NFL Week 3 Cheat Sheet and Betting Trends & Analysis

Sunday NFL Football Betting
Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens (+1, 45)

Star receiver Andre Johnson suffered a concussion in the game against the Titans but is expected to be cleared to play. Johnson is tied for the NFL lead with 20 receptions and Houston appears to have found a sensational complement in first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins (12 receptions, 183 yards).

Baltimore has a key player ailing in running back Ray Rice, who injured his left hip flexor in the contest against Cleveland and hasn’t participated in practices. “He’s not going to need the practice to play in the game,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

LINE: Houston opened -2.5 and moved to -1.5. Total moved from 44.5 to 45.
PRIME WAGERS POWER RANKINGS: Houston (-5.0) - Baltimore (-1.0) + home field (-3.0) = Ravens +1
WEATHER: Temperatures mid 70s, partly cloudy, winds NNW 11 mph.

* Road team is 5-2 ATS in their last seven meetings.Road team is 5-2 ATS in their last 7 meetings.
* Texans are 0-4 ATS in their last four road games.
* Ravens are 5-1 ATS in their last six games overall.

New York Giants at Carolina Panthers (+1, 46.5)

New York's 10 turnovers - seven of which have been Eli Manning interceptions - are a major cause for concern and have put the defense in a tough spot. The offense has been effective at moving the ball, mostly through the air, and ranks fifth in the league in total yards, but the ground game has to come along and the Giants need to hang onto the ball.

The Panthers find themselves in an 0-2 hole after losing their first two games by a combined six points, including a 24-23 defeat against Buffalo last week. The Panthers have been balanced on offense but they've been far from explosive, ranking 27th in the league with 280.5 total yards per game.

LINE: Carolina opened -1 and moved to +1. Total moved from 45.5 to 47.
PRIME WAGERS POWER RANKINGS: New York (-1.0) + Carolina (+3.0) + home field (-3.0) = Panthers +1
WEATHER: Temps mid 70s, 22 percent chance of early showers, winds 5 north 5 mph.

* Giants are 4-1 ATS in their last five meetings.
* Over is 4-1 in the last five meetings.
* Road team is 5-2 ATS in their last seven meetings.

Detroit Lions at Washington Redskins (Pick, 48.5)

Detroit is 2-0 against Washington under coach Jim Schwartz, with both victories coming at home. Calvin Johnson had 101 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-25 triumph over the Redskins in their last meeting on Oct. 31, 2010.

Facing a large deficit, the Redskins have been offensive juggernauts in the fourth quarter, outscoring Philadelphia and Green Bay by a combined 26-0 over the final 15 minutes.

LINE: Open pick bounced between -1 and +1. Total moved from 48 to 49.
PRIME WAGERS POWER RANKINGS: Detroit (+1.0) - Washington (+2.5) + home field (-3.0) = Redskins -1.5
WEATHER: Temps mid 70s, partly cloudy skies, winds NNW 12 mph.

* Under is 6-1-2 in the last nine meetings.
* Home team is 8-2 ATS in their last 10 meetings.
* Lions are 0-4 ATS in their last four meetings in Washington.

San Diego Chargers at Tennessee Titans (-3, 43.5)

Philip Rivers leads a rejuvenated offense that is averaging more than 30 points per game. The only problem: San Diego has allowed as many points as it has scored, thanks to a defense that has surrendered the most passing yards in the league through two weeks.

The Tennessee Titans' defense has helped compensate for a sluggish offense through the first two games of the season. Titans RB Chris Johnson comes into the week ranked sixth in rushing yards (166) but second in attempts (50), averaging just 3.3 yards per carry.

LINE: Opened Tennessee -1 and moved to -3. Total steady at 43.5.
PRIME WAGERS POWER RANKINGS: San Diego (+2.0) - Tennessee (+3.0) + home field (-3.0) = Titans -2
WEATHER: Temps mid 70s, clear skies, winds NNE 7 mph.

* Chargers are 8-0 ATS in their last eight meetings.
* Over is 5-1-1 in the last seven meetings.
* Favorite is 5-1 ATS in their last six meetings.

