GREG COTE’S THURSDAY NFL PICK
PANTHERS (6-2) at STEELERS (5-2-1)
Line: PIT by 4
Cote’s pick: PIT 27-24
TV: 8:20 p.m., Fox/NFL
For me this is the best Thursday night matchup of the season, pairing two hot teams with a combined seven wins in a row. Panthers-Steelers is an unlikely but not outlandish possible Super Bowl preview — that’s how good each has looked in finishing the season’s first half. Carolina has won three straight and Cam Newton has that offense purring, while the Cats’ run-D will be a huge test for Pitt RB James Conner and his four 100-yard games in a row. On the other side, the Steelers four wins in a row have been thanks to much improved defense. Both of Pittsburgh’s losses have been at home, but I like this stat even more: the Steelers have won 13 of their past 14 prime-time games. Big Ben Roethlisberger, like a vampire, operates best at night. Carolina takes care of the ball better so a Steelers turnover is the surest recipe for an outright upset, which would not surprise. I don’t see that. But I do hunch Cats-with-points against a spread that feels a point fat.