The Baltimore Ravens have dreams of returning to the Super Bowl while the wounded Carolina Panthers simply want to get back on track after suffering some key injuries and making a few personnel changes heading into their preseason opener on Thursday night. The Ravens enter this game as home favorites at -3.5 after a successful 9-7 campaign a year ago that was capped by a surprising upset of the New England Patriots in the opening round of the playoffs. Line quoted at the time of publish, for up to date odds check out the live NFL lines page offering point spreads from multiple sportsbooks.
Meanwhile, the Panthers won their last three games to end last season but still did make the postseason, causing the team to go in a new direction. They decided to let starting QB Jake Delhomme and DE Julius Peppers leave as free agents after both were both instrumental in getting them to their first-ever Super Bowl seven years ago. Third-year QB Matt Moore takes over Delhomme and finished last season strong, and he will be the unquestioned starter as rookie Jimmy Clausen and second-year player Hunter Cantwell battle it out for the backup job.
The offensive strength of both Baltimore and Carolina remains on the ground, as they each ranked among the Top 5 teams in rushing last season. The Panthers saw Jonathan Stewart rise to the occasion after DeAngelo Williams got injured with both players finishing over the 1,000-yard mark. The Ravens witnessed Ray Rice grow up quickly and power up with a breakthrough performance to complement Willis McGahee and his 12 touchdowns.
But everybody will still be watching the passing games here, especially since Baltimore picked up WR Anquan Boldin in the offseason from the Arizona Cardinals. Ravens QB Joe Flacco slightly improved last season from his rookie year and will have a new weapon in Boldin, who will be making his debut with the team. Carolina’s Moore will not be so lucky, as his top receiver Steve Smith will not make the trip along with 10 other teammates due to a broken forearm.
Panthers head coach John Fox said Stewart (heel) and starting CB Chris Gamble (knee) will also miss this game along with T Jeff Otah (knee), T Garry Williams (shoulder), RB Mike Goodson (ankle), WR Charly Martin (finger), WR Trent Guy (hamstring), S Aaron Francisco (hamstring), LB Jordan Senn (shoulder) and LB Thomas Davis (knee). They face a tough challenge defensively after losing Peppers and defensive tackles Damione Lewis and Maake Kemoeatu.
Baltimore’s only real injury and depth concerns are in the defensive secondary, where they are still waiting for All-Pro S Ed Reed to come back from hip surgery and looking to replace injured CB Domonique Foxworth after he tore his ACL. Something to keep an eye on for the Ravens is the kicking competition between incumbent Billy Cundiff and former Cincinnati Bengal Shayne Graham. Both have performed well in training camp, and it’s important to keep in mind that Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh is a former special teams coach who will likely stress the kicking game in the preseason in order to determine a winner between the two. Harbaugh’s preseason coaching style translated to a perfect 4-0 record last year while Carolina’s Fox went 0-4.
At -3 the Ravens looked like a solid preseason NFL picks, but the line has gotten away at the current number of -4. Even with that said still have to lean towards Baltimore. With that being said you can grab our daily NFL picks from the Maddux Sports handicappers here. We have spotted a few week 1 preseason games that have some value so get on board today before the lines get away.