Arizona Cardinals at New Orleans Saints (-9, 49)

Carson Palmer has injected some life into Arizona's passing game, but the ground game hasn't been as effective and running back Rashard Mendenhall (toe) is questionable. Palmer should have tight end Rob Housler back in the lineup after missing the first two games with a sore ankle, and the Cardinals have eased receiver Larry Fitzgerald along in practice in hopes he can play through a hamstring injury.

While the Saints' offense has struggled to find the end zone, coordinator Rob Ryan's revamped defense has limited its first two opponents to 320 yards and 15.5 points per game. The overhauled defense did a solid job against Atlanta in Week 1 but was dominant in a 16-14 win versus Tampa Bay, allowing 273 total yards - the Saints' lowest total since Week 15 of the 2011 season.

LINE: Arizona opened -9.5 and moved to -7. Total moved from 48.5 to 49.
PRIME WAGERS POWER RANKINGS: Arizona (+3.5) + New Orleans (-3.0) + home field (-3.0) = Saints -9.5

* Over is 4-0 in the last four meetings.
* Home team is 4-0 ATS in their last four meetings.
* Cardinals are 2-5 ATS in their last four meetings.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New England Patriots (-8.5, 43.5)

Quarterback Josh Freeman is under siege after consecutive subpar outings - he was only 9-for-22 for 125 yards with one touchdown and one interception against the Saints - to spark speculation that he could lose his starting job to rookie Mike Glennon. The Buccaneers have dangerous weapons in second-year running back Doug Martin (209 yards rushing) and wideout Vincent Jackson (231 yards receiving), and the defense has been stout in allowing an average of 17 points.

With wideout Danny Amendola (groin) and running back Shane Vereen (wrist) set to miss a second straight game and tight end Rob Gronkowski still rehabbing from multiple offseason surgeries, Tom Brady has been forced to lean on Julian Edelman (20 receptions) and untested rookies in the receiving corps. Starting running back Steven Ridley has rushed for only 86 yards in two games while the defense has forced six turnovers to tie for second in the league.

LINE: Open New England -7 and moved to -8.5. Total moved from 45 to 43.5.
PRIME WAGERS POWER RANKINGS: Tampa Bay (+4.0) + New England (-4.5) + home field (-3.0) = Patriots -11.5
WEATHER: Temps low 70s, 83 percent chance of rain, winds WSW 7 mph.

* Buccaneers are 7-2 ATS in their last nine road games.
* Patriots are 2-5 ATS in their last seven games overall.
* Over is 7-3 in Patriots' last 10 home games.

Green Bay Packers at Cincinnati Bengals (+2.5, 49)

While Aaron Rodgers' Week 2 performance was typical, the Packers got a surprising 132-yard effort on the ground from running back James Starks, who replaced Eddie Lacy after the rookie left the game with a concussion. The Packers were forced to juggle their secondary last week after three DBs suffered hamstring injuries. All are questionable for Sunday.

Cincinnati has won the past two meetings against Green Bay and sacked Rodgers six times in its most recent game (2009) but it will be without veteran defensive end Robert Geathers who joined three Bengal linebackers on injured reserve. While questions still abound on Andy Dalton's deep passing ability, he has thrown for 280 and 282 yards in his first two starts and unveiled a new weapon in athletic rookie tight end Tyler Eifert on Monday.

LINE: Cincinnati opened +1 and moved to +2.5. Total moved from 46.5 to 49.
PRIME WAGERS POWER RANKINGS: Green Bay (-6.0) - Cincinnati (-1.5) + home field (-3.0) = Bengals +1.5
WEATHER: Temps high 60s, clear skies, winds NNE 6 mph.

* Packers are 1-4 ATS in their last five road games.
* Bengals are 7-1 ATS in their last eight games in Week 3.
* Over is 5-1 in Packers last six games overall.

St. Louis Rams at Dallas Cowboys (-3.5, 47)

St. Louis is attempting to start 2-1 for the first time since 2006. The Rams will look for more consistency out of high-priced free agent signing Jared Cook, who caught seven passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1 but managed only one grab last weekend.

