NFL Week 1 odds: Panthers on TNF among favorites on opening slate

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Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers have ruled the NFC South for three seasons, but covering as a road favorite has not been their forte. Heading into Thursday night’s NFL season opener between last year’s Super Bowl teams, the Panthers are listed as three-point favorites against the host Denver Broncos at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Over the last three seasons, Carolina is 9-3 straight-up but just 5-7 against the spread as a road favorite, according to the OddsShark NFL Database. However, overall they’re also 8-0 both SU and ATS in their last eight games as a favorite of three or fewer points.

Denver, which won both home games last season where it was an underdog, is 25-4 SU in its last 29 home games. The total has gone under in both the Panthers’ last four season openers and in the Broncos’ last five games following consecutive wins.

In a Sunday Night Football tilt between the 2015 AFC and NFC finalists, the Arizona Cardinals are listed as six-point favorites against the temporarily Jimmy Garoppolo-led New England Patriots. The Cardinals are 10-2 SU and 7-5 ATS in their last dozen games when favored by 6.5 or fewer points.

The Patriots are 5-1 ATS in their last six games against Arizona. The total has gone over six of the last seven times that New England was the underdog.

The New York Giants-Dallas Cowboys tilt is listed as a pick’em. The Cowboys, now counting on rookie QB Dak Prescott, are 5-1 SU in their last six September games. The Giants aren’t known for being fast starters: try an 0-5 SU and 1-4 ATS trend in their last five season openers. The NFC East rivals’ last seven games have all gone over the posted total.

The Cincinnati Bengals are 2.5-point favorites on the road against the New York Jets; the Bengals have lost nine road games in a row against the Jets, but they are 6-2 SU and 8-0 ATS in their last eight away games. Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts are four-point favorites at home against Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions.

With backup QB Shaun Hill starting, the Minnesota Vikings are two-point road favorites against the Tennessee Titans. According to website PredictionMachine.com, the Vikings’ projected points per game average with Hill at quarterback instead of the injured Teddy Bridgewater drops from 24.5 to 21.8. With Sam Bradford at quarterback that number is 22.1.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are favored by three points against the Washington Redskins on Monday night, with the total at 50 points. The total has gone under for bettors eight of the last 11 times the Redskins were an underdog of three or fewer points. In the other Monday night game, the Los Angeles Rams are 2.5-point favorites against the host San Francisco 49ers.

In other games of note, the Seattle Seahawks are 10.5-point favorites against the Miami Dolphins, Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints are a slim one-point favorite at home against the Oakland Raiders, and the Green Bay Packers are 4.5-point favorites on the road against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The NFL’s final 4 all overcame injuries to star players

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The list of players sitting out this weekend’s conference championships is almost as impressive as the starting lineups: Julian Edelman. Carson Wentz. Dalvin Cook. Dont'a Hightower. Allen Robinson. Sam Bradford.

Following the NFL’s season of carnage that claimed the likes of, among others, Aaron Rodgers, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson, Odell Beckham Jr. and Joe Thomas, this year’s final four all overcame not only the odds – “Minneapolis Miracle , anyone?” – but devastating injuries to key starters.

“We have a tough and resilient team,” Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long said of the NFC’s top seed , which is missing its second-year QB in Wentz, an MVP hopeful when he blew out a knee in December.

Even before Wentz’s injury thrust backup Nick Foles into the starting job for the playoffs, the Eagles lost nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, playmaking middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, versatile return specialist Darren Sproles, and special teams captain Chris Maragos.

Yet, here they are, 60 minutes from Minneapolis and Super Bowl 52.

“I think that starts at the top with Doug, because he sets the tone for being resilient and even keeled,” Long said of his coach, Doug Pederson. “At the end of the day, we have a tough group of guys.”

So do the Minnesota Vikings, who are trying to reach their first Super Bowl in more than four decades and fulfill mantra to “Bring it Home” and become the first NFL team to play the title game in its own stadium.

And they’re doing so behind Case Keenum, who crashed Tom Brady‘s playoff party along with fellow perennial backup Foles and Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blake Bortles.

