The biggest story coming into the game is that the regular NFL referees are officially back. The crew will be led by the six-year veteran referee Gene Steratore and will back in the nick of time for this Thursday night’s AFC North battle. The NFL and the referees finally reached a new deal last night after the total debacle on Monday Night Football between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks. That blunder put the situation with the much-maligned replacement refs at a fever pitch, as the quality of the officiating seemed to be deteriorating.
Keep an eye on how the players and coaches react now that the regular, reputable refs are back. Both coaches and players became accustomed to berating and bullying the replacement refs, as they were clearly in over their heads. Most of these guys were Division III and high school refs, and other replacement refs’ resumes included stops in the Lingerie Football League and the XFL.
Now that the likes of refs like Steratore, Mike Carey and Ed Hochuli are back, hopefully the game becomes more organic, where everyone playing and watching can focus on the actual game being played.
Outside of the refs being back, it will be interesting to see how Torrey Smith and the Ravens react after an extremely emotional game against the New England Patriots on Sunday night. Smith and the Ravens pulled out an emotional one-point victory over the Patriots hours after Smith’s younger brother, Tevin, died in a motorcycle accident early Sunday morning.
With such a quick turnaround for Smith and the Ravens, it will be interesting to see if there is a bit of a letdown after an emotionally draining couple of days. This will be the Ravens fourth game in just 18 days, so they may be a bit physically drained as well. Throw in the fact that this is a textbook trap game, as they host an inferior opponent after a huge win on a short week, especially how short that week was with the Smith issue.
Injury-wise, the biggest injury is to Browns’ Mohamed Massaquoi, as the starting wide receiver will miss Thursday night’s game. Linebacker James-Michael Johnson will also miss the contest.
The Ravens appear to be all systems go, as only linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and cornerback Lardarius Webb are both listed as probable, but both are fully expected to play.
The Ravens will induct all-time leading rusher Jamal Lewis into their Ring of Honor at halftime. Maybe Ray Rice has a big game up his sleeve, as he appears to be well in reach of surpassing Lewis should he stay healthy. Rice trails Lewis by 3,156 yards so we’ll see if Rice makes a statement tonight.
The weather conditions could play a factor as rain showers and some thunderstorms are in the forecast. There is a 70 percent chance of storms throughout the game, so it remains to be seen what, if any, affect the weather will have.