01/07/09 — Opinion -- Panthers mirror Super Bowl champs of 2008

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Opinion -- Panthers mirror Super Bowl champs of 2008

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on January 7, 2009 1:46 PM

Prior to capping the 2007-08 season with a world title, the New York Giants entered the postseason as a team known primarily for four things: a good but not great defense, a formidable running game with budding stars and a quarterback never too far from the whispers of doubters.

Fast forward a year and that same description fits the Carolina Panthers.

New York began the 2007-08 season with back-to-back losses to Dallas and Green Bay while allowing a combined 80 points. The Giants responded by winning their next six in a row and gave up just 20.8 points per game for the year.

New York surrendered 305 yards a game last season while finishing in the top 12 in the league in rushing and passing yards allowed per contest. The Giants' defense began to gel during last year's postseason as its points allowed per game dropped to 16.2. They sacked New England quarterback Tom Brady five times during the Super Bowl. Brady lost one fumble and managed just one touchdown pass.

Carolina enters the postseason at 12-4 and has given up 20.6 points a game, but has surrendered 27 points or more in three of its four losses. The Panthers' defense has been outstanding at times this season while struggling to slow opposing offenses at other times.

Carolina has given up 10 points or fewer five times and has allowed just three opposing running backs to rush for over 100 yards.

However, the Giants gashed Carolina's defense for 301 yards on the ground when the two teams met on Dec. 21. Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Atlanta each racked up over 300 yards of offense in wins over the Panthers. Saturday night against Arizona would be a good time for Julius Peppers and company to take their game to another level.

New York's three-headed-monster backfield of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw were part of a rushing attack that finished fourth in the league last season and produced a 100-plus yard rusher in six different games.

Carolina's backfield duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, now known as Double Trouble, lead a running game ranked third in the NFL and at least one of them has gone for over 100 yards seven times this season. Williams' 18 touchdowns is tops in the league for running backs and the former Memphis standout has yet to fumble in 273 carries.

The constant comparisons and the shadow of older brother Peyton Manning were never too far from Giants' quarterback Eli Manning until he reached football's pinnacle last season.

The younger Manning threw 23 touchdown passes with 20 interceptions and eclipsed the 250-yard passing mark just five times during the 2007-08 regular season. Those numbers improved drastically to six touchdown passes and only one interception during the postseason.

Panthers signal caller Jake Delhomme continues to shrug off questions about his lack of gaudy statistics or the fact that he's yet to be considered one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks despite having a 5-2 record in the postseason. His four postseason road wins are tied for the most in league history.

Delhomme has thrown for over 250 yards just four times this season, has been picked off two or more times in three games and has thrown one or no touchdown passes on 12 occasions. If he is ever going to quiet his critics, utilizing the big-play ability of Steve Smith and returning to the form he displayed in leading Carolina to a Super Bowl appearance in the 2003-04 season would be the place to start.

Skeptics of Carolina's chances to finally hoist the Lombardi Trophy this postseason should look no further than the Giants. Their serviceable defense, a trio of talented running backs and an overshadowed quarterback dethroned an unbeaten juggernaut on football's biggest stage a year ago.