SCOUTING REPORT: Game 1 AT N.Y. JETS
Ravens run offense vs. Jets run defense: Ray Rice is fresh after carrying the ball eight times this preseason. He began last year with a bang, rushing for 108 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2009 opener. But there's no comparison between the Chiefs run defense and the one from the Jets. New York ranked No. 8 in rushing yards per game (98.6 yards allowed) and No. 4 in yards per carry (3.8). And that was playing most of the season without three-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Kris Jenkins, who has returned this season. Taking on Jenkins could be the biggest challenge of the season for Ravens center Matt Birk. In six games against top-10 run defenses last season, Rice averaged 79.5 yards rushing.
Ravens pass offense vs. Jets pass defense: Joe Flacco is primed for a breakout season, and he's surrounded by the most talent that he's ever had. The Jets have the returning top-ranked pass defense because they don't allow big plays. But Flacco will thrive on the intermediate routes, hitting Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. New York cornerback Darrelle Revis won't be on top of his game after a 36-day holdout, and cornerback Antonio Cromartie is overrated. The Ravens' biggest concern is at right tackle. Don't be surprised if the Ravens move Marshal Yanda from right guard to right tackle and start Chris Chester at right guard. Left tackle Michael Oher will likely match up against Jason Taylor, the NFL's active sack leader.
Jets run offense vs. Ravens run defense: The Jets ran the ball 58 percent of the time, a rate that shouldn't change this season. Shonn Greene, who led the NFL in rushing last postseason, takes over for Thomas Jones. He also averaged 5.0 yards per carry in the regular season. The Ravens led the NFL last season in fewest yards allowed per carry (3.4), but they had uncharacteristic lapses against Carolina and the New York Giants in the preseason. The Jets will have trouble running up the middle against the Ravens. The biggest mismatch of the game is Haloti Ngata against left guard Matt Slauson.
Jets pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense: This is where the Ravens will be vulnerable this season. The Jets, though, don't have the quarterback to take advantage of it. Mark Sanchez completed 53.8 percent of his passes in the preseason and threw 20 interceptions. Plus, Santonio Holmes, who has hurt the Ravens more than any wide receiver the past four seasons, is suspended for this game. Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb (probable, knee) is considered a game-time decision. Even without Webb, the Ravens should be able to handle Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery with Fabian Washington, Josh Wilson and Chris Carr. Tom Zbikowski will replace injured Ed Reed at safety, making his fifth start in the past six regular-season games. Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs has to win his battle with Pro Bowl left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Billy Cundiff won the Ravens kicking job on the strength of his kickoffs. He hit only 70 percent of his field goals last season, but he has looked solid this preseason. Jets kicker Nick Folk is extremely unreliable (he missed an extra point in the preseason). New York has dangerous Brad Smith returning kickoffs and Jim Leonhard running back punts. The Ravens haven't announced their punt returner, although it's expected that Tom Zbikowski will get the nod over Chris Carr.
INTANGIBLES: The Ravens are undefeated in season openers under coach John Harbaugh. There will be heightened emotions at the Jets' first game at the New Meadowlands Stadium. But the Ravens have a history of spoiling celebrations, from becoming the first visiting team to win at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field and Tennessee's LP Field to winning the final game at Dallas' Texas Stadium. The Jets weren't a strong team at home last season, going 4-4 with losses to Buffalo and Jacksonville. All of the Jets' talking has put a target squarely on their backs.
Prediction: Despite all of the hype surrounding the Jets, the Ravens are the superior team and they are motivated to show that to national television audience. Flacco will strike early a couple of times, and the Ravens defense will frustrate Sanchez. The Ravens will make the Jets eat crow.