Matchup: San Francisco 49ers at Baltimore Ravens
Date/Time: August 7, 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: NFL Network
Spread: Baltimore -1.5
Total: 35 -110/-110
Besides injuries, every player’s worst nightmare in the preseason is to have to take a cross-country flight to play an exhibition game, especially in Week 1. That’s what the San Francisco 49ers are facing when they take the long flight to Maryland to battle the Baltimore Ravens. Despite the long trip, the 49ers may be happy to simply focus on football after an offseason filled with off-field incidents and questions about their ability to compete with the Seattle Seahawks for the NFC West Division.
Jim Harbaugh has put contract extension talks on hold until after the season, which could have been a distraction. Aldon Smith’s legal troubles cast a negative light over the offseason when he coupled his DUI with an illegal weapons possession charge and some troubles with security at Los Angeles airport. All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman is expected to miss at least the first six weeks of the season following ACL and MCL tears suffered during last season’s playoffs. Backup to Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, also tore his ACL during a July practice and he was waived by the team. Offensive lineman Alex Boone is in a contract holdout. Given all of that, the 49ers are happy just to get back between the lines.
The Ravens will be excited to get back on the field in front of their fans after a disappointing 8-8 campaign. It marked the first time since 2007 that the Ravens failed to have a winning record. Like the 49ers, off-field incidents were the talk of the offseason. Ray Rice was given a two-game suspension for knocking his fiancée unconscious in an Atlantic City elevator in a horrible incident that was caught on video. The backlash to Commissioner Roger Goodell’s light suspension has been substantial.
As for Thursday night’s game, there are some compelling angles to look at. The backup spot behind Colin Kaepernick is up for grabs between Josh Johnson and Blaine Gabbert. Some interesting skill players will get their first action as Carlos Hyde and Bruce Ellington look to make an impact. With the Hunter injury, Hyde should immediately become the backup to Gore and Ellington needs to impress to get some reps while stuck behind a talented receiving corps that includes Anquan Boldin, Brandon Lloyd, and Stevie Johnson. Shayne Skov and Chris Borland will get strong consideration for playing time in light of Bowman’s injury. The 49ers preach depth and that’s a big reason why the 49ers are 8-4 overall in the preseason under Jim Harbaugh.
The Ravens draft and develop as good as any organization in the NFL under Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh. Both Harbaughs take the preseason very seriously, as John is 15-9 straight up. There’s a big opportunity for Keith Wenning this preseason, as the Ravens only have three quarterbacks on the depth chart. Wenning had a tremendous career at Ball State and could very well beat out Tyrod Taylor for the backup role. Former Michigan running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and second-year back out of Notre Dame Cierre Wood join Bernard Pierce as guys in the hunt for carries during Rice’s suspension. Dynamic college playmaker Michael Campanaro has been hurt and is unlikely to play this week. A lot of rookies dot the depth chart in the trenches and at linebacker and the Ravens are always looking to uncover gems. Expect a lot of rookies throughout the game for the Ravens.
Free NFL Pick: San Francisco
Despite the long trip, the 49ers should have the more experienced team with guys that have some more familiarity with the systems of Jim Harbaugh. Though not experienced with Harbaugh, the 49ers have a lot more experience at quarterback than the Ravens do for this game. With Kaepernick and Joe Flacco likely to play a series or two at most, the game will hinge on depth at quarterback and San Francisco appears to have an edge there. The 49ers will fly out on Tuesday afternoon, so the travel shouldn’t be that big of an issue.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.