The Jets have dominated the headlines around New York since the end of last season and the whole football world is going to be paying attention to what happens on Monday night when they face the Ravens. As big as that game is, you could make a really strong case that the Giants have more to prove in their opener.
The Giants have been stewing in the remnants of their awful finish to the 2009 season for a really long time. Starting this season allows them to finally turn the page and begin figuring out if they've done enough to avoid another disappointing campaign. We all know that you can't draw any conclusions from one game, but the Giants will gain a lot from a strong first performance because of the added distance from the putrid team we last saw wearing their uniforms.
They couldn't ask for a better opponent to help them get that distance. The Panthers are good enough that no one can say that beating them represents little more than a repeat of the start of last season when the Giants beat up on pathetic teams and acted like it meant something. The Panthers don't appear to be so good that they should be able to thrash the home team, however. That will wait until Week Two against the Colts.
The Panthers also have a team well suited to both test and encourage the spots on the Giants roster that have been most troubling. Their running tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart will make it clear pretty early whether or not the Giants have fixed their issues in the middle of the defensive line. They'll also help give us some insight into the fitness of Jonathan Goff at middle linebacker.
We'll learn a lot about the safeties because the Panthers passing game is almost wholly reliant on Steve Smith for production. Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips should be spending a lot of time giving help to the cornerbacks trying to shut Smith down on Sunday and keeping him off the scoreboard would be an awfully good sign for the team going forward. The Panthers are also missing starting tackle Jeff Otah, something that should help the much-hyped, rarely-seen Giants pass rush get on track.
On the other side of the ball, the Giants offensive line should have their hands full with the Panthers pass rush. They lost Julius Peppers, but Everette Brown and Greg Hardy led a fast and fierce crew to 18 sacks in four preseason games. David Diehl is confirmed as the left tackle and seeing whether he can handle speed rushers is of particular interest after he spent 2009 playing subway turnstile.
Very good tests all around, but the real reason the Giants should send a thank you note to the boys in scheduling is because beating the Panthers in their first game at the new stadium would be a strong psychic bookend to the 41-9 loss that ended the Giants' time on the old field.
That was the nadir for last year's Giants, and there'd be no better way to say that last year doesn't matter anymore than to stomp the Panthers on Sunday.