Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford, Trent Richardson Look to Start Teams Off on Right Foot in Thursday Night NFL Games

Philip Rivers, Jeromey Clary, Louis VasquezWhile it’s never hard to recognize the difference between regular-season competition and preseason football, there’s no denying that, come Week 1, the chance to watch four matchups on a Thursday evening will be long gone.

Now, as the dog days of summer approach, it’s time to take advantage of not having to wait until Sunday to bet on multiple NFL matchups.

As teams gear up for the second week of preseason, it’s important to take into consideration what preseason is and especially what it isn’t. While a highly anticipated escape from the boredom of offseason, not much substance rides on the wave of exhibition affairs. If it did, primary quarterbacks wouldn’t so willfully opt to sit on the sidelines in the name of caution and team development.

Still, while the rosters on the field may lack the high-profile personnel of games that will count next month, there’s no shortage of quality action to be seen.

More than an opportunity to bet on the Super Bowl futures, exhibition play serves as a chance for fans to weigh in on organizations from the top down. Think the Chicago Bears coaching staff will have its club more prepared for the upcoming year than the San Diego Chargers? Oddsmakers have given the Bears a six-point edge on the moneyline for the Thursday night game, but anything can happen when star players are given limited playing time.

After last season’s uninspiring showing, Philip Rivers and San Diego could certainly stand to benefit from the confidence gained by knocking off a formidable opponent like Chicago — even if only in the preseason — so  they’ll likely be motivated to come out of the gates swinging in 2013.

Similarly, the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns, who kick off the evening at 7:30 p.m. ET, each have a chance to improve on last year’s underwhelming lack of success.

Can Matthew Stafford re-establish himself as an elite quarterback, with Reggie Bush in the lineup helping to free up the passing game? Will Cleveland second-year running back Trent Richardson (making his preseason debut Thursday) help change the fortunes of the moribund Browns organization? A victory in the second week of preseason won’t guarantee anything, but it certainly sets things off in the right direction. The Browns are just a one-point favorite when the two historically lousy franchises square off.

Elsewhere on the Thursday card, the reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens visit the regular-season champion Atlanta Falcons as 4.5-point favorites, while the Philadelphia Eagles look to come through on three-point advantage over Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.

Preseason may not have any impact on the 2013 standings, but it definitely plays a big part in how the season shapes up in general. Maybe it’s time to reschedule the Thursday night plans after all.

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