Eagles-Panthers: A prime-time matchup worth watching
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Just think: We get another enticing Thursday night matchup.
A week after the Patriots beat the Buccaneers in a tight prime-timer, division leaders Philadelphia and Carolina go at it in Charlotte.
These two are tied with the Packers for the best record in the NFC at 4-1. The Panthers have been particularly impressive with road wins at New England and Detroit, and the Eagles might be arriving a year ahead of schedule as they sit atop the NFC East.
Philadelphia ranks first in third-down efficiency (53.4 percent), with Carolina second (50 percent). The Eagles have scored at least 20 points in nine consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL. (Hint on our pick, maybe: We think they will get to 20 again.)
Cam Newton might be struggling off the field with unwise comments, but behind center he has completed 77 percent of his passes for 671 yards, six touchdowns and one interception in the past two games, those wins at the Patriots and Lions. He also has both Carolina TDs rushing.
"We went through a rough patch early on with the quarterback because he was still working himself back into football shape," coach Ron Rivera said.
"He had to get that arm strength back. The shoulder was getting tired quickly because it hadn't been conditioned the way it needs to when you practice as little as he did at training camp. So now he's starting to feel better and better and stronger and stronger."
Carolina is ranked fifth in the AP Pro32 and is a 3½-point favorite over No. 3 Philadelphia.
The winner must be considered a dangerous playoff contender.
KNOCKOUT LEAGUE TIP
OK, the Steelers did us in, specifically Big Ben playing as he was colorblind and throwing all those picks. So if anyone still has faith in our choices here, go with BALTIMORE only because we've already picked New England and Denver.
No. 7 New England (minus 9 1-2) at No. 22 New York Jets
We expect reality to settle in at the Meadowlands. If the NFL has any reality this year.
BEST BET: PATRIOTS, 45-17
No. 19 Tampa Bay (minus 2 1-2) at No. 26 Arizona
Still not ready to trust Bucs on road.
UPSET SPECIAL: CARDINALS, 21-20
No. 30 New York Giants (plus 12) at No. 6 Denver
Also were tempted to make this BEST BET with Giants so banged-up and inept.
No. 10 Pittsburgh (plus 4) at No. 1 Kansas City
Afraid we didn't learn our lesson with Steelers' flop vs. Jaguars.
No. 2 Green Bay (minus 3 1-2) at No. 14 Minnesota
Packers look better away from Lambeau than at it.
No. 32 Cleveland (plus 10) at No. 18 Houston
Injuries probably will cost Texans shot at division title. Won't cost them much here.
No. 11 Los Angeles Rams (plus 3) at No. 13 Jacksonville
Two teams that have surprised so far.
No. 9 Detroit (plus 4 1-2) at No. 21 New Orleans
Rested Saints get enigmatic Lions. Spread seems high, shootout likely.
No. 25 Miami (plus 11 1-2) at No. 4 Atlanta
Another rested NFC South team ready to pounce.
No. 31 San Francisco (plus 9 1-2) at No. 15 Washington
Niners playing everyone tough, even if they can't get Ws.
No. 29 Chicago (plus 7) at No. 17 Baltimore
Young man Trubisky, meet veteran sackmaster Terrell Suggs. OUCH!
No. 28 Los Angeles Chargers (plus 3) at No. 20 Oakland
Derek Carr's return key to Raiders' chances Sunday and beyond.
No. 27 Indianapolis (OFF) at No. 24 Tennessee, Monday night
No Luck? No Mariota? No way we're watching.
Last week: Against spread (10-3). Straight up (8-6)
Season Totals: Against spread (37-36-1). Straight up: (46-31)
Best Bet: 3-2 against spread, 3-2 straight up.
Upset special: 5-0 against spread, 5-0 straight up
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL