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Fact or Fiction: Predictions for Sunday

10-5-FF

 It is more important for Odell Beckham Jr. to have a touchdown than it is for Saquon Barkley to rush for 100 yards. 

John Schmeelk - Fact: The simple fact is that, in a vacuum, scoring touchdowns is always more valuable than gaining yards. One hundred yards rushing would be great, but if it doesn’t come in the context of scoring points, it doesn’t matter a whole lot. Rushing for 100 yards, however, might indicate the team has a lead, which would be a good thing. Beckham will likely continue to be a focus for opposing defenses, especially with Evan Engram out with a knee injury. I would expect him to continue to see double-teams in the red zone. I believe his best bet for a score this week would be a catch and long run for a touchdown, getting in between the deep zone against the Panthers’ Cover 3.

Dan Salomone -  Fiction. More important than the rushing yardage total is the number of carries, and productive ones at that. As the great Carl Banks says, the more you run, the more they have to honor the run. That means forcing defenses to put one more player in the box, leaving one fewer to put an umbrella over Odell Beckham Jr. in the pass game. It’s all intertwined, but establishing the run is a tried-and-true way.

Lance Medow - Fiction: Odell Beckham scoring a touchdown is a convenient storyline given he has yet to reach the end zone this season. Here’s some perspective: the Giants are 13-13 when Beckham scores a touchdown. If you want to argue him reaching the end zone is so critical to the team’s success, then that record needs to drastically change. On the flip side, while Saquon Barkley running for 100 yards doesn’t guarantee a win, it certainly increases the chances. Right now, teams are not stacking the box. Instead, defenses are focusing more on the back end and keeping most of the action in front of them. Barkley having success on the ground gives the defense a reason to change that formation and perhaps open up the field for Beckham.

 Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey is more of a threat as a receiver than a runner.

John Schmeelk - Fiction: If this were 2017, I would have voted “fact”, but the Panthers are using McCaffrey much more as a traditional running back this season. They don’t line him up as a receiver much; most of his catches come when he leaks out of the backfield for check-downs. Linebackers struggle with him in space. In 2018, he has flourished as a running back. He hits the line decisively, but still shows the patience needed for holes to open up. He has the burst to get up field, the quickness to elude tacklers, the strength to break tackles and the speed to break a long run. He is the real deal and a special player. 

Dan Salomone - Fiction. I don’t think people appreciate him enough as a runner in the NFL, which I guess comes with the territory a year after he caught 80 passes as a rookie running back. McCaffrey is averaging 5.9 yards per carry on the No. 1 rushing team, and while he is known as a shifty and explosive player, he isn’t afraid to put his foot down, lower his pads, and try to run over someone. Additionally, the return of wide receiver Curtis Samuel, another hybrid running back from his college days, could take away some looks on McCaffrey in the passing game. 

Lance Medow - Fact: As a rookie, Christian McCaffrey collected 80 receptions for 651 yards and five touchdowns. He averaged just over eight yards per catch and this season, he essentially picked up where he left off in 2017. McCaffrey already has 22 receptions in just three games for 157 yards and is averaging just over seven yards per reception. The former top ten pick is an extremely versatile player but given the Panthers target him so much in the passing game, I think he’s much more of a threat as a receiver than a runner.

Carolina is currently the toughest place to play in the NFC. 

John Schmeelk - Fiction: Seattle. Green Bay. Minnesota! New Orleans! Philly! Do I need to say anything more? Nope. 

Dan Salomone - Fiction. The Panthers have been good at home because frankly they’ve had good teams. I don’t know if they’re at the level of the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field, where at one point they won 14 games in a row from 2012-13. However, they have cooled as a team and the home record reflects that with four losses in their last six games there. So for the current toughest, I’m going with one the Giants know all too well – Lincoln Financial Field. The Super Bowl LII champion Eagles have won 13 of 14 at home, including last year’s Divisional Round and NFC Championship Game victories. The Giants head back there the Sunday of Thanksgiving Weekend. 

Lance Medow - Fact: The Panthers are riding a seven-game home winning streak. They haven’t lost at Bank of America Stadium since Week 6 of 2017 against the Eagles. That’s all you need to know. While I can make a case for Seattle and New Orleans, the key word in the statement is “currently.” You’d be hard pressed to find another NFC team that has played better at home than Carolina. In 2017, the Panthers went 6-2 at Bank of America Stadium and are off to a 2-0 start this season. They have been one of the most consistent teams in their own backyard. New Orleans has already lost a game at home this season, and last year, the Seahawks went 4-4 in the Emerald City, so while you can’t overlook the noise factor, I’m not so sure Seattle is as intimidating now as compared to previous campaigns.

Cam Newton on designed runs is harder to defend than when he improvises and extends plays.

John Schmeelk - Fact: The Panthers’ read-option game is a completely different animal than what we have seen over the past few weeks. The Giants have dealt with some read-option plays scattered over the first four weeks of the season against the Jaguars, Cowboys and Saints, but it is nothing compared to what the Panthers do. The read-option is at the core of their running game, and it is not your simple “dive or quarterback keeper” design. They will fake outside runs, and have Newton run up the middle. They will involve a third player, like DJ Moore, in some plays as well to add in more misdirection elements. They do a lot of fun and creative stuff. 

Aside from the read options, the Panthers will also have Newton carry it on naked bootlegs, or on power runs with the running backs leading the way for him in between the tackles. Newton can take a pounding in the running game and the Panthers will use him. His running ability is a big reason the Panthers have scored a touchdown on 100 percent of their goal-to-go possessions inside the five-yard line. Newton’s running on designed plays can wreck this game and the Giants need to be ready for it. 

Dan Salomone - Fiction. There are few things more demoralizing for a team than when you have a quarterback is contained, only to have him slip out and make a play down the field, whether that’s by passing or tucking it and running. Instead of a big loss and getting the defense off the field, he turns it into a big gain. Instead of momentum for one side, it swings dramatically to the other. You can almost live with the designed plays because it’s an extension of their rushing attack and it’s just a matter of trying to bring down a quarterback in a tight end’s body. The improvising and extending, though, is where the real damage occurs. 

Lance Medow - Fact: Cam Newton isn’t built like most quarterbacks. Listed at 6-5 and weighing in at 245 pounds, he resembles a linebacker more so than a signal-caller. That’s why bringing him down is no easy task, especially when you take into consideration his athleticism and speed. Most mobile quarterbacks are challenging to contain when they improvise and extend plays. I don’t think Cam is any different, but when you take into consideration that he plays such a big role in the Panthers’ run game where they specifically design the scheme around his mobility, that’s where it can get tricky. A lot of his designed runs are off misdirection, so if you lose track of the ball, you’re put in a tough spot and then you have to find a way to tackle him. Good luck.

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