The most meaningful week of the NFL preseason kicks off Thursday with an intriguing matchup between two teams with contrasting expectations.
The Baltimore Ravens host the Carolina Panthers on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). Mass personnel changes have left the defending Super Bowl champs with tempered expectations and have some pundits wondering if the Ravens will even make the playoffs. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are gone, and steady tight end Dennis Pitta was lost for the season with an injury. But quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Ray Rice, and wideout Torrey Smith still give the Ravens enough firepower to make some noise in the AFC North.
Baltimore opened as a 4.5-point favorite over the Panthers, but the line was sitting at minus-3 as of Wednesday.
The Ravens, 2-0 in the preseason, rallied from 16 points down in the fourth quarter to beat the Atlanta Falcons last week.
Meanwhile, expectations are high for the Carolina Panthers, who finished last season strong behind dynamic quarterback Cam Newton. The Panthers are 1-1 this preseason after falling to the Philadelphia Eagles last week. Newton is expected to play the entire first half before being replaced by backup Jimmy Clausen.
Carolina will be shorthanded at wide receiver, with Armanti Edwards, Domenik Hixon, and Joe Adams expected to miss the game.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh is 13-9 against the spread in the preseason. Panthers coach Ron Rivera is 5-5 against the spread in the preseason.
Seahawks vs. Packers (8 p.m. ET, Friday, TV: CBS)
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed practice time this week with a head cold, but is expected to play against the Seahawks. Backups Graham Harrell and Vince Young took the extra reps and will get their chance to win the backup quarterback spot Friday.
The Packers are 1-1 in the preseason, with both games staying under the total.
The Seahawks are 2-0 straight-up and against the spread this preseason, with both games going over the total. Coach Pete Carroll is now 21-9-1 against the spread in preseason play.
Patriots at Lions, 7:30 p.m.
Detroit WR Calvin Johnson is expected to play after missing last week’s game with a bruised knee. ... The total on the game was sitting at 45 Thursday morning, the highest total for a preseason game since 2005, according to BetLabs.
Panthers at Ravens, 8 p.m. (ESPN)
Seahawks at Packers, 8 p.m. (CBS)
Bears at Raiders, 10 p.m.