Together, the four quarterbacks left standing have a combined five Super Bowl rings, two NFL MVP awards and four Super Bowl MVP trophies. Brady, of course, owns all of that hardware himself.

Such is the panorama of these playoffs following a season of pain in which so many superstars were rendered sideline spectators with broken bones, snapped ligaments, torn muscles.

Keenum replaced an injured Bradford, who had replaced an injured Teddy Bridgewater. Bradford, now back in uniform as Keenum’s backup, blew out a knee in the first month of the season, as did rookie running back in Cook, who needed reconstructive surgery to repair a torn ACL.

Behind resilient coach Mike Zimmer , who resisted the urge to quit just before he got the Vikings’ head coaching gig in 2014, Minnesota rolled right along. Keenum deftly took over for Bradford, and Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray became a productive backfield tandem.

“We’ve got a bunch of fighters on this team,” Zimmer said. “They’ve been a resilient bunch all year long. I expect it to continue to be that way.”

The Patriots are also a bunch of fighters; they reached their seventh straight AFC title game despite losing Edelman, Brady’s top target, to a torn ACL in the preseason, and Hightower to a torn chest muscle in November.

Play caller Josh McDaniels and Brady, who led New England to a fifth Super Bowl title last year despite the absence of Rob Gronkowski, adjusted accordingly to Edelman’s absence with another terrific year.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy stepped in for Hightower and ranked third on the team with 73 tackles and second with 5+ sacks despite missing three of the final five games with a calf injury.

Van Noy’s sack total was just a half-sack shy of Hightower’s career high set in 2014.

“The thing about K.V. is he’s very versatile,” said Patriots safety and defensive captain Devin McCourty. “So we’ve used him a bunch of different ways. … He’s been a big asset to our team.”

The Jaguars are the healthiest of the remaining playoff teams. They have only one opening-day starter on injured reserve: former Pro Bowl receiver Robinson, who tore his left ACL on Jacksonville’s opener.

Four months removed from reconstructive surgery, Robinson is now traveling with the team, so he’ll be on the sideline Sunday at New England, serving as a mentor to a raw receiving corps.

“Every person in this locker room put in a lot of work to get to this point, with me being one of them,” said Robinson, who was poised for another big year after dominating the league’s best secondary in training camp.

His injury on Jacksonville’s third offensive snap created a huge void for the offense. Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns tried to pick up the slack, but they ended up on the sideline at one point with injuries, too, leaving rookies Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook to assume bigger roles.

Cole, an undrafted rookie from tiny Kentucky Wesleyan, had 42 catches for 748 yards and three scores in the regular season. He added a clutch 45-yard catch that set up a late TD in Jacksonville’s 45-42 stunner at Pittsburgh last week.

“I wish I could just wake up tomorrow and feel like I did Sept. 9,” Robinson said, “but I understand it’s going to be a process. I know I’ll be back to that point and better.”

Like so many other stars, Robinson will be in street clothes Sunday, cheering on his teammates in hopes of getting a sideline pass to the Super Bowl.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

With contributions from AP Pro Football Writers Rob Maaddi and Dave Campbell and AP Sports Writers Mark Long and Kyle Hightower.

Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

Steratore will lead 7-person officiating crew for Super Bowl

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NEW YORK (AP) Referee Gene Steratore will lead the seven-person crew of on-field game officials working the Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

The other members of the officiating crew for the Feb. 4 game are Roy Ellison (umpire), Jerry Bergman (down judge), Byron Boston (line judge), Tom Hill (field judge), Scott Edwards (side judge) and Perry Paganelli (back judge).

The crew has 127 years of NFL officiating experience and 101 combined playoff game assignments.

Steratore entered the league in 2003 as a field judge and was promoted to referee in 2006. He has officiated 11 playoff games, including two conference championships. He was the alternate referee for the 2010 Super Bowl.

Under the NFL officiating program’s evaluation system, officials must be rated in the top tier at their position to be eligible for the Super Bowl. They must have at least five years of NFL experience and previous playoff assignments.

Paul Weidner is the replay official.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL