With a two-game winning streak and suddenly effective units on both sides of the ball, the Carolina Panthers are oozing confidence.
Facing winless Tampa Bay on Thursday night should do nothing to erase that self-assurance.
While the Panthers (3-3) are getting solid performances from quarterback Cam Newton and receiver Steve Smith on offense, tackling machine Luke Kuechly at linebacker, and safety Mike Mitchell, they're also plus-5 in turnover margin.
So why not look up in the standings at a potential wild-card spot, especially facing the most dysfunctional team in the league this year, the Bucs?
''I can't stress enough how proper preparation can increase the confidence come game time,'' Newton said, speaking for himself as well as the team. ''When you come to the line and you know that you've been coached up to expect a certain look - and then you get that look - you don't panic.''
Panic City might be another name for Tampa, where rookie Mike Glennon makes his fourth start since incumbent quarterback Josh Freeman was exiled. Halfback Doug Martin hurt his shoulder in Sunday's loss.
''I just take the next task at hand,'' coach Greg Schiano said. ''I can tell you, on a short week like this, you don't get a lot of sleep. You try to get everything done. You try to make it as good a plan, yet not very complicated, because you don't have a lot of time to practice.
''It really has to be between the ears, get yourself, physically, feeling as well as you can as a football team, and we've got to go out and execute against a team that, right now, is pretty hot.''
Carolina (No. 16 in the AP Pro32) is a 6-point favorite over Tampa Bay (No. 31, AP Pro32).
No. 1 Seattle (minus 11) at No. 26 St. Louis
It's madness to lay this many points on the road in current NFL. Unless Kurt Warner is coming through the Rams' door, we're laying them ...
BEST BET: SEAHAWKS, 23-3
No. 10 Dallas (plus 3) at No. 12 Detroit
Not a big believer in Lions. Nor in Cowboys, but ...
UPSET SPECIAL: COWBOYS, 23-21
No. 7 Green Bay (minus 10) at No. 30 Minnesota
Packers start pulling away in NFC North.
No. 13 New York Jets (plus 6 1/2) at No. 8 Cincinnati
Stamp the winner here as a team to watch.
No. 21 Atlanta (plus 2 1/2) at No. 24 Arizona
Stamp the loser here as a team to ignore.
No. 6 San Francisco (minus 16 1/2) vs. No. 32 Jacksonville at London
Jags take their woeful squad across the pond.
No. 25 Cleveland (plus 7) at No. 2 Kansas City
Look for a defensive battle royale.
No. 23 Washington (plus 13) at No. 3 Denver
Look for little defense at all.
No. 18 Buffalo (plus 12 1/2) at No. 4 New Orleans
Bills won't make it a Big Easy for Saints.
No. 17 Miami (plus 7) at No. 9 New England
A must-win for the Dolphins to stay relevant in AFC East. Sorry ...
No. 19 (tie) Pittsburgh (minus 3) at No. 28 Oakland
Once a classic rivalry, now part of Pittsburgh's revival.
No. 29 New York Giants (plus 6) at No. 19 (tie) Philadelphia
Taking a mulligan here. But either way, Giants cover.
With Michael Vick at QB, EAGLES, 24-20
Without Michael Vick at QB, GIANTS 27-10
Against spread: 7-8 (47-58-3). Straight up: 8-7 (63-45).
Best Bet: 4-3 against spread, 7-0 straight up.
Upset special: 1-6 against spread, 1-6 straight up.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Carolina Panthers
- Cam Newton