The last time the Cowboys faced the Rams, DeMarco Murray rushed for a franchise-record 253 yards on Oct. 23, 2011. However, Murray only managed 25 yards on 12 attempts in last week's loss to the Chiefs, a game in which Dallas was unable to force any turnovers after creating six miscues against the New York Giants in Week 1.

LINE: Dallas steady at -3.5. Total moved from 46.5 to 47.
PRIME WAGERS POWER RANKINGS: St. Louis (+2.5) + Dallas (-2.5) + home field (-3.0) = Cowboys -3

* Under is 4-1 in the last five meetings.
* Rams are 6-1 ATS in their last seven road games.
* Cowboys are 2-10 ATS in their last 12 home games.

Cleveland Browns at Minnesota Vikings (-6.5, 40.5)

Cleveland was already struggling to produce offense with just 16 points in two games and trading RB Trent Richardson, who recorded 950 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns as a rookie, gives an offense starting a third-string quarterback even fewer options. Brian Hoyer starts in place of Brandon Weeden, who injured his thumb in last week's loss to Baltimore.

Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, who was 16-of-30 against Chicago, is reportedly on the hot seat and could lose snaps to backup Matt Cassel unless his play improves. Ponder is 88-for-127 passing with five touchdowns and two interceptions in his last four games against AFC opponents.

LINE: Minnesota opened -4 and moved to -6.5. Total moved from 41 to 40.5.
PRIME WAGERS POWER RANKINGS: Cleveland (+5.0) - Minnesota (+2.5) + home field (-3.0) = Vikings -5.5

* Browns are 0-5 ATS in their last five games overall.
* Vikings are 5-1-1 ATS in their last seven home games.
* Under is 5-1 in Browns last six road games.

NFL Week 1 Cheat Sheet and Betting Analysis

NFL Sunday Football Frenzy
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills (+9.5, 51)

The Bills are beginning a new era with first-year head coach Doug Marrone and rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel. Manuel underwent knee surgery on Aug. 18 but is ready to go for the season opener, pushing rookie free agent Jeff Tuel back to the bench.

Tom Brady lost most of his receiving corps with Aaron Hernandez in jail, Wes Welker in Denver and Brandon Lloyd off to free agency. The perennial Pro Bowler has a slew of rookies at wide receiver to go along with import Danny Amendola until Rob Gronkowski recovers from back and forearm surgeries.

LINE: Buffalo opened as a 6.5-point home underdog but has been bet up as high as +9.5.
Patriots (-6.0) + Bills (+6.0) – home field (-3.0) = Bills +9.0
WEATHER: Temperatures in the mid 60s, 29 percent chance of rain, winds NNE 7 mph

* Over is 4-0 in the last four meetings.
* Patriots are 19-8-1 ATS in their last 28 meetings.
* Road team is 7-2 ATS in their last nine meetings.

Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers (-7, 42)

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has taken the Steelers to three Super Bowls - winning two - in his nine seasons, but he missed three games to injury in 2012 and starts the year with questions in the receiving corps and running game.

Titans counterpart Jake Locker sat out five games a year ago and has yet to prove he is the answer after being drafted No. 8 overall in 2008. Both teams have major questions on defense - the Steelers allowed nearly 100 points more last season than in 2011 and Tennessee was shredded for an NFL-worst 471 points.

LINE: Pittsburgh opened a 7.5-point favorite and has moved to -7. The total has dropped from 43.5 to 42.
PRIME WAGERS POWER RANKINGS: Tennessee (+4.5) + Pittsburgh (-2.0) + home field (-3.0) = Steelers -9.5
WEATHER: Temperatures in mid 70s, 27 percent chance of showers, winds NNW 5 mph

Over is 8-2 in the last 10 meetings in Pittsburgh.
Over is 7-3 in the last 10 meetings.
Underdog is 4-1 ATS in their last five meetings.

Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints (-3, 54)

The Saints have dominated the series in recent years, winning 11 of the past 14 meetings, but they missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 2008. With head coach Sean Payton returning after being suspended last season for his role in the team's bounty scandal, New Orleans hopes to regain its supremacy over the division.

