Tyrod Taylor is one of the keys for the Buffalo Bills against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. Taylor had a terrific first season as a starter, tossing over 3,000 yards and running an extra 500 yards.

NFL: Five Keys And Prediction To Buffalo Bills-Baltimore Ravens Matchup

The Buffalo Bills and the Baltimore Ravens will open their 2016 regular seasons at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. This game marks the seventh meeting between the two franchises with the series tied at 3-3. The Bills won the last meeting 23-20 at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 29, 2013.

Both teams are coming off disappointing seasons last year, as Buffalo finished 8-8 and Baltimore was 5-11. The teams have a few other things in common as Bills’ starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor, head coach Rex Ryan and assistant defensive backs coach Ed Reed are former members of the Ravens. Taylor played for Baltimore from 2011-14, appearing in 14 games overall.

Taylor left the Ravens as a free agent in the summer of 2015. He started 14 games for the Bills last year, throwing for over 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns while adding 568 yards on the ground. Taylor told ESPN that he is looking forward to facing his former team.

“The reality was I probably was going to be leave Baltimore at some point or another. To get a chance to come back as a starter was definitely something I hoped for and have an opportunity to do so now. I’m excited, but it’s not about me. This game is not about me at all. This game is about the Buffalo Bills going to Baltimore and trying to get a win on the road.”

Buffalo has not made the playoffs since 1999. But the Bills are looking to win their third straight season opener on Sunday.

Buffalo’s biggest issue last year was its defense, which fell to No. 19 in the league after finishing the 2014 season ranked fourth. The Bills used most of their resources this offseason on upgrading the defensive. However, DT Marcell Dareus (suspension), LB Randal Jackson (IR), LB Reggie Ragland (IR) and DE Shaq Lawson (physically unable to perform list) will miss the game versus Baltimore as will reserve safety Colt Anderson (injured) and rookie backup cornerback Kevon Semour (injured). In addition, backup OT Seantrel Henderson (suspension) is out for the game while backup OL Ryan Groy and reserve RB Jonathan Williams are listed as questionable on the Bills injury list.

Baltimore was ravaged by injuries in 2015 as QB Joe Flacco, RB Justin Forsett, LB Terrell Suggs and WR Steve Smith Sr. were lost to season-ending injuries. Last year marked the Ravens’ first losing season under ninth-year head coach John Harbaugh.

Baltimore lost quite a few key players this offseason, but Flacco, Forsett, Suggs, Smith, and 2015 first-round draft pick Breshad Perriman — who missed the entire season last year — are now healthy. The Ravens have also added several key veterans and rookies, including S. Eric Weddle, WR Mike Williams, TE Benjamin Watson and OT Ronnie Stanley — the team’s first round draft pick.

Baltimore will be without OLB Elvis Dumervil, CB Jerraud Powers, Watson (injured reserve) and backup running back Kenneth Dixon for the Bills’ game. Dumervil’s absence hurts the Ravens the most as he led the team in sacks the past two years. In addition, TE’s Dennis Pitta and Maxx Williams, OL John Urschel and CB Shareece Wright are listed as questionable on the team’s injury report, though all four are expected to play.

Baltimore is favored by 3.5 points and has been given a 60.2 percent of winning by ESPN’s Power Football Index, despite the fact the Ravens have lost their last three season openers. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET and the game will be televised by CBS with Spero Dedes doing the play-by-play and Solomon Wilcots doing the color commentating.

The rest of the article will look at keys to the game.

1. Can Buffalo run the ball effectively.

The Bills had the top running attack in the NFL last season, averaging 152 yards on the ground per game. Unlike last year, starting running back LeSean McCoy is healthy from the get go. McCoy led the Bills with 895 yards in 2015, while Taylor is a dangerous runner. Training camp acquisition Reggie Bush and third-year pro Mike Gillislee, who averaged 5.7 yards a season ago, backup McCoy.

Baltimore has a distinct advantage along the defensive line on the right side where defensive end Timmy Jernigan and nose tackle Brandon Williams will likely lineup the majority of time against right tackle John Miller and right guard Jordan Mills.

2. Can Baltmore protect Joe Flacco?

Keeping Joe Flacco upright and healthy is the number one priority for the Ravens. Flacco is not a huge numbers guy, but he manages the game well and the Ravens have a history of winning with him under center. He will reportedly wear a knee brace to protect his surgically repaired knee.

The left side of the offensive line could be a concern for Baltimore as the Ravens may start two rookies, Stanley and guard Alex Lewis. If Lewis does start, he would be replacing Urschel.

Last season, the Bills had the second fewest sacks in the league with 21. The pass rush didn’t get much better in the preseason as Buffalo managed just four sacks in four games. OLB Jerry Hughes, who Joe Buscaglia of WKBW called the Bills’ best player in training camp, is key for the team.

3. Which receivers will make the big plays?

Buffalo’s wide receivers — other than WR’s Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods along with TE Charles Clay — are relatively inexperienced. Watkins should have a favorable match-up with cornerback Jimmy Smith, though Woods has yet to show any consistency. Backup TE Jim Dray (56 receptions) and WR Greg Salas (46 catches) lead the reserves. However, McCoy and Bush are very good receivers out of the backfield.

Defensively, one of the Bills’ strengths is in their defensive backfield with CB’s Ron Darby and Stephon Gilmore as well as safety Aaron Williams.

Baltimore has equipped Flacco with his best set of weapons of his career. Williams and Perriman give the Ravens a couple of deep threats. While Smith, Kamar Aiken, Crockett Gillmore and Maxx Williams are quality intermediate and short route runners.

Weddle will help the Ravens’ secondary, though questions still abound as their secondary struggles some during the preseason.

4. Can Baltimore get its running game going?

The Ravens had one of the worst running attacks last year as they attempted a franchise-low 363 rushing attempts. Baltimore ranked 26th in the league with 92.4 yards a contest. Forsett led the team with 651 yards on the ground, though he averaged just 4.2 yards per carry. Javorius Allen (514 yards in 2015) and Terrance West also will likely get some carries.

Buffalo did a pretty good job stopping the run throughout the preseason. Still, there are questions surrounding the Bills front seven.

5. Who will win the special teams battle?

Baltimore recently signed kick-punt returner Devin Hester. As a result, Buffalo promoted kickoff specialist Jordan Gay from its practice squad. Hester has more returns for touchdowns (20) than any player in NFL history with one coming on punt returns.

Baltimore was ranked as the top special teams unit last year and has been in the top four of the league the past four seasons.

[Photo by Gary Wiepert/AP Photo]

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