The NFL preseason kicks into high gear Thursday with six games, including first looks at a legitimate Super Bowl contender and an AFC darkhorse. The Atlanta Falcons host the Cincinnati Bengals (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) on Thursday in both teams’ preseason debut.
The Falcons were around 2 1/2-point favorites
as of Wednesday, with a few shops offering juiced-up -3s. The total was sitting at 37.
Atlanta blew a big halftime lead to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game last season. The core of that Falcons team returns, highlighted by quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones. Atlanta swapped veteran running backs, picking up Steven Jackson from the St. Louis Rams and letting Michael Turner go.
There are question markets around the Falcons’ offensive line, especially after starting right tackle Mike Johnson went down in camp this week and is likely out for the season. A patchwork offensive line is not a good matchup against the Bengals, who feature one of the most feared defensive fronts in the NFL.
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Cincinnati’s bandwagon is growing, with more and more pundits starting to believe Marvin Lewis’ squad has the talent to make a serious run in a wide-open AFC North. They’ll need more from quarterback Andy Dalton if they’re to reach their full potential. Will that lead to more playing time in the preseason for Dalton?
That’s doubtful Thursday. Neither Dalton nor Ryan is expected to play more than a series or two. Josh Johnson will back up Dalton, with John Skelton and Zac Robinson also listed on the Bengals’ depth chart at quarterback. Ryan will be backed up by Dominique Davis, Sean Renfree, and Seth Doege.
The Falcons are 8-10-2 against the spread in the preseason under coach Mike Smith, with eight Overs and 11 Unders. The Bengals are 20-20 against the spread and 20-20 over/under in the preseason under Lewis.
NFL Preseason Betting Helpers
Thursday Night’s Card
(All times ET. Odds from 5Dimes
Ravens at Bucs (-3, 35.5), 7:30 p.m.
Rams at Browns (-4, 35.5), 8 p.m.
Rams 11-3 SU & ATS past 14 preseason games
Redskins at Titans (-3, 35.5), 8 p.m.
Washington QB Robert Griffin III will not play … Redskins coach Mike Shanahan is 42-32-2 against the spread and 48-28 over/under in the preseason during his NFL career.
Broncos at 49ers (-2.5, 35), 9 p.m.
Seahawks (-1, 35.5) at Chargers, 10 p.m.