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Thursday Night Pick; Giants vs. Panthers

Thursday night’s contest with the New York Giants is more than a game for the Carolina Panthers. It’s a coming of age for a young team with lofty aspirations. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/AP Photo)

Giants at Panthers
So my brother is a huge Panthers fan. He’s no frontrunner, though. He didn’t jump on board after Cam “Superman” Newton lit up the NFL in 2011. My brother pledged his allegiance to the Panthers from day one, back in the Kerry Collins years, and has never looked back. Since the Giants will arrive in the Queen City with what feels like half their normal roster, I expected my brother to be bursting with confidence. When I asked him if his Panthers would win Thursday, his response surprised me: “I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic. I am neutral as of now. We shall see when tomorrow night rolls around.” Huh? (Expert brother analysis: He thinks Carolina will win, he just doesn’t want to jinx it.) Since he was of little help, here’s what I think…

While it may seem easy to write off the Giants due to injuries, I encourage you to tread carefully. Tom Coughlin’s bunch is the ultimate “nobody believed in us” team. Whenever we count them out, the Giants play their best. They’re the passive house dog that casually goes about its day with no disturbance until an intruder forces it into a corner and all-of-sudden Marley turns into Cujo.

The absence of Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw, and David Diehl, plus a few others, certainly hurt the Giants chances, but it also raises the team’s level of focus and their “us against the world” mentality, too. If it was November or December and the Giants desperately needed a win, I’d confidently take Big Blue, but Thursday night feels like more than just another game for the Panthers.

For Carolina, this is their “we’ve arrived” moment. (I’ve never used this many ” ” in a post before. I’m not sure what happened.) If they want to be contenders in the amazingly deep NFC, this is a game they really should win, and not simply for the “W.” The Panthers need a defining win to show other teams they’re not to be ignored. The franchise hasn’t had a big win since, I don’t know, six years ago when they upset the Bears at Soldier Field.

We’ve heard endless stories about the Panthers believing they’re title contenders. Regardless of what the team is telling us, there still comes a time when each player has to believe the team is actually capable of competing for a title. A week ago I wouldn’t have picked the Panthers to beat the Giants, but Carolina’s victory over the Saints in Week 2 proved how far they’ve come. Sure, the Saints stink right now, but it was the way the Panthers continued to stomp on New Orleans that was most impressive.

In 2011, the young Panthers continually folded in the 4th quarter. When the 4th quarter rolled around, it was as if the team suddenly realized, “Oh yeah, we aren’t that good.” Against the Saints on Sunday, you could see the change in the Panthers mentality when the Saints made a few surges in the 4th quarter. Instead of, “Oh yeah, we aren’t that good,” the Panthers had a swagger, “We got this.”

The talent has obviously improved in Carolina and more importantly the culture is changing. Beating the Super Bowl champs in front of a national audience will give Carolina’s players the confidence to look around the locker room and believe, “Yeah, we’re good enough.” Until that signature win comes, though, it’s all just talk. After Thursday night, it’ll be more than that. PANTHERS If I were Charles Barkley: Panthers -1

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