The Buffalo Bills face a difficult task in the first week of the 2018 NFL season, traveling to Maryland to take on the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens feature a revamped offense, and their defense appears to be primed to return to past glories, at least on paper.
There are plenty of opponents worth watching this weekend. If the Bills can control these five, they will exponentially increase their chances of starting the season with a victory.
CB Marlon Humphrey
The second-year man steps into the starting lineup for the month of September, replacing veteran Jimmy Smith. Smith is serving a four-game suspension for a violation of the league’s personal conduct policy stemming from a domestic violence incident involving a former girlfriend. Humphrey, who served as Baltimore’s third corner last season, will now be tasked with starting on the outside. Veteran Brandon Carr is Baltimore’s other starting corner, but if the Bills can exploit the young player’s inexperience, they may be able to find some early rhythm in the passing game. That rhythm is essential for Nathan Peterman to find success.
WR John Brown
The Ravens changed up their entire receiving corps this year. Gone are Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, and Jeremy Maclin. In their place are Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead IV, and Brown. Assuming that Buffalo’s top corner, Tre’Davious White, shadows Crabtree, if anyone at all, that leaves Brown to square off against Vontae Davis or Phillip Gaines. Each player struggled in the preseason, so Brown could be in line for a big day. The Bills will need to find a way to contain Baltimore’s new-look passing attack if they want to come out victorious on Sunday.
EDGE Terrell Suggs
The veteran sack master has been a thorn in the side of NFL offensive lines since Baltimore drafted him in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft. Even at 35 years old, he remains a formidable pass rusher, having recorded his seventh double-digit sack season in 2017. The Ravens move Suggs all around the defense, and the Bills would be wise to ensure that both of their tackles—Dion Dawkins on the left side and Jordan Mills on the right side—have help when trying to control him. If they can neutralize him, they’ll give Peterman a chance to succeed.
QB Joe Flacco
Baltimore’s $100 million dollar man had one of the worst years of his career last season, averaging only 5.7 yards per attempt on his way to his lowest overall yardage total (3,141) for a 16-game season since his rookie year. Rather than move on from Flacco, the Ravens gave him different offensive weapons, including the three aforementioned receivers and two new tight ends in Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst. While Baltimore did draft quarterback Lamar Jackson in the first round as a developmental project, the team clearly isn’t ready to replace its Super Bowl-winning quarterback quite yet.
C Matt Skura
The Ravens lost starter Ryan Jensen when he signed a lucrative free-agent contract this off season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, leaving the starting center position in Baltimore to be filled by Skura. The third-year player entered the league as an undrafted free agent out of Duke, signing with Baltimore following the 2016 NFL Draft. Jensen was a fantastic pivot during his time with the Ravens, and the Bills are strong up the middle with Kyle Williams and Star Lotulelei ready to play this week. The key to controlling Baltimore’s run game is winning in the trenches, and overpowering the first-time starter in the middle could be Buffalo’s best pathway to success.