RAVENS PASSING GAME: This is the area to watch in Week 1. The Ravens believe they’ll get off to a faster start this season with a healthy Joe Flacco at the helm and a revamped receiving corps. They know their playoff aspirations depend on it. They finished 29th in passing yards last season.
BILLS PASSING GAME: The Bills finished 31st in the NFL in passing yards last season and that was with Tyrod Taylor starting at quarterback most of the time. This year, they’ll turn the offense over to Nathan Peterman, who’s started just two career games and thrown five interceptions against two touchdowns.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: Alex Collins was the Ravens’ breakout offensive star last season, rising from the practice squad to become one of the league’s best at gaining yards after initial contact. He’ll also run behind a more talented line to start the season, with starting guards Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis back in the fold. Kenneth Dixon will give the Ravens greater depth in the backfield.
BILLS RUNNING GAME: This was Buffalo’s offensive strength last season. Starting running back LeSean McCoy gained 1,138 yards and led the Bills with 59 catches. He’s facing a possible suspension but is expected to play against the Ravens.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: The Ravens have struggled in coverage without cornerback Jimmy Smith, who will be suspended the first four games. But they still have two starting-caliber corners in Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey, and led the league in both interceptions and turnover margin last year. Linebacker Terrell Suggs remains the team’s most productive pass rusher as he enters his 16th season.
BILLS PASS DEFENSE: Buffalo held opposing quarterbacks to a 78.9 passer rating last season and posted a plus-eight interception margin. Strong safety Micah Hyde made the Pro Bowl in 2017, and the Bills added former Pro Bowl selection Vontae Davis at cornerback. The Bills managed just 26 sacks compared with 47 for their opponents. They added defensive end Trent Murphy in hopes of bolstering their rush.
RAVENS RUN DEFENSE: Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce provide plenty of power in the middle, but the Ravens did not dominate opposing ball carriers as thoroughly in 2017 as they had in past seasons. Baltimore allowed 4 yards a carry, 14th best in the league. But with linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Tony Jefferson cleaning up behind Williams and Pierce, the Ravens remain above average here.
BILLS RUN DEFENSE: Buffalo’s defense was below average against the run by both standard measures and advanced metrics. The Bills allowed 4.3 yards a carry and gave up 22 rushing touchdowns. They lost their leading tackler, linebacker, Preston Brown, in free agency. They hope first-round pick Tremaine Edmunds will replace his production.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Jerry Rosburg’s crew excelled across the board last season, led by Justin Tucker’s 91.9-percent accuracy on field goals. Tucker and punter Sam Koch are locked in, but it’s not clear how returning duties will be divided between incumbent Chris Moore and rookie Janarion Grant.
BILLS SPECIAL TEAMS: Buffalo also has a standout kicker in former Raven Stephen Hauschka. But they’ll start the season with a new punter, Corey Bojorquez, and look to get more from a return game that ranked below average in 2017.
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens will ride a wave of optimism into their season opener, with a largely healthy roster and a sense that their passing offense, led by a rejuvenated Flacco and his fresh crew of wide receivers, could improve substantially. They know they can’t squander a home date against a beatable opponent, even if it is the first game of the season. So expect coach John Harbaugh and his players to operate with plenty of urgency.
BILLS INTANGIBLES: The Bills thrilled their loyal home fans with a surprise trip to the playoffs in 2017, at the Ravens’ expense. But many analysts expect them to plummet back to the bottom of the standings this season, with the largely unproven Peterman at quarterback and rookie Josh Allen waiting in the wings. Even with Taylor leading the offense last season, Buffalo went 3-5 on the road. Coach Sean McDermott, who worked with Harbaugh on the Philadelphia Eagles staff, proved a capable leader in his first year. And he still has plenty of talent to work with on the defensive side. So no one should expect the Bills to roll over.
PREDICTION: The Bills edged past the Ravens for a playoff spot last season, but the Ravens have more overall talent, home-field advantage and plenty of incentive to jump to a fast start before their schedule grows more daunting. They also have a long track record of punishing inexperienced quarterbacks such as Peterman, who doesn’t have the weapons to exploit Smith’s absence. Ravens, 30-17