The NFL preseason kicks into high gear Thursday night, with 11 games on tap, including the Jacksonville Jaguars visiting the Baltimore Ravens in the preseason opener for both teams. Although both teams will likely play mostly reserves in this game, there will be times when some familiar names will be on the field as well.
Baltimore is coming off a division title and playoff appearance despite switching starting quarterbacks mid-season from veteran Joe Flacco to then-rookie Lamar Jackson. Jackson is running the show now with Flacco gone to Denver, which means he’s learning to be the starter from day one on the fly. Jacksonville fell way off from a playoff appearance last season, going just 5-11. That prompted a quarterback switch as well, as Blake Bortles is gone and Nick Foles is in.
The moneyline for this contest has the Jacksonville Jaguars +150 and the Baltimore Ravens -170. The Ravens are favored by three points, with an over/under of 30.5.
New Face Under Center
Foles has plenty of experience, but it’s been a while since he was the undisputed No. 1 quarterback entering a season. The Jaguars won’t take any chances with Foles in the preseason, which means rookie Gardner Minshew II will get his chance to cinch up the backup spot that he was listed at on the team’s first unofficial depth chart. Who he’ll be throwing to or handing the ball off to is unclear, though Leonard Fournette, who has looked impressive in camp so far, should get a few carries.
The defense was hit hard when linebacker James Onwualu had to be carted off the practice field on Monday. Onwualu isn’t expected to play this season after the knee injury, and rookie Quincy Williams is out for about four to six weeks, leaving the team’s linebacking corps a little thin. That means there is playing time open for some linebackers who can make a name for themselves in this one.
Taking The Reins
Jackson was a big reason why the Ravens rallied for a division title last season, but his style of play, which opens him up to big hits, is also a reason coach John Harbaugh likely won’t play Jackson much in the preseason. With Robert Griffin III sidelined with a hand injury, the Ravens will likely turn to Trace McSorley and Joe Callahan to take most of the snaps. McSorley, a rookie out of Penn State, has looked good in practices, and he could push his way into the backup role if he has an impressive preseason.
A pair of running backs to watch are Kenneth Dixon and De’Lance Turner, who are fighting for roster spots in a deep backfield. Another player to watch is punt returner/cornerback Cyrus Jones, who could make an impression on special teams and earn a roster spot with his versatility. Baltimore is looking at refurbishing their defensive front with the losses of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith to free agency, so rookie Jaylon Ferguson as well as third-year players Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams need to show they can get to the quarterback.
Ravens Earn Win
The first game of the preseason is very difficult to predict since teams have large rosters and will be looking at a lot of players that won’t make the final cut. With that in mind, I see the home-field advantage being a factor, with the home crowd pushing the Ravens in an otherwise meaningless game. Take Baltimore to win and cover the three-point spread.