Finally after way too long of an off-season, NFL football is back on Thursday night! Though it was supposed to be back on Sunday with the Hall-of-Fame Game, some curious field conditions deemed the game unplayable. It’s been quite the negative off-season for the NFL, and Sunday’s example was yet another case. It will definitely be good to start talking once again about actual on-field play, and not all of the drama surrounding the off-field stuff. For Week 1 action on opening night, we’ll be focusing on last year’s Super Bowl finalists, the Carolina Panthers as they head to Baltimore to take on the Ravens.
Carolina came out of nowhere in 2015 to do some great things, before Cam Newton got shut down in the Super Bowl by that scary Broncos defense. Even though the Panthers did lose Josh Norman from their defense, they still return a solid unit. Adding wideout Kelvin Benjamin, back from being injured for all of last season – promises to be huge for Cam Newton and the passing game.
The Ravens were disappointing last season, struggling to overcome injuries and new personnel/schematics. They still remain a talented, veteran-laden squad, but one that likely will again be in tough to make the post-season. For their pre-season opener, the Ravens will reportedly be sitting out many first-teamers, including Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Steve Smith Sr., among many others. Though NFL teams of course want to send their own fans home happy, you get the sense that many in the crowd would be just fine if the local favourite Michael Phelps wins another Gold tonight at the Olympics. The ‘Baltimore Bullet’s’ race is scheduled to be shown at the stadium on the jumbotron, which again reminds you that this in fact just the NFL pre-season!
Panthers vs. Ravens Betting Odds:
Carolina Panthers -1 (-115)
@ Baltimore Ravens +1 (-105)
Over 36.5 (-110)
Under 36.5 (-110)
Betting odds provided by Bovada.lv
Panthers vs. Ravens Pick:
Surely the biggest news among these two teams is the return for Carolina of their star wide receiver, Kelvin Benjamin. The talented wideout was sorely missed in 2015, especially by quarterback Cam Newton. Benjamin suffered a difficult non-contact ACL injury in a scrimmage during last season’s training camp, and has definitely been anxious to get back out there. It’s expected that Benjamin and Newton should get up to a quarter of action together to try and regain the magic they showed back in 2014. Look for Benjamin to treat this as a big game, and definitely a chance to show everyone that he’s still a great receiver. Without the Ravens starters playing according to John Harbaugh, Benjamin should have some opportunity to succeed tonight.
Beyond Newton and the rest of the Panthers’ starters, it’s expected that Derek Anderson and Joe Webb will follow after at the quarterback position. In the pre-season, when betting it’s advantageous to always glance at the QB depth charts of the respective teams. With Anderson and Webb, you’re getting a couple of veteran play-callers and guys who have had some success before. The potential for a bad outing isn’t as pronounced as it could be for a young, undrafted free agent, freshly out of college.
For Baltimore, it is rare to see so many starters be ruled out entirely, but with Harbaugh overseeing a veteran group, it is clear that he’s going to give them some extra time to get ready for Week 1 when it really counts. As a result, look for Ryan Mallett and Josh Johnson to lead the Ravens attack on Thursday night. While those two have had success in the NFL before and are familiar with the league, they’ll stand little chance of moving the football without first-string playmakers and going against the Panthers’ starting defense for the first two or three series.
Harbaugh has stated that this game is simply all about evaluating the Baltimore rookies and their depth guys. With such limited talent and depth within the organization, you have to like the Panthers chances as road favourites entering tonight. Carolina will be giving their starters likely two or three series, and that should result in attaining some early success against the Ravens. Look for that lead to be maintained throughout the game, and the Panthers to take full advantage of Baltimore sitting out their talented veteran starters.
PICK = Panthers -1 (-115)