It’s true: the Ravens came into existence a year after the Carolina Panthers’ expansion team was founded.  That same year (1995), Jacksonville also was given an expansion team.

Since that year, the Ravens have been to the playoffs in 9 of the 17 years (9 times starting with 2000) of their existence with 2 Super Bowl victories in 2 attempts.  The Jaguars had great success initially, where they had 4 straight playoff appearances starting their 2nd year and included 2 AFC Conference Championship games.  They have had only 2 playoff appearances since after the 1999 season.

The Panthers, meanwhile, have had some playoff success here and there.  They went to the playoffs in their second season with a 12-4 record, but didn’t return to the playoffs until 2003, when they lost to the Patriots in the Super Bowl.  (That was the game with the infamous “wardrobe malfunction” during halftime)  They went to the playoffs only twice after that, the last time in 2008.

So here we have two teams facing off who have had different measures of success in their lifetimes.  The Ravens had some of the similar sporadic playoff experiences at first, but finally confirmed their image as a perennial playoff team during Joe Flacco’s tenure as starting quarterback.

These two cities being awarded with expansion teams left Baltimore without until Art Modell decided to move the former Browns over.   (Of course, Cleveland was only without a team for 3 years and retained its old history when also granted an expansion team, but still demonizes Modell for his move to this day)  So, it kind of makes you appreciative that our dear city waited just an extra year and ended up with more success than the other two franchises combined!

This preseason game will be intriguing in a number of ways:

First, this is the Ravens first encounter with a read-option quarterback following the Super Bowl.  Cam Newton is now entering his third year and is the often overlooked young quarterback in the league despite mainly playing their style of football.  The read-option trend was extremely successful last year, with three teams employing it (Redskins, 49ers, Seahawks) all making the playoffs.  Newton’s Panthers were the only read-option team to miss the playoffs.  That may be the main reason (or only reason) why he is overlooked, as he hasn’t had much success in terms of winning.  With teams like the Jets, Bills, and others drafting the similar style of quarterback, expect the trend to even out very soon.

The “read-option” is a college based style where the QB is always preparing to run with the ball.  The idea is the defense has no clue who is going to have the ball and what will happen during a play.  These quarterbacks differ from the running quarterback style as they are also quite efficient when passing.  In the recent playoffs, 49er Colin Kaepernick ran for an incredible 181 yards against the Packers.  The next game for them, Kaepernick was throwing for over 300 yards against the Falcons.  (Of course, he had gaudy stats against the Ravens as well, but it didn’t matter at the end…)  The read-option style really interested teams throughout the league, especially considering all of those successful quarterbacks were practically rookies!

Another intriguing tidbit for this particular game is that this will be the most you’ll see out of the starters until September 5th.  That’s right, if you miss this game, you won’t see any competitive playing for two weeks.  Some players who have missed most of the last two games may start tonight, which include Yanda, Webb, and maybe even Ed Dickson.  This is an important game for the Ravens starters to gel in their offensive & defensive approaches.  This is also one of the last chances for players on the bubble to show they belong on the team.

Lastly, didn’t I mention that this is Cam Newton’s third year?  As I’ve stressed many times, the third year is very key to a player’s career.  When quarterbacks play the “vaunted Baltimore defense,” they tend to get a huge confidence boost if they get a rare win.  (There are no stats, articles, or prior discussions that back up what I’ve just said, I think.  This I do believe is very real)  So, even if it is preseason (and I can’t stress that enough either, especially after last week’s game), as well as the Ravens defense just hasn’t been the same since Dean Pees took over, the image still remains imprinted in many people’s minds that defeating the Raven defense is a grand challenge to take.  Since Flacco has never been considered a viable Fantasy Football option, very few people can take Baltimore’s offense seriously.

However, if I played Fantasy Football (never tried it), I would pick Cam Newton in a heart beat.  Consider that, again, this is his third year.  He has already demonstrated both his passing & running prowess in his first two seasons.  Plus, and this is an infrequent point of discussion, certain losing teams can put up a lot of fantasy points offensively.  Example: the Detroit Lions ended the season last year 4-12, yet star wide receiver Calvin Johnson set the record for most receiving yards in a season.  Quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for over 5,000 yards last year, and was second in the league in that category.

How, you may ask, did they amass so much offense yet lost 3/4 of their games?  Well, their defense was a big factor, along with plain bad luck.  If you recall the Thanksgiving game against the Texans, there was a pivotal play where a Houston player was obviously down before he returned the ball all the way across the field for a touchdown.

There were two new rules put into place last year:

1. Every touchdown is reviewable via instant replay.

2. If you throw a red (challenge) flag on what will already be reviewed, the team is assessed a penalty and the review is negated.

Both rules came into play and the Lions did end up losing the game as that touchdown did prove as a deciding factor.

The league is full of surprises and parity, especially out of the NFC South division, so who knows.  Maybe the Panthers will head to the playoffs this year?  Of course, the future doesn’t matter right now.  Tonight, all we’re concerned about is the Ravens’ offense & defense gelling together and shutting down the Panthers in both aspects for about 3 quarters.  The 4th quarter will mainly be the back ups playing for their career prospects & depth status on the team.

The game is on tonight at 8pm on ESPN (and likely on WBAL as well) so even the major sports media thinks this will be a special game.  Enjoy the game and go Ravens!