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NICKEL PACKAGE: Ravens at Bills

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The Ravens will look to improve their record to (3-1) when they travel to Buffalo this weekend.

Under John Harbaugh’s tutelage, the Ravens have won three of their first four games every year since 2009. Of course, those fast starts have proven to be of great value as Baltimore has reached at least the divisional round of the playoffs in each of those seasons.

Buffalo is led by a rookie quarterback (EJ Manuel) and a rookie head coach (Doug Marrone). They are certainly a tough, competitive team, but Baltimore is as good or better at every position.

Here are my five keys to victory for the Ravens on Sunday.

1) Hold C.J. Spiller to under four yards per touch

Through three games this season, Spiller is averaging a career-low 3.4 yards per touch. However, he is the pacesetter for the Bills and could quite possibly be the fastest player in the NFL, so it’s not likely his production remains this low for long.

The Ravens’ defensive front has held Trent Richardson and Arian Foster in check in successive weeks. They’ll face another elite talent at running back in Week 4.

Getting a fast linebacker like Arthur Brown back will be key to combat the speed of Spiller.

2) Make Manuel remember he’s a rookie

Bills starting quarterback EJ Manuel has done some good things and made some big plays in his first three NFL games. However, he has yet to see a defense as good as Baltimore’s.

The Ravens have only allowed 15 points in the last eight quarters. For Manuel to get his offense into the end zone, he’s going to have to identify Baltimore’s blitz packages and sustain drives. Although Buffalo is playing at home, I’m not sure Manuel will be able to do that against Baltimore’s defense, especially considering the way they’re playing right now.

3) Joe Flacco must identify protections

Buffalo is (1-2), but don’t think it’s because they are devoid of defensive talent. Defensive end Mario Williams and defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams make up a defensive front that is well above average. In fact, besides the Bengals, the Bills probably have the best defensive line the Ravens will see all year.

Therefore, and considering Baltimore’s injured running backs, it’s imperative that Flacco communicate the given protection quickly and efficiently to his linemen and backs.

Mishaps in pass protection, especially on the road, make for a slippery slope for the offense.

4) Stay disciplined

In Week 2, the Ravens only had three penalties for 41 yards. In Week 3, the penalties more than tripled (10) and the penalty yardage doubled (80).

When you’re the Ravens and you’re more talented than you’re opponent, the one thing you can’t do is give them hope. Penalties will give the Bills hope in this game and as we all know, all that’s needed to win in the NFL is sometimes a single yard (or less).

Say home-field advantage comes down to the “record against common opponents” tiebreaker. Who has been the best team in the AFC (besides the Ravens) over the last two seasons? The Patriots. Who already has a win against the Bills this year? The Patriots.

5) Score first

The best thing a football team can do for its chances to win is to score first. When you get out to an early lead you control tempo and momentum. Although the Ravens will again be without Jacoby Jones and Ray Rice could be questionable, they still have Bernard Pierce and Torrey Smith. Pierce and Smith are capable of scoring a touchdown on any given play.

Look for the Ravens to take a shot deep down field if they get the ball first.

PREDICTION: Ravens 24, Bills 16

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