When the Bills pass: Quarterback Nathan Peterman gets the call as the starter for the season opener after a dynamite preseason, during which he displayed pinpoint accuracy by completing more than 80 percent of his passes. One of Peterman’s strengths is getting the ball out of his hands fast. The analytics website Pro Football Focus tracks the time a quarterback takes from the snap to getting the ball out, and Peterman’s average of 2.29 seconds this preseason was tied with New England’s Tom Brady. Getting the ball out quickly will be critical, because there are big-time concerns about the offensive line’s ability to pass protect. One ominous stat: The Ravens led the NFL with 22 interceptions last season, and we all know what happened in Peterman’s first start. EDGE: Ravens.
When the Bills run: LeSean McCoy is healthy and ready for his usual heavy workload after playing in just one preseason game. McCoy rushed just four times in that game, but the Bills know what he can do. In the 2016 season opener against the Ravens, McCoy ran for just 58 yards on 16 carries. Baltimore’s defensive line will pose a big challenge, particularly with nose tackle Michael Pierce. He finished second with 34 total run stops in 2017, as tracked by PFF. He’ll be a load for center Ryan Groy, who won the competition with Russell Bodine to start. EDGE: Ravens.
When the Ravens pass: Maybe Joe Flacco is starting to feel the heat. After the Ravens traded up into the last pick of the first round to draft Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, Flacco responded with his best training camp in several years, according to those who cover the team. Baltimore rebuilt its receiving corps in the offseason, acquiring Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead and John Brown. That should help Flacco improve what was a career-worst 5.7 yards per attempt last year, a figure that tied for 91st in the NFL among quarterbacks who threw a pass. Members of the Bills’ secondary will be hungry to put a miserable showing in the third preseason game against Cincinnati behind them. The looming question is, who starts at cornerback opposite Tre’Davious White – veteran Vontae Davis or newcomer Phillip Gaines? EDGE: Bills.
When the Ravens run: Alex Collins went from being on the practice squad in Week 1 to appearing in 15 games (including 12 starts), rushing for 973 yards and six touchdowns. He ranked 11th in the NFL in rushing yards and eighth in yards per attempt, at 4.6. His physical running style will be a good challenge for a rebuilt Buffalo run defense that features defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. There are some questions in Baltimore about who will start at left guard and center, but the Ravens will welcome All-Pro right guard Marshall Yanda back after he missed almost all of last season with a broken ankle. EDGE: Ravens.
Special teams: Marcus Murphy is listed on the Bills’ unofficial depth chart as the No. 1 kick returner and punt returner, answering one of the bigger questions here. He looked good as a punt returner in the preseason. The big change for Buffalo is new punter Corey Bojorquez, who was claimed off waivers from New England and replaces Colton Schmidt. Will he be up for the job, and can he get on the same page with kicker Stephen Hauschka as the holder? The Ravens had the best special-teams unit in the NFL last year, according to Football Outsiders. EDGE: Ravens.
Coaching: Sean McDermott enters his second season with the Bills secure after ending a 17-year playoff drought. The big change on his staff is at offensive coordinator, where Brian Daboll comes home to take over for Rick Dennison. The Ravens have missed the playoffs in three consecutive years – we all know well how that happened last year – and owner Steve Bisciotti publicly acknowledged he considered making a coaching change after that meltdown against the Bengals. Over the past five seasons, including just one trip to the playoffs, John Harbaugh has a 40-40 record as a head coach, which is why he enters 2018 on the hot seat. EDGE: Even.
Prediction: Ravens 23, Bills 13