Granted, the Saints handed the Falcons their first loss last year, a 31-27 defeat in Week 10 in New Orleans, and it did little to slow Atlanta on its way to the NFC Championship Game. The Falcons returned the favor in Week 13 in Atlanta, picking off Drew Brees five times in a 23-13 win. Atlanta upgraded its offense by signing running back Steven Jackson and also coaxed tight end Tony Gonzalez back for one more season.

LINE: New Orleans opened as a 2-point favorite and moved to -3. The total has remained steady at 54.
Atlanta (-4.5) - New Orleans (-2.5) + home field (-3.0) = Saints -5

* Over is 5-0 in the last five meetings in New Orleans.
* Falcons are 1-4 ATS in their last five meetings.
* Underdog is 6-2 ATS in their last eight meetings.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Jets (+3.5, 39.5)

New York coach Rex Ryan looks to exploit a Buccaneers pass defense that allowed an NFL-worst 297.4 yards per game last year with rookie quarterback Geno Smith, who earned the starting nod after Mark Sanchez injured his shoulder during the fourth quarter of a preseason game .

Bucs RB Doug Martin looks for an encore after rushing for an impressive 1,454 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns during his rookie campaign. Greg Schiano's first year with Tampa Bay also saw Josh Freeman throw for a franchise-record 4,065 yards and 27 touchdowns - although nine of his 17 interceptions came in the final three games.

LINE: New York opened as 1.5-point underdogs and moved to +3.5. Total opened at 41.5 and moved to 39.5.
PRIME WAGERS POWER RANKINGS: Tampa Bay (+3.0) - New York (+6.0) + home field (-3.0) = Pick
WEATHER: Temperatures in mid 70s, 15 percent chance of early showers, winds NNW 14 mph

* Buccaneers are 0-4 ATS in their last four meetings.
* Buccaneers are 18-7-1 ATS in their last 26 road games.
* Under is 4-1 in Jets’ last five games overall.

Kansas City Chiefs at Jacksonville Jaguars (+3.5, 41)

Sunday is the debut of two new head coaches, as Gus Bradley takes over in Jacksonville and Andy Reid guides the Chiefs after a long tenure in Philadelphia. It's the first meeting since 2010, when the Chiefs clobbered the Jaguars 42-20 in Kansas City, avenging a 24-21 loss in Jacksonville a year earlier.

Both did their best to address issues through the draft and free agency and have playoff hopes - however unrealistic they are. Among the key matchups will be Jacksonville's ability to establish the run and take some pressure off quarterback Blaine Gabbert and the Jaguars' ability to slow down Jamaal Charles and force quarterback Alex Smith into third-and-long situations.

LINE: Jacksonville opened as a 1.5-point underdog and has moved to +4.5. The total climbed from 41 to 41.5.
PRIME WAGERS POWER RANKINGS: Kansas City (+2.0) – Jacksonville (+7.5) + home field (-3.0) = Jaguars +2.5
WEATHER: Temperatures in mid 80s, partly cloudy skies, winds East 8 mph

* Chiefs are 2-5 ATS in their last seven games in Week 1.
* Jaguars are 12-2 ATS in their last 14 games in Week 1.
* Under is 4-0 in Jaguars’ last four home games.

Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers (+3.5, 44.5)

The Seahawks won their final five regular-season games and even notched a playoff win behind quarterback Russell Wilson and now face high expectations. Carolina finished with a flurry last season with four consecutive wins and the pressure is on third-year quarterback Cam Newton to deliver the franchise’s first playoff spot since 2008.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera needs a winning season in his third year at the helm after going 13-19 over his first two seasons. Mike Shula is the Panthers’ new offensive coordinator after Rob Chudzinski left to become head coach of the Cleveland Browns.

LINE: Carolina opened as a 3.5-point underdog and moved to +4.5. Total opened at 45.5 and moved to 44.5.
PRIME WAGERS POWER RANKINGS: Seattle (-8.0) + Carolina (+1.5) + home field (-3.0) = Panthers +6.5
WEATHER: Temperatures in the high 80s, partly cloudy skies, winds ENE 9 mph

* Seahawks are 4-0 ATS in their last four road games.
* Panthers are 2-5 ATS in their last seven home games.
* Over is 6-2 in each Panthers and Seahawks’ last eight games overall.

