By Sal Maiorana - Rochester D&C
1. Can EJ Manuel shake off his dismal performance last week? If the Bills are going to have a chance to pull the upset, he will have to. Manuel was decent against the Patriots, mediocre until the final drive against Carolina when he was great, and then he was awful all day in New York. Accuracy was a question mark with Manuel when the Bills picked him, and it still is. Last week he completed only one of eight passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, and on several balls he was so far off target his receivers had no chance to catch the ball. Robert Woods and TJ Graham were both upset by the lack of opportunities they had. Manuel also showed poor pocket awareness and was sacked eight times. The Ravens will provide every bit as stern a test as the Jets, and Manuel has to be sharper with everything he does.
2. Will the Bills do a better job on third down on both sides of the ball? Doug Marrone mentioned twice following the Jets game how the lack of success on third down has really hurt the Bills, and he's right. The defense is allowing a 46 percent conversion rate, 28th in the NFL, while the offense is converting just 31 percent of the time, 27th in the league. And with Buffalo running an up-tempo offense, the third-down failures are putting more stress on a defense trying to find its way - especially in the injury-ravaged secondary.
3. Will the Bills be able to run the ball against a stout Baltimore defense? The Ravens rank fourth against the run and are one of three teams that hasn't allowed a rushing TD. With NT Haloti Ngata in the middle, Buffalo's interior linemen will have a huge task trying to create space. RB C.J. Spiller has to wake up from his early-season slumber. While it's true he's seen a multitude of seven- and eight-man fronts designed to stop him, Spiller has not made good decisions and has had far too many wasted plays. Another key for the Bills' running game will be to get some big chunk plays in the passing game, which should theoretically force the defense to back off.
... and Out
When you saw this game upon the schedule release in April, many certainly chalked it up as a no-doubt-about-it loss. How are the Bills going to beat the Super Bowl champs? Well, it's not out of the question. The Bills are at home, in front of a sellout crowd, and coming off a horrid performance in the loss to the Jets, so the bounce-back factor is definitely in play. This Ravens team isn't the same one that won it all in 2012, and if the Bills defense can get some turnovers and Manuel finds some success in the downfield passing game, the Bills can make this a competitive game. Baltimore, minus Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, gave up 49 points in the season opener, and since has won two home games, one of those against lowly Cleveland. The Ravens are good, not great, and that will probably be enough to beat the Bills in a close one.
My pick: Ravens 23, Bills 19.