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13 Ravens opponents in 13 days: Buffalo Bills

In eager anticipation of the 2013 NFL season, Baltimore Sun blogger and reporter Matt Vensel will take a daily look at one of the 13 opponents on the Ravens’ regular-season schedule. Today is the Buffalo Bills.

After starting the regular season with two games against AFC contenders whom they played last season (the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans) and one against an AFC North rival (the Cleveland Browns), the Ravens in Week 4 will face an unfamiliar opponent in the Buffalo Bills, whom they have not played since the 2010 season. The Bills have changed coaches and quarterbacks and brought in plenty of faces on defense since that last meeting, and they figure to be a much different team than even the one the NFL saw last season. Who knows how good the Bills will be when the Ravens travel to Buffalo, but at least we know snow won’t be in the forecast.

Recapping 2012: The Bills made a splash before the 2012 season, signing $100 million man Mario Williams to pump up their pass rush. He brought higher expectations with him, and the Bills were a darkhorse pick to make the playoffs in the eyes of some national analysts. The defense struggled, though, and after a 2-1 start, the Bills only won four more games. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw 16 interceptions as the Bills finished 21st in scoring offense and Williams had just 10.5 sacks as the defense ranked 26th in scoring defense.

Cha-cha-changes: Head coach Chan Gailey, who won just 16 games in his three years in Buffalo, was fired after the season. He was replaced by former Syracuse coach Doug Marrone, a smart, offensive-minded coach who had become a hot name in the NFL’s annual game of musical headsets. The Bills lost guard Andy Levitre in free agency, cut ties with Fitzpatrick and caught many observers off guard when they drafted Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel in the first round of the NFL draft. They added USC wide receiver Robert Woods in the second.

The skinny: The Bills also signed Kevin Kolb, a castoff of two NFL teams, to compete at quarterback, but Manuel will be the starter sooner or later, probably even by Week 4. He was a dual-threat quarterback at Florida State, as many Terps fans know, but he showed promise as a passer. It’s unclear if the Bills will have option elements in their offense if Manuel is the starter, but the Ravens plan to be prepared just in case. The Bills could change their base defense scheme back to a 3-4, but either way, Williams and his fellow defenders must be better in 2013.

Recent history: The Ravens and Bills have played each other just once in the John Harbaugh era, with the Ravens winning a wild 37-34 overtime game at M&T; Bank Stadium back in 2010. For what it's worth, the Ravens are 3-2 all-time against the Bills, who haven’t made the playoffs since 1999.

Degree of difficulty: The Bills are at the start of yet another rebuilding plan, and while I like the hiring of Marrone and am intrigued by their surprising selection of Manuel, the Bills aren’t likely to be contenders this season. With this game being played in the first month of the season, the Bills will still be finding their way when the Ravens come to Buffalo. I’ll give this one a two out of 10.

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