Cincinnati Bengals at Chicago Bears (-3, 41.5)

With a brand new coach and a healthy Cutler on board, the Bears begin the slow climb back to playoff contention. Replacing Lovie Smith is offensive guru Marc Trestman, who is coming off a successful coaching stint with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.

Bengals QB Andy Dalton and the offense faded down the stretch in 2012 and was held to 198 total yards in a first-round playoff loss to the Houston Texans.. The Bengals have won five of their last six on the road against NFC teams and are 4-1 all-time at Chicago.

LINE: Chicago opened as a 3.5-point favorite and has moved to -3. The total opened at 43.5 and moved to 41.5.
Cincinnati (-1.0) – Chicago (-2.0) + home field (-3.0) = Bears -4
WEATHER: Temperatures in low 70s, partly cloudy skies, winds NE 13 mph

* Bengals are 1-4 ATS in their last five games in Week 1.
* Under is 7-2 in Bears last nine games in Week 1.
* Bears are 1-5 ATS in their last six home games.

Miami Dolphins at Cleveland Browns (Pick, 41)

This game marks the debut of Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski, who spent the last two years as the Carolina Panthers’ offensive coordinator. Chudzinski and new offensive coordinator Norv Turner could rely heavily on RB Trent Richardson with top WR Josh Gordon suspended for violating the league’s drug policy.

Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw 12 touchdown passes as a rookie, though only three of those scoring aerials were to wide receivers. There will be no excuses for that this season, as the Dolphins signed former Steelers wideout Mike Wallace to generate big plays in the passing game.

LINE: Game opened pick and some books are dealing Cleveland -1.5. The total has moved from 41 to 40.5.
Miami (+1.5) – Cleveland (+4.0) + home field (-3.0) = Browns -0.5
WEATHER: Temperatures in the low 70s, 25 percent chance of thunderstorms, winds NNE 13 mph

* Under is 4-1 in the last five meetings.
* Dolphins are 0-4-1 ATS in their last five meetings.
* Browns are 1-7 ATS in their last eight games in Week 1.

Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions (-5, 46.5)

Vikings RB Adrian Peterson has vowed to shatter the single-season rushing mark this season. Minnesota’s offense is still a major question mark. Christian Ponder, who has surpassed 300 yards only twice in 26 starts, may be on a short leash. Minnesota swept the season series a year ago, including a 20-13 victory in Detroit.

Detroit added Reggie Bush to bolster a backfield that's been non-productive for several seasons. Bush's dual-threat presence should take some of the onus off the oft-weary shoulders of quarterback Matthew Stafford, who threw just 20 touchdown passes last season after tossing a career-high 41 in 2011. Detroit enters the season riding an eight-game losing streak.

LINE: Detroit opened as a 3-point favorite and has moved to -5. The total has moved from 47 to 46.5.
PRIME WAGERS POWER RANKINGS: Minnesota (+1.0) – Detroit (+1.0) + home field (-3.0) = Lions -3

* Vikings are 3-0-1 ATS in their last four meetings.
* Under is 7-3 in the last 10 meetings.
* Underdog is 3-0-1 ATS in their last four meetings.

Oakland Raiders at Indianapolis Colts (-10.5, 47)

The athletic but unproven Terrelle Pryor has reportedly won the Raiders QB competition with Matt Flynn and is poised to establish himself for a squad that ranked 26th in the NFL in scoring last year. Pryor threw for 150 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 49 yards and a score in Week 17 last season in his only career start.

Colts QB Andrew Luck was 7-1 at home in 2012, winning the last six. Seven of the eight home contests were decided by a touchdown or less, giving Luck plenty of time to display his abilities in the clutch. Luck's favorite target again figures to be 13-year standout Reggie Wayne, who amassed 106 catches and 1,355 yards last season.

