San Francisco 49ers at St. Louis Rams (+3, 41.5)

Less than eight months removed from a Super Bowl appearance, the San Francisco 49ers are immersed in controversy on and off the field heading into Thursday night's matchup at the St. Louis Rams. San Francisco has dropped two straight, including a stunning 27-7 defeat at home to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. No team played the 49ers tougher last season than the AFC West rival Rams, who battled to a 24-24 tie in San Francisco and beat them in overtime in St. Louis.

The 49ers' issues go beyond back-to-back inept performances - the team is under siege for allowing sack specialist Aldon Smith to play in Sunday's game only two days after he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. Smith, who has a history of off-field issues, will enter a rehab facility to receive treatment and will miss Thursday's game. St. Louis is seeking a bounce-back effort after it was demolished by the Dallas Cowboys 31-7.

TV: 8:25 p.m. ET, NFL Network.

LINE: The 49ers opened as a 3.5-point road favorites and have been bet down to -3. The total opened as high as 43.5 and has been moved down to 41.5.


49ers (-2.5) + Rams (+5.0) + home field (-3.0) = St. Louis +4.5

ABOUT THE 49ERS (1-2, 1-2 ATS): Losing in Seattle in Week 2 wasn't a surprise for San Francisco, but getting bulldozed by the Colts on both sides of the ball sent shock waves through the league. Colin Kaepernick turned in a breathtaking performance by throwing for 412 yards in the season opener but has tossed four interceptions and been limited to a combined 277 yards while leading the 49ers to only 10 points in the past two weeks. The absence of tight end Vernon Davis (hamstring) hurt versus the Colts, while the normally stout defense saw All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis exit Sunday's game with a groin injury.

ABOUT THE RAMS (1-2, 0-3 ATS):
St. Louis posted a gritty comeback victory over Arizona in its season opener but has fallen behind by at least 21 points in back-to-back road losses to Atlanta and Dallas. Quarterback Sam Bradford threw for a season-low 240 yards and was sacked six times against the Cowboys while receiving little help from a ground game that saw starting running back Daryl Richardson play only one snap due to a foot injury. Rookie wideout Tavon Austin, the team's first-round draft pick, has six receptions in each of the first three games but is averaging only 6.6 yards per catch.


* Home team is 4-1 ATS in their last five meetings.
* Under is 5-2 in the last seven meetings in St. Louis..
* 49ers are 1-5 ATS in their last six meetings.
* Rams are 7-1 ATS in their last eight vs. NFC West.


1. Kaepernick made his third career start at St. Louis last season and had a safety and lost a fumble that was returned for a TD.

2. The Rams tied for the lead league with 52 sacks last season, but have only seven through the first three games.

3. LB Smith was second in the league with 19.5 sacks in 2012 and has registered 37 in 35 games.
Sandy Orellana 49ers Body Paint

This Thursday Night matchup is Phil's Free Pick with the Jets travelling to Patriots territory to take on the "Brady Bunch". Patriots are dealing with a lot of hurdles this season and this game will test their will and desire.

Thursday Night Football: Jets vs Patriots
The New England Patriots and New York Jets are each coming off last-second wins in their season openers, but the level of satisfaction on both sides was markedly different. The Jets eked out a one-point victory over Tampa Bay in quarterback Geno Smith's NFL debut and will look to carry that momentum into
their showdown with the host Patriots on Thursday night. New England blew a 10-point lead and needed a late comeback from Tom Brady to overcome upset-minded Buffalo.

The Patriots have won the last four meetings, including a 49-19
thumping of the Jets on Thanksgiving night last year - a game remembered for the infamous "butt fumble" by New York quarterback Mark Sanchez. Smith will get his second start while Sanchez seeks a second opinion on his injured right shoulder
from renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews. Brady and New England's overhauled receiving corps struggled in the opener and the team could be further depleted by injury for Thursday's matchup.

TV: 8:25 p.m. ET, NFL Network.

WEATHER: There is a 49 percent chance of rain and thunderstorms with temperatures in the low 70s. Winds blowing south at 8 mph.

PRIME WAGERS POWER RANKINGS: New York (+6.0) + New England (-5.0) + home field (-3.0) = Patriots -14

LINE: The Patriots opened at -13 and were as high as -14 before injury news forced money on New York and moved the spread to as low as -12. The total has dropped from 44.5 to 43.

ABOUT THE JETS (1-0, 1-0 ATS): Smith was far from perfect in his debut but he etched his name into the record books by becoming the first rookie quarterback drafted in the second round or later since the 1970 merger to throw for at least 250 yards and win a season opener. Smith finished 24-for-38 for 256 yards with a fumble and interception, but he got the team in position for the decisive field goal in the final 34 seconds - albeit with the help of a Tampa Bay penalty. New York's defense - the calling card of coach Rex Ryan during his tenure - limited the Buccaneers to 250 yards of offense but the Jets' running game was non-existent, with Smith leading the way with 47 yards.

ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (1-0, 0-1 ATS): New England got bad news on the injury front Monday when it was reported that running back Shane Vereen will require surgery for a broken wrist and will be out a few weeks. Vereen was the only running back in the NFL to surpass 100 yards on Sunday and added seven catches for 58 yards after replacing Stevan Ridley, who was benched due to a pair of fumbles. Wideout Danny Amendola was Brady's favorite target with 10 catches for 104 yards, but he aggravated a groin injury during the win and his status is uncertain. In addition, rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld, the team's training camp sensation, is not expected to play due to a pulled hamstring.


* Over is 5-0-1 in the last six meetings in New England.
* Over is 7-0-1 in the last eight meetings.
* Road team is 21-8-1 ATS in their last 30 meetings.
* Jets are 1-5 ATS in their last six vs. AFC.
* Over is 16-5 in Patriots' last 21 vs. AFC East.


1. Brady has thrown a touchdown pass in 49 consecutive games, five shy of Drew Brees' NFL record.

2. Jets WR Santonio Holmes, a former Super Bowl MVP, had one catch for 13 yards in his first action since suffering a Lisfranc foot injury in Week 4 last season.

3. The Jets on Monday re-signed QB Brady Quinn, a former first-round pick, to serve as Smith's backup.

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.