By BARRY WILNER
Updated: September 22, 2021 11:40 AM
Created: September 22, 2021 11:30 AM
In an effort to get every team a Thursday game, NFL schedule makers often take some of the likely tail-enders and stick them in early season games.
Sort of a "let's get them out of the way before they've lost a lot" philosophy.
It's unlikely those folks expected an undefeated Carolina Panthers when they were put in the Week 3 prime-time match against Houston, which is almost as surprisingly 1-1.
So everyone should be happy with this matchup, right?
Well, there's enough interest, first because with the Texans minus their stand-in starting quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, out with a hamstring issue, won't be turning to their in-limbo star and former starter, Deshaun Watson. He's been inactive so far after 22 women filed lawsuits alleging sexual assault or harassment.
So rookie Davis Mills goes for Houston after stepping in for Taylor last week in a loss at Cleveland.
"Other than the first drive, I don't think he was really that uncomfortable on Sunday, and that's probably to be expected for a guy that's come in," offensive coordinator Tim Kelly said. "That's not an easy place to play, and the situation was tough being backed up like we were. So I thought he did a good job of settling down, and really, he put us in a spot to make it a one-score game with just over two (minutes) to go."
Carolina (2-0) comes off a beatdown of New Orleans and is tied with Tampa Bay atop the NFC South. The Panthers have been holding sack parties so far.
"We constantly talk about pass rush," Haason Reddick said of a friendly competition he has with teammate Brian Burns. "All day, every day, every time we see each other. When we are out at practice, during the game, we constantly talk about pass rush."
Look for the Panthers, ranked 10th in the AP Pro32, and 8-point favorites over No. 27 Houston, to give Mills fits.
KNOCKOUT POOL: Cleveland made it tighter than it should have been, but we survived to pick DENVER this week.
No. 31 New York Jets (plus 11) at No. 12 Denver
Teddy Bridgewater was once Jets property. Now he will tear them down.
BEST BET: BRONCOS, 30-12
No. 24 Cincinnati (plus 5) at No. 14 Pittsburgh
This worked for us in Week 1, and the Steelers have a bunch of key injuries.
UPSET SPECIAL: BENGALS, 21-18
No. 1 Tampa Bay (plus 1) at No. 2 Los Angeles Rams
It makes no sense to bet against that 44-year-old quarterback and his Bucs crew. Call us nonsensical.
No. 17 New Orleans (plus 3) at No. 19 New England
Drew Brees versus Tom Brady. Can't wait ... Oh, wait, they ain't there anymore.
No. 21 Miami (plus 4) at No. 5 Las Vegas
WE BELIEVE. At least this week, Pro Picks believes in the Raiders with Miami undermanned.
No. 18 Los Angeles Chargers (plus 7) at No. 3 Kansas City
That KC defense is worrisome. But Patrick Mahomes won't get intercepted in a key spot again.
No. 6 Baltimore (minus 9) at No. 28 Detroit
That Ravens D is worrisome, too. Somehow, Baltimore will hold on.
No. 4 Arizona (minus 8) at No. 32 Jacksonville
In 2021, West teams heading East simply shrug - and win.
No. 11 Seattle (minus 2) at No. 25 (tie) Minnesota
Well, not all of them.
No. 15 Green Bay (plus 4) at No. 8 San Francisco
After two victories in the Eastern time zone, the Niners get a home game. And ...
No. 22 Washington (plus 9) at No. 7 Buffalo
Thought about this as Best Bet, but still not sure about Buffalo.
No. 23 Chicago (plus 7) at No. 9 Cleveland
Also not sure what the Browns are. Surely talented, but mystifying.
No. 25 (tie) Indianapolis (plus 6) at No. 16 Tennessee
Early battle for AFC South lead, and the Colts have a ton of issues.
No. 20 Philadelphia (plus 4) at No. 13 Dallas, Monday night
Early battle for the NFC East lead. More like a pillow fight.
No. 30 Atlanta (plus 3) at No. 29 New York Giants
This week's only matchup of winless clubs. The Falcons have looked worse.
Last Week: Straight up: 11-5. Against spread: 10-5-1.
Season: Straight up: 18-14. Against spread: 16-14-2.
Best Bet: Straight up: 2-0. Against spread: 2-0
Upset Special: Straight up: 2-0. Against spread: 2-0.
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