Baltimore was nearly Super Bowl-bound last postseason, before a late drop by Lee Evans in the AFC Championship Game cost them what would have been the go-ahead, game-winning touchdown.
Meanwhile, the Falcons are moving backwards after winning 13 games and clinching the NFC's best record in 2010. Atlanta went 10-6 last season and lost in the playoff opener for the second consecutive season.
Both squads will be looking to set the tone early in 2012, that's for sure. Here is everything you need to know for Thursday night's heavyweight matchup between the Ravens and Falcons.
When: Thursday, August 9 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga.
Watch: ABC (Baltimore), CBS (Atlanta)
Listen: WBAL 1090 AM (Baltimore), 790 AM The Zone (Atlanta)
Live Streaming: NFL Audio Pass
Betting Line: Falcons (-2.5), according to Covers.com.
What's At Stake?
Teams aren't playing for meaningful wins and losses in the preseason, but you can bet the competitive nature of NFL athletes feeds their will to win no matter when and where. Baltimore and Atlanta will be playing for bragging rights on Thursday night, but nothing more.
For the undrafted free agents and practice squad players looking to forge an NFL career, though, their futures and livelihoods are at stake in Thursday night's matchup. One great play and they could earn themselves a spot on special teams, or one disastrous decision and they could be the first one cut this summer.
Key Ravens Injuries
*According to CBSSports
LB Terrell Suggs (Achilles), questionable to play this season
TE Dennis Pitta (hand), doubtful for the preseason
RB Bernard Pierce (hamstring), questionable for Thursday's game vs. Atlanta
DB Jimmy Smith (back), probable for start of 2012-13 season
Key Falcons Injuries
*According to CBSSports
DL Corey Peters (foot), questionable for start of regular season
Fantasy Prospect to Watch
Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith caught 50 passes last season for a total of 841 yards and seven touchdowns. Only Ray Rice and Anquan Boldin were targeted more than Smith by quarterback Joe Flacco.
Smith averaged a whopping 16.8 yards per catch in 2011, and had 14 receptions of 20 or more yards. In his second NFL season, Smith promises to become a featured weapon in Baltimore's passing attack.
Fantasy owners should be watching Smith in the early moments on Thursday night to see if they think he's worth a top pick in their summer draft.
What They're Saying
Recently acquired cornerback Asante Samuel has already made his presence felt on the Atlanta Falcons this summer. Here is Samuel's take on the best mindset to have when stepping onto the field as an NFL corner, courtesy of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter:
You have to step on the field with confidence, being a little cocky, being arrogant, but being humble at the same time. It definitely is the way to be out there as a cornerback. If you are just out there going through the motions, you're going to have a lot of bad plays.
The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston had an in-depth assessment of Ravens' linebacker Sergio Kindle in practice on Monday:
In the one-on-one blocking session, Kindle got mauled by tackles Ramon Harewood and Kelechi Osemele. It's not often that you see a defensive player's knees buckle, but Kindle's caved in twice as if he had just gotten hit with a Joe Frazier left hook.
Ravens Player to Watch
Ray Rice won't see many touches in Thursday night's game against Atlanta, but he is still sure to entertain in the few attempts he does get to run with the ball.
Rice was the NFL's second-leading rusher in 2011, accumulating 1,364 yards on the ground. What makes Rice even more of a threat, though, is his ability to dominate in the passing game. Rice caught 76 balls last season for 704 yards.
There is no denying that Rice will once again be the Ravens' crutch on offense when the going gets tough and things break down for Flacco.
Falcons Player to Watch
Matt Ryan will be under more scrutiny than any other Falcons players in 2012. Ryan has been praised since entering the league as a winning quarterback, yet he has zero playoff wins to show for all of his regular season success.
Ryan is 0-3 as a starter in the postseason, and at age 27 is in desperate need of proving he can win the big game in Atlanta.
Although Thursday night's matchup with Baltimore won't vindicate Ryan as a clutch postseason passer, his presence under center against a strong defense is worthy of a look early on.
It will be each team's rushing attack vs. the opponent's rush defense. Both Baltimore and Atlanta ranked in the Top 10 in rushing defense by yardage last season.
The Ravens were the second-best run-stopping team in the league in 2011, while the Falcons were sixth-best at shutting down the run.
Both squads boast 1,300-plus-yard rushers in Michael Turner and Ray Rice, so the matchup to look for will certainly take place on the ground.
Preseason games are always difficult to predict, seeing as neither team plays its starters long enough for them to make much of a difference. Still, I expect both defenses to show up and make their fair share of plays.
Ravens 16, Falcons 9
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