The 2013 NFL preseason is already upon us, and before Week 1 officially begins, it’s time to run down the predictions for all of Thursday’s opening-night action.
All of the following matchups will give football fans around the world the fix they need, and this is what to expect from each preseason battle.
Baltimore Ravens at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Baltimore Ravens come into the preseason as the defending Super Bowl champions, but the team will have an instant test against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that few experts know how to classify.
Tampa Bay has all the talent to be a playoff team in the NFC, but how the Bucs perform against the stingy defense and potent offense of the Ravens on Thursday will be a great gauge of how the team will handle the 2013 regular season.
Prediction: Tampa Bay 24, Baltimore 17
Cincinnati Bengals at Atlanta Falcons
The nationally televised game of the night (ESPN) will be a battle between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Atlanta Falcons. While this isn’t the most explosive matchup on paper, the meeting will be a great showcase of how far each team has come since last season.
Atlanta dominated the NFC South in 2012 (13-3), but with the entire division taking steps to get better, the road to glory won’t be as easy this year. Cincinnati is still trying to find its identity, and the hope from fans is that Thursday will expose exactly what kind of team the Bengals are.
Expect a hard-fought game for four quarters from these two organizations.
Prediction: Atlanta 33, Cincinnati 14
St. Louis Rams at Cleveland Browns
The St. Louis Rams have spent the offseason improving the team on the field (offensive tackle Jake Long and tight end Jared Cook), and the Cleveland Browns have been doing the same off the field (Rob Chudzinski as head coach and Norv Turner as offensive coordinator).
St. Louis will look to ride QB Sam Bradford to the next level, and with Cleveland hoping the same for Brandon Weeden, the battle of the unproven quarterbacks will be the focus of this Week 1 preseason matchup.
Prediction: St. Louis 27, Cleveland 10
Washington Redskins at Tennessee Titans
The Washington Redskins will be without QB Robert Griffin this preseason, per Josh Katzowitz of CBS Sports, but that doesn’t mean the Week 1 meeting with the Tennessee Titans won’t be one of the most interesting on the calendar.
Tennessee is coming off a putrid 6-10 season, and with the addition of a free agent like running back Shonn Greene, the Titans are trending in the right direction. This should make for a very intriguing Thursday night.
Prediction: Tennessee 14, Washington 10
Denver Broncos at San Francisco 49ers
In what has the potential to be a Super Bowl preview, the Denver Broncos will travel to San Francisco and play the 49ers in what should be one of the best preseason games of the year.
Even when the starters are pulled for this Week 1 matchup, the hard-nosed coaching of both Jim Harbaugh and John Fox will result in a bitter battle. While second- and third-string players may be on the field, the intensity will be regular-season worthy.
Prediction: San Francisco 30, Denver 20
Seattle Seahawks at San Diego Chargers
The Seattle Seahawks are coming off a 11-5 season that featured star players like Russell Wilson born on both sides of the ball, but following that performance up with another is important.
The main focus of this game will be on Wilson and how he improves or declines in 2013.
Seattle will go up against a San Diego Chargers team looking to find its own identity. After hiring new head coach Mike McCoy and general manager Tom Telesco, the Chargers are looking for stars like Philip Rivers and Ryan Mathews to step up, stay healthy and take the team back to the postseason.
Prediction: Seattle 20, San Diego 17