For the better part of a decade, the Baltimore Ravens have had one of the best defenses, year in and year out, in the NFL. Led annually by middle linebacker Ray Lewis, the unit's heart and soul, Baltimore's defense remains as explosive as they were when they carried the franchise to a Super Bowl victory. But unlike that year's Ravens, this year's version - the version the Bills square up against in just three short days - are not indomitable.
There are huge question marks on offense, where the Ravens are averaging just over 18 points per game. The biggest questions are at quarterback, where backup Kyle Boller has replaced injured starter Steve McNair. This is a team to be reckoned with, but keep one stat in mind: of the Ravens' four wins this season (they're 4-2), three of them have come in Baltimore.
Offense: Relying on Willis... Sort Of
Don't Sleep on Boller: While McNair steadfastly remains the team's starter, Boller has quietly gone 2-0 in his starts this season, beating the Jets and Rams in Baltimore. He has a big arm and isn't afraid to use it from time to time in games; a sound run game makes utilizing the play-action easy for Boller. Still, he'll make the occasional poor decision; he has thrown two interceptions in two starts and 6 attempts in the season opener. With that said, Boller is dangerous - he's completing 63% of his passes, and the Ravens are averaging 21 per game when he starts. One player he'll miss: TE Todd Heap, whose injured thigh will likely keep him out of this contest.
(Don't) Thrill Us, Willis: The crux of Baltimore's offense is former Buffalo tailback Willis McGahee. A semi-bust in Buffalo, McGahee is having a solid year as a Raven, ranking fourth in attempts per game (21.2), yards (525) and second in attempts (127). For all that production - and believe me, he's been the only consistent offensive performer for the Ravens this season - he's only scored once. It's not Willis, however; the Ravens' play-calling in the red zone has been awful. McGahee is going to be a handful for the up-and-coming Bills' run defense this week. Keep an eye out for McGahee catching the ball out of the backfield: he's caught 22 passes already this season, and he's looked good on screen passes.
Inexperience at O-Line: Without LT Jonathan Ogden, the Ravens' offensive line has been performing well - but boy, are they young. Also playing without Adam Terry and Mike Flynn, the Ravens start three rookies along the line. Jared Gaither, Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda have performed well in two straight wins, but the line remains a huge question mark going into the Buffalo game.
Defense: As Good as Advertised?... Probably
D Can be Scored On: As intimidating as players like Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Chris McAlister (likely out for this contest) can be, the unit has been scored on this season. Scored on handily, in some cases. The Ravens gave up 27 to the now 1-4 Bengals in Week 1, and followed it up by surrendering 23 to Arizona (in Baltimore) and 27 in Cleveland. The Ravens' recent defensive success, in which they allowed a combined 10 points in two victories, came against the 49ers and Rams - a very bad offense, and a very bad team. Not scary at all, right? There will be opportunities to score against this defense - Buffalo just has to create them. More on that in the coming days.
Thriving on Big Plays: Much like the Bills' turnover-happy (of late) defense, Baltimore thrives - and has always thrived - on making game-changing plays defensively. In just six games this season, the Ravens have intercepted 9 passes, recovered 4 fumbles, scored defensive touchdowns twice and even blocked a kick. This is an experienced group that has to be licking its chops at the proposition of facing a rookie quarterback making just his third start. Ball security is a must-have if the Bills are to win this game.
Special Teams: Advantage Buffalo... But Not by Much
Stover-licious: If there is a special teams MVP this season not named Devin Hester or Brian Moorman, my vote would be Ravens kicker Matt Stover. The ageless wonder has been the crux of Baltimore's scoring attack for nearly a decade, yet year after year he makes big kicks when the offense hasn't been able to punch it in. He's probably overused in terms of field goal attempts, but more often than not, he hits. Trust me: we don't want this guy on the field for a game-winning attempt (something the Bills seem to excel at giving away at home).
Reed Provides PR Spark: Keep an eye on explosive Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed - he's been used on punt returns this season, and to say he's made an impact from there is an understatement. With great speed and enough size to shed tackles easily, he is an absolute handful when he's got open space in front of him. Brian Moorman will need to kick high and our gunners will need to move quickly when Reed is deep on punts. Fun fact: Reed, on four returns, is averaging 22.5 yards and has scored once. That ranks him third in league average, behind - you guessed it - Roscoe Parrish, who has 3 returns for 33.3 yards per and a score of his own.