No. 7: Week 1 vs. Buffalo
All-time record against: 3-3
Most recent game: Bills 23, Ravens 20 (September 29, 2013)
Significance: It’ll be highly emotional because of multiple homecomings.
First and foremost, it takes place on the 15th anniversary of 9/11. Five years ago, the 10th anniversary of 9/11 was also opening Sunday of the NFL season, and stadiums across the league paid tribute in a most moving way.
Secondly, besides this game taking place on opening weekend, it represents a chance for the Ravens to get back in the win column. Although Baltimore beat Pittsburgh in its final home game of 2015, the Ravens were 3-5 at M&T Bank Stadium last season.
This game also means the return of five former Ravens. The Bills are led by head coach Rex Ryan, who, as a defensive coach, was a major reason for Baltimore’s success from 1999-2008. This will be the first game he’ll coach since his father, Buddy Ryan, passed away. As John Eisenberg recently pointed out, Buddy Ryan’s coaching style had a major influence on the historic 2000 Ravens defense, which set a record for least points allowed in a season (165).
While on the topic of coaches, two other former Ravens will be returning to Baltimore as opposing coaches. Defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman comes back to M&T Bank Stadium after coaching the Ravens secondary from 2002-07. Thurman was Ed Reed‘s first professional position coach.
Reed, now Buffalo’s secondary coach, will be working with a very talented secondary. Ronald Darby and Stephon Gilmore are two good, young cornerbacks. Reed will also be pouring his Hall of Fame knowledge into another former Raven, Corey Graham.
As a Ravens cornerback, Graham was a key part in their Super Bowl XLVII championship run. Now a safety, he’ll get to learn from maybe the best safety ever. In 2015 (his first season as a safety), Graham was outstanding, posting a personal-best 127 tackles and scoring the first regular season touchdown of his career.
Ronnie Stanley vs. Jerry Hughes/Shaq Lawson
When Ronnie Stanley takes the field for his first NFL snap, he’ll (presumably) be the left tackle charged with protecting Joe Flacco against the pass rush of Jerry Hughes. Though Hughes isn’t on the level of DeMarcus Ware or Justin Houston, he’s a very good pass rusher entering the prime of his career. Since joining the Bills in 2013, Hughes has recorded 25 sacks and seven forced fumbles.
Stanley won’t necessarily be overwhelmed against the veteran, as he’s coming off a season in which he shut down some of the nation’s top pass rushers, including Bills rookie Shaq Lawson. When Notre Dame played at Clemson last October, Lawson had seven tackles but zero sacks. In this video, you’ll see how Lawson (No. 90) primarily rushed against Stanley (No. 78) with very little production.
Either way, keeping Flacco upright (especially in his first game back from a major knee injury) is of the utmost importance.
Speaking of offensive lineman and Ravens returning from injured reserve, Jeremy Zuttah will (literally) have his hands full in his first game back. He’s set to face-off against 2014 All-Pro nose tackle Marcell Dareus (6’3″, 331 pounds). The former Alabama standout racked up 28.5 sacks in his first four NFL seasons as a defensive tackle. However, in 15 games last season, he only recorded two sacks.
How Zuttah and his surgically-repaired pectoral respond to the rush of Dareus could determine which team ends up victorious.
Prediction: Ravens 17, Bills 14