A strong showing by Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers against the world champion Baltimore Ravens Thursday night in Baltimore would portend good things for the up-and-coming NFC South franchise in 2013.
It's not going to be easy, however.
Even without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, the Ravens embody what hard-nosed football is all about.
Head coach John Harbaugh will accept nothing less, and general manager Ozzie Newsome is one of the best personnel men in the league at providing his team with players who can carry out Harbaugh's vision.
The greatest challenge facing the defending Super Bowl champs this year is finding players who will fill the void left by Anquan Boldin, who now plays for the San Francisco 49ers, and Dennis Pitta, who is out with a hip injury.
On the other side, Newton needs a strong rushing attack behind him. Though the Panthers certainly have the players to make it happen, this team failed to produce a ground game that was capable of complementing the passing game last year.
Here's what you need to know about tonight's Panthers-Ravens clash in preseason Week 3.
Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Md.
When: Thursday, Aug. 22, at 8 p.m. ET
Live Streaming: Preseason Live
Listen: Online at NFL Audio Pass
Betting Lines (via Covers)
Over/Under: 42 pts.
Spread: Baltimore (-3)
Given the home run threats both offenses possess, it's hard for me to imagine only 42 total points being scored in this contest. I'd take the over, as a result.
Though I'm sure it's not the popular choice, I expect Carolina to win, meaning you should take the Panthers to beat the spread.
Injury Report (via ESPN.com)
- Jonathan Stewart, RB: Out (ankles)
- Armanti Edwards, WR: Out (hamstring)
- Domenik Hixon, WR: Out (hamstring)
- Mike Tolbert, RB: Out (hamstring)
- Jon Beason, LB: Probable (knee)
- Lardarius Webb, CB: Questionable (knee)
- Deonte Thompson, WR: Questionable (foot)
- Elvis Dumervil, OLB: Probable (groin)
- Torrey Smith, WR: Probable (unspecified injury)
- Anthony Allen, RB: Probable (knee)
- Ed Dickson, TE: Probable (hamstring)
Panthers Players to Watch: Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, Defensive Tackles
The Panthers struggled to defend against the run last season despite the fact that the team's linebacking corps was loaded with talent. Carolina allowed an average of 110.1 yards per game and 4.2 yards per carry.
New general manager Dave Gettelman wasted absolutely no time in addressing his team's need for a stout defensive front, drafting Lotulelei and Short in the first and second rounds of the 2013 NFL draft.
Both players have looked good at times this preseason, but there's no doubt they have also been humbled a few times here and there, as well.
According to the team's official Twitter account, head coach Ron Rivera recently said he was "very pleased" by the way they've been playing, however, and Brian Baldinger correctly pointed out in a recent radio appearance with 610 The Fan that "this defense could be really good," if the defense can learn quickly:
Ron Rivera said he was very pleased with the performances from rookie defensive tackles Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei.— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) August 10, 2013
Baldinger on rookie DTs Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short: "If they get off to a good start early, I think this defense can be really good."— The Drive (@thedrivenc) August 16, 2013
It's hard to find a reasonable argument against Baldinger's statement. With the speed, athleticism and instincts that linebackers Luke Kuechly, Jon Beason and Thomas Davis possess, Carolina's front seven could be dynamic this season.
Ravens Player to Watch: Elvis Dumervil, Outside Linebacker/Defensive End
After the Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII, many of those players moved on to greener pastures in one way or another.
One of the Ravens who left was Paul Kruger, a key member of the team's front seven last year and a reliable pass-rusher who led Baltimore with nine sacks during the regular season and another 4.5 sacks in the team's postseason run.
Kruger signed on with the Cleveland Browns, causing many fans to wonder who would step up in his absence this season.
Thankfully for Ravens fans, Dumervil became available due to a fax snafu and Baltimore signed him shortly thereafter. He's a proven pass-rusher who has racked up 63.5 sacks and 16 forced fumbles in six seasons.
The only catch is that Dumervil had been playing as a pure defensive end since joining the Broncos in 2006 and now he's learning a new position with Baltimore. Watching him adapt to playing as an outside linebacker in the Ravens' 3-4 alignment will be fascinating all season long.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78