LINE: Indianapolis opened as a -8.5 favorite and moved to -10.5. The total moved from 49 to 47 points.
Oakland (+8.0) - Indianapolis (+1.0) + home field (-3.0) = Colts -10

* Colts are 6-0 ATS in their last six home games.
* Raiders are 2-7 ATS in their last nine games overall.
* Under is 11-2 in Colts last 13 home games.

Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
(-4.5, 48.5)

Green Bay fell 45-31 to San Francisco in the NFC divisional round but is in good shape heading into 2013 with QB Aaron Rodgers in his prime and a host of receiving weapons at his disposal. He'll be put to the test in Week 1 against a vaunted 49ers defense that finished second in the league in fewest points against.

The San Francisco offense belongs to quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The Green Bay defense is ready to go after the nimble QB, who racked up 181 rushing yards and two touchdowns against Green Bay in their playoff showdown.

LINE: San Francisco opened -5 and has dropped to -4.5. The total has been adjusted from 50.5 to 48.5.
PRIME WAGERS POWER RANKINGS: Green Bay (-6.5) – San Francisco (-8.0) + home field (-3.0) = 49ers -4.5
WEATHER: Temperatures in low 70s, clear skies, winds WSW 6 mph

* Over is 5-0 in the last five meetings.
* Packers are 5-1-1 ATS in their last seven meetings in San Francisco.
* Packers are 9-3-2 ATS in their last 14 meetings.

Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams (-4.5, 41.5)

Longtime Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher is back for his second season with the Rams while Bruce Arians takes the reins for the Cardinals. He will be charged with reviving a team that produced an NFC-low 250 points and lost 11 of its final 12 games after bolting out to a 4-0 start last season.

St. Louis, surprisingly, had the best record within its division and looks to continue its ascent behind a youthful squad that features electrifying rookie receiver Tavon Austin. Daryl Richardson gets first crack at replacing free-agent departure RB Steven Jackson in the backfield and will run behind a beefed-up line that added former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long.

St. Louis opened as a 5-point favorite and moved to -4.5. The total has moved from 41 to 41.5 points.
PRIME WAGERS POWER RANKINGS: Arizona (+5.0) – St. Louis (+2.5) + home field (-3.0) = Rams -5.5

* Under is 4-1 in the last five meetings in St. Louis.
* Under is 8-2 in the last 10 meetings.
* Rams are 7-0 ATS in their last seven vs. NFC West.

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (-3.5, 48.5)

The New York Giants attempt to continue their dominance at Cowboys Stadium Sunday night. New York has won all four of its games in Dallas' new stadium since it opened in 2009, including a 29-24 triumph on Oct. 28. The Giants have captured six of the last eight overall meetings between the NFC East rivals.

New York hopes to have Victor Cruz in the lineup as the wide receiver suffered a bruised heel in the second week of the preseason and just returned to practice on Monday. Dallas looks to improve upon the 19th-ranked defense in the league in 2012. In an effort to accomplish this goal, the club replaced defensive coordinator Rob Ryan with Monte Kiffin and switched to a 4-3 alignment.

LINE: Dallas opened as a 3-point favorite and has moved to -3.5. The total has moved from 49 to 48.5.
PRIME WAGERS POWER RANKINGS: New York (-3.0) - Dallas (-1.5) + home field (-3.0) = Cowboys -4.5

* Giants are 4-0 ATS in their last four meetings in Dallas.
* Giants are 6-2 ATS in their last eight meetings.
* Over is 6-2 in the last eight meetings.

The Carolina Panthers (1-1) and Baltimore Ravens (2-0) will face off Thursday night in what is annually billed as the dress rehearsal week of the preseason schedule. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN. Here is a preview and what you need to know before you place your bet.

Thursday Night Football
Unlike the first, second and fourth weeks of the preseason, starters for each team will play a significant portion of the game. Both the Panthers and Ravens will also employ more detailed game-planning in preparation of the regular season. 

While it's still only an exhibition game that means relatively little in the
grand scheme of things, Thursday's matchup should give the most accurate glimpse of where each team is at going into the 2013 season. 

