The worst division in the NFL gets a prime-time matchup when the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons meet for the second time in less than two weeks on Thursday night.
Despite a losing record, the Falcons (4-5) are in the mix for first place with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5) in the NFC South. The Panthers (2-7) aren’t that far behind despite a dismal season.
The teams produced an exciting finish in Atlanta on Oct. 30. The Falcons prevailed 37-34 in overtime after the Panthers missed two kicks that would’ve ended it.
P.J. Walker again starts over Baker Mayfield at quarterback for Carolina despite posting a 0.0 passer rating last week. He threw for a career-high 317 yards and a touchdown in his previous game against the Falcons.
Marcus Mariota might spend the night handing off after the Falcons averaged 5.7 yards per carry in last week’s loss to the Chargers and surpassed 200 yards rushing for the third time this season.
The Falcons are 3-point favorites, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. Road teams have won four of the past five Thursday night games. Pro Picks leans toward Atlanta because the Panthers are better off accumulating losses to get a top draft pick to land a potential franchise QB.
New Orleans (minus 2 1/2) at Pittsburgh
The Steelers (2-6) are rested after a bye while the Saints (3-6) are coming off a Monday night loss. Mike Tomlin’s team is better than its record. Pittsburgh beat Cincinnati and Tampa Bay and has lost one-score games to the Patriots, Jets and Dolphins.
UPSET SPECIAL: STEELERS, 20-17
Indianapolis (plus 6 1/2) at Las Vegas
Jeff Saturday makes his coaching debut with the Colts (3-5-1) against the Raiders (2-6) and Josh McDaniels, who changed his mind about the job in Indianapolis after the Super Bowl in February 2018.
The Titans (5-3) could play without a QB and snap the ball to Derrick Henry 60 times and still beat the Broncos (3-5).
Seattle (plus 2 1/2) vs. Tampa Bay in Germany.
Tom Brady saved the Buccaneers (4-5) from a fourth straight loss with an improbable comeback. Geno Smith has the Seahawks (6-3) leading the NFC West in a rebuilding year. Football fans in Germany will see a much closer game than anticipated when the schedule came out.
Andy Reid faces one of his most successful protégés in Doug Pederson, who played quarterback for Reid in Philadelphia, and was later part of his coaching staff on the Eagles and the Chiefs. Reid’s Chiefs beat Pederson’s Eagles in 2017 when Philadelphia went on to win the Super Bowl.
Houston (plus 6 1/2) at New York Giants
Back from a bye, the Giants (6-2) aim to get back on the winning track against the league’s worst team. The Texans (1-6-1) have a better record against the spread (4-3-1) than on the field.
Detroit (plus 3) at Chicago
Fresh off upsetting Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, the Lions (2-6) have to stop the Bears (3-6) and suddenly surging Justin Fields.
Cleveland (plus 3 1/2) at Miami
The Dolphins (6-3) are undefeated in the six games Tua Tagovailoa finishes. The Browns (3-5) need to use their running game to keep Tagovailoa, Tyreek Hill and Miami’s dynamic offense off the field.
Minnesota (plus 5 1/2) at Buffalo
Despite the records, the Bills (6-2) are the better team. The Vikings (7-1) had to rally to beat Washington. Josh Allen’s elbow makes this one tricky.
Arizona (plus 3) at Los Angeles Rams
A playoff rematch featuring two teams trending downward quickly. The Rams (3-5) hardly look anything like the defending Super Bowl champion. The Cardinals (3-6) are 4-11 since a 10-2 start last season.
Dallas (minus 5) at Green Bay
Rodgers has lost five straight games for the first time since his first season as the starter. Micah Parsons and the Cowboys’ D aim to make him more miserable.
Los Angeles Chargers (plus 7) at San Francisco
The Chargers (5-3) are getting no respect from oddsmakers going against a .500 team.
Washington (plus 10 1/2) at Philadelphia
This was supposed to be Carson Wentz’s return to Philadelphia. Instead, Eagles fans get to boo Taylor Heinicke instead.
Last Week: Straight up: 8-5. Against spread: 6-5-2.
Season: Straight up: 79-57. Against spread: 71-62-3.
Thursday Night: Straight up: 6-3. Against spread: 4-5.
Monday Night: Straight up: 5-5. Against spread: 4-6.
Best Bet: Straight up: 7-2. Against spread: 7-2.
Upset Special: Straight up: 3-6. Against spread: 4-4-1.
Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter at https://twitter.com/robmaaddi
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL