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PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Eagles are the first top seed in NFL history to enter its opening playoff game as an underdog.

According to standout defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, it’s just another example of this Eagles team not getting its proper respect.

“We’ve been disrespected all year,” he said. “Our record can speak for itself. We’re a team that’s been disrespected week in and week out, and we just come out and ring the bell every week.”

The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook set the opening line at minus-2.5 in favor of the sixth-seeded Falcons, who upset the Los Angeles Rams in the wild-card round to advance.

Since 1975, when the NFL began basing home-field advantage on teams’ regular-season winning percentage, no No. 1 seed has ever been an underdog in its first playoff game, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Until now.

“It just puts a bigger chip on our shoulder and just adds fuel to the fire, and that’s what this team, obviously, has been going off of all year,” Cox said, “people doubting us every week. So we just want to go out and shut those doubters up.”

Westgate Superbook oddsmaker Ed Salmons estimates the Eagles could have been as much as a 6.5-point favorite over the Falcons with a healthy Carson Wentz. The fact that Wentz is out with a torn ACL is clearly having a major impact on public perception. So, too, has the recent play of backup Nick Foles. He’s 23-of-49 (47 percent) for 202 yards with a TD over his past five quarters of work.

Following a Christmas night win over the Oakland Raiders, in which Foles and the offense struggled, right tackle Lane Johnson faced a string of questions about his unit’s down play despite the fact that the Eagles had just improved to 13-2. He later told reporters that he was done talking for the year, but he rescinded that a week later after he’d cooled off.

“Obviously I wasn’t happy with the way we performed, but then again, we are where we are and it’s kind of, nothing is ever good enough,” he said last week. “There’s kind of pros and cons to it. I think it’s a good motivator. It’ll piss you off and get a lot of guys fired up, and that’s what it did for me.”

Not everyone is using external forces as motivation. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz insists he has no idea in a given week whether his team is a favorite or underdog, and he’s not going to start paying attention to that now.

“The game’s going to be about preparing well, the game’s going to be about executing on Saturday,” he said, “and the teams that do that the best are going to win, not the team that got picked by the most number of analysts or experts or what the simulation games say or any of that stuff. That has zero bearing on the game for us.”

But it is serving as good bulletin-board material for some.

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Panthers coach Ron Rivera

Panthers coach Ron Rivera

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he was surprised and disappointed to learn on Sunday that owner Jerry Richardson, amid allegations of workplace misconduct, planned to put the team up for sale after the 2017 season.

But Rivera made it clear that the Panthers, 10-4 and tied with New Orleans atop the NFC South, will continue to “go forward” with their playoff push and let the investigation by the NFL into Richardson’s conduct play out.

Sports Illustrated published an article on Sunday that said the organization settled financially with a least four employees regarding Richardson’s improper behavior in the workplace.

The allegations ranged from sexual harassment to Richardson using a racial slur with a former team scout.

“They’re all very serious,” Rivera said Monday of the allegations. “I do have a lot of concern about it. To be honest with you, I have not read them. I’m not dismissing them, because I’m going to wait until the investigation is done before I draw any conclusions. I think that’s the only fair thing to do. I don’t want to have anything altering my thought process.

“The investigation will take a life of its own. I believe it will be a thorough one. And remember, Mr. Richardson was the one that pushed for this to begin with.”

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Monday that “the league is moving forward with the investigation.”

Rivera’s focus will be on preparing for Sunday’s home game against Tampa Bay. The Panthers can clinch a playoff spot with a victory.

Rivera spoke on Monday to his players about Richardson’s decision to sell since the news broke after they departed Bank of America Stadium following Sunday’s 31-24 victory over Green Bay. He reminded them that their focus should be on football just as it has when the team has faced other off-the-field distractions in the past.

“I don’t know how much different it is from some of the things we’ve dealt with,” he said. “The thing that again we all have to understand is the serious nature of these allegations and who they affect.

“For the most part, these people need to be heard, respect what they have to say and again let the process take its course.”

Rivera said he spoke with Richardson on Sunday night just before the owner announced his decision to sell in a letter posted on the team website.

“He was terrific in terms of our conversation,” Rivera said, declining to elaborate on specifics of the conversation.

Rivera said he hoped new ownership keeps the team in Charlotte. Richardson in 2013 made a deal when the city agreed to pay for upgrades to the stadium that the team would be tethered to Charlotte through the 2018 season.

“This organization has had a tremendous impact on the Carolinas,” Rivera said. “It has helped the growth of this city and this community. It’s been a source of pride and goodwill. I’d like to see it continue.

“This is a great community, a very supportive fan base that’s been out there for us. I hope that somehow it’s able to stay here.”

As for the allegations, Rivera said he wouldn’t make a judgment until the investigation is over.

“Not to discount the serious nature of these allegations, for us, for what we do, we’re here to play football,” he said. “It’s important that we remember that. These allegations don’t change what we do. So we’ve got to go out and focus on getting ready for Tampa Bay.”

Panthers tight end Ed Dickson didn’t want to go into details about the allegations against Richardson.

“Personally, it’s sad to me, the whole thing,” he said. “We work to be better people, better individuals, better whatever you want to call it and to see that happen, it just saddened me as an individual. I got a lot of respect for our owner. He gave me an opportunity to come here and further my career and do the things I need to do as a football player, and I can only touch basis on a personal level from my standpoint of view.”

Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, who grew up in Charlotte, also hopes the team doesn’t move elsewhere.

One of the top African-American head-coaching candidates in the NFL, Wilks said he had never heard Richardson use a racial slur.

“In my six years around here I never encountered anything around here of that sorts,” he said. “Never have I heard of that. I’m just going to wait and see exactly what comes through the investigation.”

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Tom Coughlin

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Eli Manning is a lot like Blake Bortles in one critical area: They’re both turnover machines.

Both average 1.3 per game. From 2004 to ’16, Manning averaged 16.5 interceptions per season. Bortles averaged 17 per season in his first three seasons. Manning led the NFL in interceptions three times — including throwing 27 in 2013 — and Bortles led the league with 18 in 2015. The turnovers drove Tom Coughlin nuts when he was with the New York Giants, and they’re driving him crazy this year, too.

That was Coughlin’s No. 1 priority with Bortles this season: Cut down on the turnovers. He has, slightly. He has 11 in 11 games and is on pace for a career-low 16. Manning, by the way, also has 11 in 11 games.

Does that mean that the Jaguars shouldn’t take a serious look at making Manning their starting quarterback in 2018? Absolutely not. His experience, ability to carry a team for several weeks and clutch performances in the playoffs (remember the two game-winning drives in the Super Bowl) should make Coughlin, GM Dave Caldwell and coach Doug Marrone look long and hard at Manning.

That, of course, depends on the team making the decision to move on from Bortles. That’s certainly not as easy a decision as many outside the organization believe. Caldwell is a staunch Bortles supporter and Coughlin and Marrone believe that they can win with Bortles, provided he’s given a good supporting cast, which injuries have robbed him of this season. It’s not out of the question that Bortles is the starter in 2018.

But if he isn’t, the Jaguars will have multiple options. Kirk Cousins, provided Washington doesn’t franchise tag him again, is the top quarterback available. It doesn’t appear that Jimmy Garoppolo will be available (San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said Monday that it was likely the 49ers would use the franchise tag on him). Alex Smith could be if Kansas City decides to go with Patrick Mahomes after Smith’s dip in play over the past month.

A veteran quarterback makes more sense for the Jaguars right now. The defense is Super Bowl caliber, but there’s a small window to keep that defense together considering the age and contract situations of some of the key players. Drew Brees, Sam Bradford, Case Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater also are scheduled to be free agents.

Manning, provided he has been released or is willing to accept a trade, should be considered. Even at 37 years old his upside outweighs his turnover concerns and would give the Jaguars a chance at a deep playoff run.

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Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers found themselves in a strange spot on Monday in the first practice after a bye week.

But punter Michael Palardy found a potential opportunity to brush the dust off a skill not many know he possesses.

The Panthers’ two backup quarterbacks, Derek Anderson and Garrett Gilbert, were sick and contagious and had to be sent home from the team’s facilities, coach Ron Rivera said.

That left starter Cam Newton alone as the only player who could get receivers their repetitions out of the bye – or so the team thought.

Instead, Rivera called over Palardy as the team was stretching, and told him they’d probably go with him as a backup arm in a period of drills that day, during which Palardy would take nine snaps at quarterback.

Palardy all but skipped delightfully back across the field to tell his fellow specialists, who immediately began hooting with glee. Long snapper J.J. Jansen also wondered aloud what this year’s franchise tag contract looks like for a quarterback, as opposed to a punter.

“I was so pumped,” said Palardy. “I was so, so excited. … I haven’t taken live snaps since I was 15. I was relishing the moment. I was like, ‘I’m excited. I’m pumped.’

The punter attended St. Thomas Aquinas High in Florida, a noted powerhouse in high school football, where he played quarterback his freshman and sophomore years. He also kicked and punted, so if he threw a touchdown pass, he’d just stay on the field to notch the extra point.

“I was always out there for first, second, third or fourth down,” he said. “If I had to punt, I punted. If I had to kick, I kicked. And then once we scored, if I threw the touchdown or whatever it was, I’d throw the extra point. And then I’d stay out for the ensuing kickoff and kick (the ball) off.”

Palardy was ultimately beaten out at quarterback by Jake Rudock, who is on the Detroit Lions roster after playing for Iowa and Michigan, and Ryan Becker, now the assistant director of football operations at Penn.

On Monday, he was also beaten out by quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey as the go-to backup in camp.

Dorsey was the winningest quarterback in school history at the University of Miami, where he played from 1999-2002 and won a national title in 2001.

His credentials at the position do outweigh Palardy’s, but the punter still said he was “crushed” when Rivera decided to go with Dorsey instead (a reaction that caused the head coach to laugh out loud in his press conference later in the day).

“Man, I was distraught. It was like somebody ripped my heart out and stepped on it,” Palardy said.

Kicker Graham Gano reacted by ripping off his beanie and animatedly throwing it to the ground when a dejected Palardy shared the news.

Dorsey was intercepted once in practice, by safety Jairus Byrd, but Palardy joked that he would have gone 9-for-9 in the drill.

Rivera said he just wanted to preserve the health of the punter, who ranks No. 5 in the NFL in net punting, with an average of 43.3 yards per punt.

“We figured it was safer than having Palardy do it,” Rivera grinned. “We figured Kenny’s expendable, and Palardy’s a little bit more valuable. We can’t have someone running into him.”