Ravens vs. Rams 2013 game preview: Teams look to finalize rosters in final preseason outing

Kevin Casey

With only one exhibition remaining, Baltimore and St. Louis will be looking to make their last preparations for the regular season.

We're almost there, folks. Thursday marks the last day that teams around the NFL will be playing exhibitions -- beginning next week, everything counts.

For the St. Louis Rams and Baltimore Ravens, who meet up in St. Louis at 8 p.m. ET, this means one last chance to determine position battles, finalize roster decisions and get rookies playing time. Don't expect to see many starters for either team on the field, as most will be resting up for the regular season opener. This game is not about the stars, but the guys battling for a roster spot. Quite a few jobs will rest on performances in this game.

Meet the Rams

Entering his fourth season in the league, the Rams are looking for former first-round pick Sam Bradford to come into his own in 2013. Bradford has had some good years, but is yet to take the next step into elite NFL passer. The arrival of a pair of West Virginia rookie receivers, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, may help his cause. Working against him is the departure of Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson, who is now heading up rushing duties for the Atlanta Falcons. Daryl Jackson looks like a capable runner, but replacing the 10,000 yards and 56 touchdowns his predecessor racked up over nine seasons in St. Louis will be tough.

The Rams ranked in the upper half of the league in pass defense in 2012 and have upgraded their secondary considerably this offseason. With Janoris Jenkins already holding down one cornerback position, the Rams coaxed Cortland Finnegan into following head coach Jeff Fisher over from the Tennessee Titans this season, then added corner Brandon McGee and safety T.J. McDonald in the draft. If St. Louis's offense can get them up in games early, it could be tough for teams to throw against them this season.

Meet the Ravens

The Ravens are coming off their second world championship in team history, The team returns a solid chunk of its offensive weapons from that team, including quarterback Joe Flacco. With over 3,800 yards and 22 touchdowns during his championship season, Flacco proved that he belongs in the upper tier of NFL signal callers. With his No. 1 target Anquan Boldin shipped off to San Francisco, Flacco will be looking to third-year standout Torrey Smith to pick up the slack in the receiving department. On the ground, Baltimore boasts one of the premier halfbacks in the game in Ray Rice, who is coming off a 1,100 yard, nine touchdown campaign in 2012.

You haven't heard this in a long time, but it will be the Ravens' defense that will be the team's biggest question mark heading into this season. With legendary linebacker Ray Lewis retired and safety Ed Reed roaming the secondary in Houston, Baltimore faces a tall order in replacing their production and leadership. That task got tougher on Wednesday, when the team announced that linebacker Jameel McClain had been placed on the physically unable to perform list. With McClain out until at least Week 6, the Ravens are now missing their top four linebackers from last season.

Local Takes: Rams

The No. 2 quarterback slot is still unresolved heading into the final preseason game, and the final shootout for the position is one of the story lines that Brandon Bate at Turf Show Times will have his eye on.

One position battle that has yet to find it’s resolve is that of backup quarterback. Austin Davis entered the preseason as the Rams #2, with veteran Kellen Clemens not far behind. Neither have impressed this preseason. Tonight’s game will provide plenty of both. Who’s it going to be? Free agency anyone?

Local Takes: Ravens

Though there's still one preseason game left, the Ravens' attention has already shifted to the Denver Broncos, whose fans are inciting controversy over next week's league-opening showdown between the two teams. After the league put up banners of Joe Flacco around the Denver area, it didn't take long for them to become targets. Victor Hensley at Baltimore Beatdown has the details.

Denver Broncos fans did not enjoy that the NFL put up these banners "promoting the Ravens," since the game is in Denver and not Baltimore. Obviously, the NFL wanted to promote the game in an unbiased manner, but Broncos fans did not like that one bit. Later on Thursday, the banners of Joe Flacco were seen getting vandalized, mainly by one guy in particular: Vic Lombardi. Lombardi is a sportscaster for CBS4, the local CBS station in Denver.

Follow the Fun

Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, Turf Show Times and Baltimore Beatdown, for more analysis and highlights from the game.

Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:

@TurfShowTimes

@BMoreBeatdown

@jthom1 - Rams beat writer

@jeffzrebiecsun - Ravens beat writer

Odds

The Rams are favored in this one, and by a wide margin at that. In the wild crapshoot that is preseason line setting, they're 8½-point favorites, according to Oddsshark.

Next Week

Exhibitions are over and it's the real thing from here on out. Baltimore heads to Denver on Thursday to take on the Broncos in the league opener while the Rams host the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

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Uffsides: NFC preview

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