Looks like a gimme, but don't be fooled

Ravens Weekend

October 19, 2007|By MIKE PRESTON

The Ravens are handling Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills in the right manner. They aren't loading up the lineup with injured star players, and they are proceeding with caution.

This isn't a trap game. And the Ravens aren't pretending the Bills (1-4) are the New England Patriots or the Indianapolis Colts. What the Bills are is an up-and-coming team loaded with good, young players.

They're going to be good in a few years, but they're hungry right now for a victory, and the Bills play extremely well at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Just ask the Denver Broncos and Dallas Cowboys, who each squeaked out one-point victories in Buffalo this season, and the New York Jets, who lost, 17-14.

You can understand Ravens coach Brian Billick's logic of resting certain players. The Ravens injury list looks like a Who's Who -- quarterback Steve McNair, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, tight end Todd Heap, center Mike Flynn, defensive end Trevor Pryce and cornerback Chris McAlister.

As usual, Billick won't divulge who won't play, but he'll rest as many as possible with a bye next week, followed by the Monday night showdown with Pittsburgh on Nov. 5.

But at the same time, you can feel a little tension at the team's training facility. The Ravens cannot afford to lose this game and drop to 4-3.

It would severely hurt their playoff chances, especially with their tough second-half schedule. The Ravens have two games left against Pittsburgh, and also have to play New England and Indianapolis at home in addition to the division rival Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.

The Ravens also have to travel to the West Coast twice to play the San Diego Chargers and Seattle Seahawks, so it will be difficult making the playoffs with a loss to Buffalo.

When you look at the AFC, it's basically composed of three levels. There is the elite group of New England and Indianapolis. Then there is a second level that consists of the Ravens, Steelers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego, Denver and possibly the Tennessee Titans.

And then there is everybody else.

With a win Sunday, the Ravens will stay at the top of that second tier with Pittsburgh. If not, they'll move to the bottom of that group, and that means they'll probably have to kick and scratch to earn a playoff berth.

On paper, the game against Buffalo appears to be a gimme, and it could be as ugly as the Ravens' 22-3 win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday.

The Bills have the league's 31st-ranked offense, averaging only 226.6 yards, and are ranked last in total defense, giving up 421.4 yards per game They start a rookie quarterback and a rookie running back.

Sounds like an easy Ravens victory, right?

It may end up that way, but the Bills are a tough, competitive team. Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan will throw more than enough at Buffalo quarterback Trent Edwards to confuse him, but Edwards has enough toughness and confidence to make plays.

Bills running back Marshawn Lynchis athletic and runs extremely hard. He is going to be one of the best runners in the league in a few years and won't back down from the Ravens.

The Bills don't have a roster full of Pro Bowl players, but left offensive tackle Jason Peters is excellent, and right defensive end Aaron Schobel and strong safety Donte Whitner can make enough plays to keep the game close.

I suspect the Ravens will have a conservative offensive game plan again (what else is new?). They won't ask backup quarterback Kyle Boller to win it, just to manage the game and hand off.

The Ravens should keep giving the ball to running back Willis McGahee, because he'll be pumped up to play against his former team in a city where fans thought he was selfish and quit on the team a year ago. The Bills are also weak up the middle against the run.

Meanwhile, Ryan will torture Edwards with numerous fronts and blitz packages. By the end of the game, the youngster's mind will be a wasteland from trying to read all the different looks.

Anyway, that's the way the script has been written. But as we all know, NFL games don't always go according to the script.

And with the parity in the league, an interception here or a fumble there can be a great equalizer. That's the way the Bills will approach the game, and they certainly won't quit.

And if the Ravens aren't prepared to match that energy, an entire season has the potential to come undone Sunday, courtesy of one of the NFL's worst teams.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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