Carolina Panthers' Major Storyline 1: The Return of Jon Beason

Carolina Panthers Football
The Panthers welcomed Beason back to practice this week, per Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer, and there's a good chance he'll at least get some tune-up snaps against the Ravens Thursday.

Beason, 28, underwent micro-fracture surgery on his right knee this offseason and has since been eased back into camp work. He's played in just five games over the last two seasons, thanks to a number of injuries, but the Panthers hope he'll return close to the player he was during a four-year stretch from 2007-10 in which he averaged over 130 tackles a season.

With Luke Kuechly now manning the inside linebacker duties, Beason is penciled in at weak-side linebacker. The Panthers could have a very good trio of linebackers if Beason is healthy and active on the outside. 

The first step for Beason will be a return to live game settings. He might get that chance against the Ravens. 

Carolina Panthers' Major Storyline 2: Springboard Cam Newton

Cam Newton
The Panthers know that any rise in the standings in 2013 will be fueled by quarterback Cam Newton. This reality makes his dress rehearsal against the Ravens all the more important.

Newton, 24, has been somewhat erratic in his two appearances this preseason. Facing the Chicago Bears and Eagles, Newton has completed just 11 of 23 passes
for 128 yards, one touchdown and one interception. His passer rating over the two exhibition games is hovering just above 60.0.

The Panthers won't care about preseason performances if Newton takes a big step in the regular season. However, getting the young quarterback some confidence against a still-jelling Ravens defense would go a long ways in jumpstarting the offense ahead of the team's Sept. 8 opener against the Seattle Seahawks. 

Baltimore Ravens' Major Storyline 1: Righting the Ship on Offense and Defense

Bet on Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are unbeaten in the 2013 preseason, but this team likely feels a little uneasy about how it has played on both sides of the football early on. 

Quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown a pair of
picks on the first team offense that has been sloppy at times. Against the Atlanta Falcons last week, Flacco hit on a 77-yard touchdown to Torrey Smith, but picked up just 54 yards on his 18 other plays. A strong performance against Carolina would help settle any worries about the rhythm of the unit before the the start of the real games. 

The new-look defense has also had some struggles, especially against Atlanta. The Falcons scored 20 first-half points, led in large part by Matt Ryan and Steven Jackson. The Ravens' run-defense was especially poor, as Jackson rushed for 42 yards on eight carries in two quarters of work. 

Another poor showing against the Panthers isn't the end of the world for the reigning champions, but head coach John Harbaugh will want better. Facing Newton will be an especially important test for a defense that has many new parts
fitting into place. 

Baltimore Ravens' Major Storyline 2: Acclimating Joe Flacco's New (but Old) Targets

Bet on Ravens
According to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun, veterans Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark are expected to play "extensively" on Thursday against the

The two were signed last Tuesday, largely in response to a rash of injuries to Joe Flacco's receiving corps. Neither played more than a handful of snaps against the Atlanta Falcons while attempting to learn the offense last week. 

The Ravens will want to see both over a larger sample size Thursday, when the starters and veterans are expected to play more snaps than in the first two preseason games. It'll be important for Flacco to continue developing timing and chemistry with both players, as each could play a defined role once the regular season begins. 

The Ravens won't be attempting to teach the old dogs any new tricks, but both need to show they can provide the Baltimore offense with something tangible. 

Ravens-Panthers Bottomline:

Ravens-Panthers Betting
Neither the Panthers nor the Ravens can be too thrilled about the way their first two preseason games have turned out. Carolina has struggled at times on
offense while Baltimore has been up-and-down on both sides of the football.

Tonight's game should give a better indication of where both teams are really at. Game-planning for starters, who will play deep into the first half and possibly into the second half as well, will present a clearer picture. 

The Panthers obviously don't want to show all of their offensive cards in an exhibition game, but expect the play-calling to be more creative for Newton, who needs a spark before Week 1. 

The Ravens will want to see a better showing on the defensive end, especially in stopping the run. The Falcons gashed Baltimore with the first team defense on the field last week. 

Overall, both teams will want to see improvements across the board, but without adding any significant injuries. If the Panthers and Ravens can both accomplish that goal, Thursday night should be considered a win for both, regardless of the final score.