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Bills-4The long wait is finally over. Week 1 of the 2016 season is upon us and for the next 17 weeks there is meaningful football to be played. Buffalo of course kicks off the new campaign down in Baltimore, where Rex Ryan spent 10 years coaching in various defensive roles, and Tyrod Taylor spend the first four years of his career. There is certainly a bit of familiarity there, and Ryan has talked all week about how tough it is to play at M&T Bank Stadium and how physical John Harbaugh’s group is going to be, particularly on defense.

The Ravens are coming off of an uncharacteristic 5-11 season where they were plagued by severe injuries. They’re certainly looking to get back into playoff contention in the AFC North. As for the Bills, they had an injury plagued season themselves in 2015, finishing 8-8 in Ryan’s first year at the helm. The injuries have continued in the preseason, but that hasn’t kept Ryan from promising that the defense will be stronger in year two. His first test comes tomorrow. This one has all the makings for a dog fight.

Here’s three things the Bills MUST do to get a win in Baltimore…

1) Stay disciplined and avoid costly penalties

Last season the Bills led the league in penalties with 168 flags thrown against them and 143 of them were accepted. It was a huge issue for obvious reasons. Ryan sounds like a broken record at this point repeatedly preaching “we gotta cut down on the penalties.” Despite instituting a “laps for penalties” punishment at practice during camp, the trend didn’t change much during the preseason as the Bills accumulated 38 penalties for 311 yards. That’s about 9.5 per game, about one penalty lower than the 10.5 per game they averaged during the regular season last year. Not great. Week 1 games are generally sloppy as teams work out the early season kinks, so penalties will definitely be a factor. However, Buffalo has to find a way to shake this bad habit not on to win this week, but to success in 2016.

2) Get pressure on veteran QB, Joe Flacco

After leading the league in sacks in both 2013 and 2014 the Bills pass rush took major steps backwards last season, finishing 31st overall in sacks with an underwhelming 21. That’s not going to cut it this year, especially against a veteran QB like Joe Flacco.

Ryan’s defensive scheme is riddled with exotic blitzes and purposeful chaos, designed to confuse opposing quarterbacks. Even without their top two draft picks in Edge linebacker Shaq Lawson and LB Reggie Ragland, the Bills defense showed great promise during the preseason. Zach Brown and Lorenzo Alexander are very capable veterans in the middle of the defense in place of both rookies. Preston Brown is way more comfortable in year two of Ryan’s defense and Jerry Hughes is a dominant pass rusher off the edge. DE Adolphus Washington, the lone rookie starter, looks poised for a strong season and earlier this week said he feels no nerves in regards to his regular season debut. That should bode well for him to just pin his ears back and get after the QB. Corbin Bryant is plenty capable of holding down Marcell Dareus’ spot at NT for four weeks and Kyle Williams is kind of the wild card, returning from a serious knee injury at the age of 33. That’s the starting front seven that needs to cement Ryan’s claim that the defense will be better this year. It all starts in Baltimore tomorrow.

Two other things to consider the Ravens have two new starting offensive lineman – both on the left side – and Flacco could show some rust, playing in his first full game since tearing his ACL last season.

3) Communication

Of course this applies to the entire team, offense, defense and special teams, but particularly on defense it’s supremely vital with all that goes on before the snap. We know that last year this was a major issue on that side of the ball so much so that late in the season Manny Lawson became the primary play caller over Preston Brown. Call it an adjustment year of sorts. This year though, communication appears to be profoundly better and louder. It was noticeable throughout training camp and the preseason that at every level of the defense there was an increase in chatter. It led to good things for the unit during the preseason and as long as they keep it up the same will ultimately be said during the regular season.

Notable injuries/absences:

Bills: Of course Buffalo will be without defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, who is suspended the first four games of the season. The only players ruled out for Sunday’s game thus far are S Colt Anderson (foot) and CB Kevon Seymour (hamstring). G Ryan Groy (Ribs), QB Cardale Jones (right shoulder) and RB Jonathan Williams (Ribs) are all listed as questionable, which doesn’t necessarily paint a clear picture into their status Week 1 since the NFL did away with the “probable” injury designation.

Ravens: The Ravens have already ruled out three players for Sunday. including RB Kenneth Dixon, CB Jerraud Powers and most notably OLB Elvis Dumervil. TE No. 1 Dennis Pitta, as well as starting CB Shareece Wright and G John Urschel have all been listed as questionable.

Spencer’s prediction: I have the Bills winning this game. No I don’t think the Ravens will be as miserable as last year especially with John Harbaugh as a head coach. However, Greg Roman is 5-0 in Week 1’s throughout his career and this offense has a chance to be explosive, more so than a Ravens defense assorted with aging veterans and inexperienced youth can handle. Baltimore is also missing one of their better pass rushers in Elvis Dumbervil. I’m also not sure Baltimore has the weapons on their offense to really overmatch Buffalo’s defense. It’s a matchup of two physical teams and you can certainly expect some sloppiness and penalties, but Taylor will dazzle in his return to Baltimore. Bills win 27-17

Follow me on Twitter: @Spencito6