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With an electric offense and a dominant run defense, the Ravens probably didn't need any help starting 3-0.

But they received it anyway. Injuries to other teams' starters have been one of the reasons the Ravens sit atop the AFC North.

In the season opener, the Kansas City Chiefs played without their quarterback (Matt Cassel) and a cornerback (Brandon Flowers). In Week 2, the San Diego Chargers didn't have their running back (LaDainian Tomlinson), two offensive linemen (Nick Hardwick and Louis Vasquez) and a nose tackle (Jamal Williams).

Last Sunday, the Cleveland Browns looked even more lost without their top running back (Jamal Lewis), right guard (Floyd Womack) and kicker (Phil Dawson).

After three weeks, Ravens opponents have had nine starters sidelined while the Ravens have had the same starting lineup every time.

The Ravens could catch another break Sunday at New England, if nose tackle Vince Wilfork (ankle) and wide receiver Wes Welker (knee) are out. It also could be an advantage to play Patriots quarterback Tom Brady now instead of at the end of the regular season, when he might have regained his rhythm. He missed the last 15 games of last season with a knee injury.

One could make the argument that the Ravens' standing in the AFC North has also been helped by injury. The sprained knee of strong safety Troy Polamalu has played a significant role in the Pittsburgh Steelers' limping to a 1-2 start.

Like most teams, the Ravens will have to deal with their own injuries at some point this season. Here are the three players the Ravens need to keep healthy:

1. Joe Flacco, quarterback

His arm, accuracy and awareness are the reasons the Ravens have made the jump to the NFL's second-ranked offense. The Ravens would struggle without him because backup Troy Smith doesn't have the same consistency (a career completion percentage of .537).

2. Haloti Ngata, defensive tackle

In three seasons with Ngata, the Ravens' run defense finished second in the NFL in 2006, second in 2007 and third in 2008. In 2005, the year before drafting Ngata, the Ravens ranked No. 9 against the run. He makes a difference.

3. Ed Reed, free safety

Offenses game-plan against Reed like no other defensive back. Whether it's using play fakes or misdirection plays, teams are always thinking of different ways to get him out of position. If Reed weren't there, opponents would simply run their regular offense.

Opponents play short, come up short

During the Ravens' 3-0 start, their opponents have played without a total of nine starters:

Team Injured star ters Result

Kansas City 2 Ravens, 38-24

San Diego 4 Ravens, 31-26

Cleveland 3* Ravens, 34-3

*includes kicker Phil Dawson

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