The Carolina comeback starts here according to our analyst Neil Harvey, who's also expecting a QB showdown between the Giants and Packers...
"I can only imagine the damage the Giants wideouts might do against the Packers secondary, which has given up an average of 8.9 yards per catch so far. That's the second worst in the league."
New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers
It's not been a fluent start from either the 2-2 Giants or the 2-1 Packers with both still yet to hit their full stride. That's more understandable from New York, who're still getting comfortable with their $200m defensive refit. Somewhat less so from Green Bay though, of whom big things are always expected. The Packers offense has spluttered so far with Aaron Rodgers' passing unit producing less than 200 yards a game to date. This was unthinkable pre-season. The return of receiver Jordy Nelson was meant to free space for Randall Cobb and both were expected to thrive. That hasn't happened as yet. But there's reason to believe it will...and very soon. The Giants defense has yet to nab an interception and ranks joint last in the league for sacks, with just four. Rest assured, a quarterback as good as Rodgers, if not put under pressure, WILL wreak havoc.
Likewise though, the Giants offense could also prosper through the air. I was thoroughly impressed how New York's offensive line protected Eli Manning last week against the menacing pass rush of Minnesota - not giving up a single sack. Allowed time in the pocket, Manning too could do some serious damage. Receivers Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepherd are one of the best tandems in the NFL and it's just a matter of time before they put someone to the sword. I can only imagine the damage the Giants wideouts might do against the Packers secondary, which has given up an average of 8.9 yards per catch so far. That's the second worst in the league.
Both offenses look capable of moving the ball at will through the air. And that should free up allow more opportunities on the ground. But with just five rushing touchdowns so far compared to 11 passing scores between the teams, it's logical to think the bulk of TDs here will go to the receivers. These are two potentially great offenses that have yet to spark. The conditions are right though for this game to catch fire.
5pts Aaron Rodgers passing yards to be Over 265.5 @ 1.9620/21
5pts Eli Manning passing yards to be Over 289.5 @ 1.9620/21
3pts New York Giants (+7.5) to beat Green Bay @ 1.865/6
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Carolina Panthers
It's shocking to find Carolina at 1-3. Tampa also at 1-3? Yes, that's totally believable. But last season's Super Bowl finalists? No way. And the departure of cornerback Josh Norman aside, there's very little to explain the Panthers' current malaise, in terms of personnel at least.
The reality is, Carolina still have the bulk of the players who rocketed them to 15-1 in the last regular season. Coach Ron Rivera is still there. And last time I checked, so are the fans and stadium. Even my old friend, stats, fail to explain the problem - with Carolina ranking in the top half of the NFL both on offense and defense, both rushing and passing. All of this makes me think it's just a matter of time until we see the old Panthers again. Like Bobby Ewing in the shower, Carolina will show us that they weren't really dead...but that in fact it had all been just been a bad dream.
Tampa on the other hand are still stuck in the depths of an all too real nightmare that's been going on since 2011. The Bucs have finished bottom of the NFC South for the last five years in a row, with a losing record each time. Their combined tally? 23 wins and 57 defeats. That's a stunning stat, and one which gives me nothing but admiration for the long-suffering Tampa fans out there.
At 1-3 already, unlike the Panthers the Buccaneers have little reason to think things are going to improve. Yes you could argue this is their chance to beat Carolina, to kick them while they are down. But who would you rather back in a fight? The reeling champ? Or the punch drunk journeyman? Two of Tampa's three defeats so far were big ones...no, huge ones...to Denver and Arizona. And there's every chance they could go down in grand style again here.
The one ray of hope for the visitors is that Cam Newton might be missing under centre for Carolina. His concussion form last week is unlikely to be cleared in time. And that puts a big question mark over the effectiveness of the Panthers offense. Derek Anderson stepped in for him last week, completing 17 of 23 passes for 172 yards, with two TDs and two picks.
One could argue that Tampa's one victory, away to Atlanta in Week One, showed they are capable of greatness. And perhaps they are. But the problem is they don't show it very often. So will this be one of those weeks? They are still missing Doug Martin at running back. So that puts the onus on quarterback Jameis Winston and receiver Mike Evans to do damage against a Carolina secondary that's admittedly been below par so far.
There are plenty of unknowns in this contest, the biggest of which is the fitness of Cam Newton. But even without him, the upsides for Carolina look much greater than they do for the Bucs. The Panthers started this season as one of the Super Bowl favourites. To write them off after just four games would be foolish. So I won't. Instead I'm backing them to get their title run back on track, with a comfortable win against a team whose good days are too seldom to be relied upon.
2pts Carolina (-1.5) to win at half time @ 1.9620/21
2pts Carolina (-3.5) to win at full time @ 1.9620/21