The NFL has a marketing campaign where an obnoxious man in a blue suit and giant beard yells about how the league is providing "serious fun" with games every Thursday night. This Thursday, the NFL's new pitch man won't have to hold his breath for too long to find that serious fun, as both starting quarterbacks—Eli Manning for the New York Giants and Cam Newton for the Carolina Panthers—should rack up some huge numbers on the opposing defenses.
Seriously, this one should be fun.
The question heading into Thursday Night Football is which quarterback will have more "serious fun" than the other. Manning and Newton find themselves in similar situations after the first two weeks of the season. Both their teams lost in Week 1, falling to opponents they surely expected to beat. Neither quarterback looked very comfortable in the first week, but both bounced back in Week 2 to avoid a completely disastrous start to a season strapped with hope and expectations.
Despite throwing for 215 yards and a touchdown, Manning was awful in the first half against Tampa Bay, hurling three interceptions that each led to Buccaneers touchdowns, including one that was returned for a pick-six just before halftime. Smothered with boos as he ran into the tunnel, Manning returned a rejuvenated passer, throwing for 295 yards and two touchdowns in the second half against a to-that-point stalwart Tampa Bay defense.
Newton didn't need to wait until halftime to get his act together. In the Panthers' 35-27 victory over the New Orleans Saints, Newton proved to be the dual threat we expected to see at the start of his sophomore season, passing for 253 yards and a touchdown while rushing for another 71 yards and a score.
If both fanbases could exhale after this past weekend, relief quickly turned back to apprehension with a short week leading into a game that certainly feels like a must-win for both sides.
Manning and Newton shouldn't be too apprehensive heading into Thursday night. To be kind, neither defense has been all that good, leading to the potential for some serious fun on Thursday night for both quarterbacks.
Through two games, Carolina's defense ranks 20th (372.0 ypg) in the league in total yards, while the Giants sit one place higher in 19th (370.0 ypg), more than 100 yards per game behind some of the top defenses in the league.
Carolina has been admittedly better against the pass, ranking 13th in the league with 225.5 yards per game against Tampa's Josh Freeman and New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. Manning may not expect another 500-yard performance against Carolina's defense, but he certainly should find some success if he is able to avoid turnovers.
The Giants defense ranks 22nd in pass defense (259.0 ypg) after facing Tony Romo and Freeman, which should excite Newton more than New York's 11th-rated rush defense. Having said that, the Giants are allowing 6.8 yards per play on defense, the fifth-worst average in the league, and despite a rush defense just outside the top third, the Giants have allowed 4.6 yards per carry, clearly in the bottom third in the league. The Giants are also allowing 8.5 net yards per pass attempt, fourth worst in the NFL after two games.
In short, there should be a lot of opportunities for Newton to keep the Giants defense guessing. Carolina head coach Ron Rivera is looking for his second-year quarterback to do just that.
While both quarterbacks should seriously expect some fun on Thursday, it will be interesting to see who will have a better night on Thursday.
Clearly both Manning and Newton should find time and space against defenses that have each allowed better than 64 percent completion percentage and combined for just seven sacks through four games this season.
Manning certainly needs to cut down on the turnovers, but so does Newton, who has thrown two interceptions and lost a fumble as well this season. While Manning has the more impressive passing numbers on paper—723 passing yards and four touchdowns to 556 passing yards and two touchdowns—Newton does have 77 more rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground through two games. Newton is at home, but Carolina was no better at home than on the road last season. Manning showed last season during the playoffs how good he can be on the road.
From a fantasy perspective—I have Manning and am playing against Newton this week, so this greatly interests me if it doesn't interest you—Manning has put up better numbers so far this season, but Newton has yet to have one of the light-up games he became famous for last year.
This will likely be Newton's best chance for a breakout game before the Panthers' bye week, so if we are expecting a monster game to happen, it could come in prime time on Thursday night.
The harder questions to answer when comparing two quarterbacks are who you would rather have the rest of the season and the rest of their careers. (Let's run with the hypotheticals, shall we?)
Newton has all the physical tools to make a great quarterback, but he is only 7-11 in his young NFL career. There have been a lot of gifted quarterbacks who weren't able to lead their team to the Super Bowl.
This is not to suggest that Newton can't, or that he won't, but the guy lining up in the other uniform has done it twice. Manning is a proven winner in the NFL, something that numbers or arm strength or 40-yard dash times still can't truly measure. Granted, Manning had a much better supporting cast in his Super Bowl seasons than Newton has in Carolina, and Manning didn't win the Super Bowl until his fourth season, so it's certainly unfair to compare the two in any empirical way.
Still, if faced with the decision of who to start a franchise with, Newton is probably the better long-term fantasy play, but in reality, it would be hard to pass up a guy with more than 28,000 career passing yards and two Super Bowl rings.
I would take Manning—this year and in the future—but it wouldn't surprise me if Newton proves me wrong time and time again, even as soon as Thursday night. No matter who you would chose, the debate of which guy is better—much like Thursday night's contest—could be serious fun.