27, N.Y. Giants 20.