By SportsDirect Inc.
Emotions will be high when head coach Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills visit the Baltimore Ravens in the season opener on Sunday. Ryan, who was the Ravens’ defensive coordinator for a decade, was a strong candidate for the head coaching job when the role opened up in 2008, but he was passed over in favor of John Harbaugh and still hasn’t forgotten about it.
Ryan seemed only half-joking when he quipped during the week that the snub still irks him but the beleagured coach has issues of his own to deal with in Buffalo. Known as a defensive specialist, his Bills plummeted from fourth in the league to 19th in total defense last season and it used virtually its entire draft in an attempt to plug the holes. Even with Joe Flacco back under center after missing the final five games last season with a knee injury, Baltimore appears to have an uphill climb in its playoff quest. The Ravens seemed to be growing long in the tooth even before injuries derailed their 2015 season and will open the season with plenty of new faces in the starting lineup.
ABOUT THE BILLS (2015: 8-8, third place in AFC East): Tyrod Taylor, who spent the first four years of his career as backup to Flacco, was a pleasant surprise last season, completing 64 percent of his passes for 3,035 yards and rushing for 568 more. The Bills also have depth in the backfield with Mike Gillislee and veteran third-down specialist Reggie Bush backing up LeSean McCoy, who is trying to rebound from a disappointing season when he rushed for 100 yards just three times and scored only five touchdowns. Buffalo, however, is starting the campaign a bit thin with Reggie Ragland (knee) out for the year and fellow rookie linebacker Shaq Lawson sidelined after shoulder surgery and defensive lineman Marcell Dareus suspended for four games.
ABOUT THE RAVENS (2015: 5-11, third place in AFC North): Baltimore cut its top running back Justin Forsett in the preseason but then re-signed the dual-threat back a couple of days later to add to their muddled backfield. Rookie Kenneth Dixon seemed to be the front-runner for the No. 1 job but he suffered a knee injury midway through the preseason, leaving both Terrance West and Buck Allen to split duties. After playing eight years with the Bears and the past two seasons with the Falcons, the Ravens added return specialist Devin Hester and look for wide receiver Breshad Perriman, who missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury, to become one of Flacco’s top targets.
1. Ryan lost all three matchups against the Ravens as coach of the Jets but is 6-1 as a head coach in season openers with five straight victories.
2. Rookies make up one-fifth of the Baltimore’s roster.
3. Veteran Ravens LB Elvis Dumervil (foot) is questionable.
PREDICTION: Ravens 17, Bills 14