Giants vs. Panthers: Players Who Must Come Up Huge in Thursday Night Matchup

Jessica Marie@ItsMsJisnerCorrespondent IISeptember 20, 2012

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 16:  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers drops back to pass against the New Orleans Saints during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 16, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Right now, the Giants and the Panthers are both riding high. For one of them, it won't last past Thursday.

The Giants needed a few strokes of luck and huge performances out of Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and a third-string running back in order to get past Tampa Bay in Week 2—but they did it.

The Panthers had a considerably easier time against the Saints, as the offense came alive behind a huge performance by Cam Newton.

But which quarterback will sustain the momentum? Which defense will manage to actually show up to play? Whose impact will be the most significant when these two NFC powerhouses face off on Thursday night, after only a few precious days of preparation?

Here's a look at my picks.

Eli Manning

After the way he played against the Cowboys in Week 1, many were wondering what was up with Manning. Now, their fears have been alleviated somewhat.

The Giants defense has been pretty awful for two straight weeks, but in the second, Manning made everyone forget about it by making the opponents' defense—namely, the pass defense—look just a bit worse. He more than doubled his Week 1 yardage, finishing with 510 yards against the Bucs and three TDs.

However, that doesn't mean there weren't big problems for him on Sunday. One, he threw three picks. That won't fly against the Panthers. If he gives Carolina's defense that many opportunities on Thursday, Newton and the offense will make the Giants pay every time they get the ball back.

He also threw two of those three TD passes inside the final seven minutes of the game. Whether that speaks to his skills in the clutch or a complete defensive meltdown on the part of the Bucs is up for debate, but to beat the Panthers, Manning and his offense are going to have to heat up a lot sooner than that.

Andre Brown

He may not have gotten his opportunities if it wasn't for an injury to Ahmad Bradshaw, but he'll get plenty of them on Thursday: Bradshaw is out, according to, and Brown is the starter.

What that means for New York's running game is still up in the air, mostly because we still don't know what Brown is capable of. What we saw against the Bucs was encouraging: Brown registered the game-tying two-point conversion in the fourth quarter, as well as the game-winning, two-yard rush with 31 seconds remaining.

But again: defensive lapse on the part of the Bucs, or genius on the part of Brown?

One certainty is that Brown is going to have to be just as huge against the Panthers as he was against Tampa Bay, or else this New York rushing attack is going to be nonexistent. This is his chance to prove himself, and he has to take it.

Cam Newton

Newton will most likely be the most important player on the field on Thursday. As he goes, the game will go—regardless of what Manning's offense does.

Newton's performance dictates the Panthers' fate, as we saw during the first two weeks of this season. In the season opener against the Bucs, he threw for 303 yards, but he was also picked off twice, he was sacked three times and he only managed to get a mere four yards on the ground.

One week later, it was a vastly different story. Newton single-handedly shredded the Saints for 253 yards in the air, 71 on the ground, two touchdowns and zero picks. He took care of the ball, and it showed as he commandeered this team to its first win.

If Newton can move the ball like that against the Giants, the Panthers could have this win wrapped up—no matter how big Manning comes up.