Cam Newton is enough reason to tune into any NFL game. That Newton and Carolina come off an upset of New Orleans and now face the inconsistent defending Super Bowl champions on Thursday night makes Giants-Panthers even more intriguing.
This is a chance for the Panthers to declare themselves something more than a fun team to watch.
"This is a big stage for us," coach Ron Rivera said. "It's been a long time coming that we've played a game like this. It's the type of game that can show that we're really making progress. To come back and play really well would speak well as to where we're headed as a football team."
Where the Giants were headed last Sunday through 30 minutes was 0-2. Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman picked apart a New York defense that is struggling in the secondary, in part due to injuries but also because of weak performances from usual standouts, especially cornerback Corey Webster.
Carolina, a 1-point underdog at home, has Steve Smith and a rapidly developing Brandon LaFell at receiver.
"He's established himself as a very good complement to Steve Smith," Rivera said.
But the Giants (No. 8 in the AP Pro32) have a way of confounding everyone, just as they did against the Buccaneers with an awful first half followed by a sensational comeback. In the same game, Eli Manning went from horrid to spectacular, and the Panthers (No. 17, AP Pro32) need to improve their pass rush and run defense.
We think they will, making the kind of statement Rivera is hoping for.
No. 24 St. Louis (plus 7 1-2) at No. 15 Chicago
Angry Bears take it out on surprisingly competitive Rams.
BEST BET: BEARS, 27-16
No. 18 Cincinnati (plus 3 1-2) at No. 20 Washington
Redskins hurting on defense, Bengals a team that can take advantage.
UPSET SPECIAL: BENGALS, 24-20
No. 6 Philadelphia (minus 4) at No. 12 Arizona
Eagles have yet to put everything together; Cardinals are much closer to doing so.
No. 4 Atlanta (plus 3) at No. 9 San Diego
The other matchup of unbeatens; Falcons are better team.
No. 7 New England (plus 3) at No. 5 Baltimore
Ravens remember they were soooooo close to beating Patriots for AFC title.
No. 2 Houston (minus 1 1-2) at No. 11 Denver
Broncos much tougher at home, Peyton won't keep turning over ball.
No. 1 San Francisco (minus 7) at No. 27 Minnesota
Niners have been road warriors under Jim Harbaugh, and they're top-ranked team for a reason.
No. 3 Green Bay (minus 3) at No. 19 Seattle, Monday night
Seattle's as tough a place to play as anywhere. Packers handle it.
No. 21 Tampa Bay (plus 7) at No. 14 Dallas
How do you predict a matchup of totally unpredictable teams? A tie? Can't go there.
No. 13 Detroit (minus 3) at No. 28 Tennessee
Titans might be most disappointing team thus far. Lions haven't been great, either.
No. 16 N.Y. Jets (minus 3) at No. 26 Miami
Loser here headed for very long season.
No. 31 Kansas City (plus 9) at No. 22 New Orleans
Just what the struggling Saints need to get on track: a team with even more problems.
No. 23 Buffalo (minus 3) at No. 29 Cleveland
Browns showing plenty of moxie.
No. 32 Jacksonville (plus 3) at No. 25 Indianapolis
Jaguars are at the bottom on merit.
No. 10 Pittsburgh (minus 4) at No. 30 Oakland
Remember when this was a high-profile rivalry?
Against spread: 5-10-1 (overall 11-20-1); straight up 10-6 (19-13).
Best Bet: 1-0-1 against spread, 2-0 straight up.
Upset special 1-1 against spread, 1-1 straight up.
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL