Top 7 Bills-Ravens storylines for Kickoff Weekend

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It's the 57th opener in franchise history, and for the first time, the Bills open up with a game against the Baltimore Ravens. Here are seven storylines to follow this week as the Bills get set for a visit to the Charm City:

1. Taylor vs. Flacco, former QB teammates going head-to-head

Tyrod Taylor spent the first four years of his career as an understudy to Joe Flacco. Now, Taylor is an established starter in the NFL, ready to line up across the field from his former teammate.

Taylor watched from the sidelines as Flacco became the MVP of Super Bowl XLVII, when Baltimore beat the 49ers for the title. And after serving his apprenticeship, he heads to Baltimore to show the Ravens what they missed out on.

"I think this is bigger for Tyrod than obviously it is going back for me," Head Coach Rex Ryan said this week, "because this will be only his second year removed from it. I think it will be special. I don't think there is any doubt about that."

Taylor never started a game in his four years in Baltimore and he threw a grand total of just 35 passes. But his work in preseason, and a strong recommendation from former Ravens Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron, made him a target for the Bills in free agency in 2015. And that move has paid off in spades for Buffalo.

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  1. Rex Ryan returns to Baltimore**

Bills Head Coach Rex Ryan spent 10 successful seasons on the Ravens coaching staff. He started out as the defensive line coach under coordinator Marvin Lewis, and spent six years in that role. His final four seasons Ryan was defensive coordinator and then DC/Assistant Head Coach under John Harbaugh in 2008.

Rex interviewed for the Ravens head coaching job that went to Harbaugh. And then Harbaugh not only kept him on the staff to coach the defense in his first year there, he promoted him to Assistant Head Coach.

"I was his assistant head coach and he actually let me—you know, we sat side by side going over things and that I thought was a huge thing for me when I became a head coach. That almost felt like, not that I wasn't prepared for some of the things, but it helped."

Before Harbaugh arrived, Ryan was the defensive line coach for Baltimore's Super Bowl championship team in 2000. That team allowed the fewest points in a 16-game season in NFL history (165).

Clearly, Ryan made his coaching bones in Baltimore. But the fact that he was 0-3 against the Ravens when he coached the Jets likely makes this week's matchup even more enticing for the Bills head coach.

3. Bills getting healthier as season approaches

It was a preseason filled with injury news and the Bills go into the season with their top two draft picks sidelined. But they did get a couple of key players back into the practice routine this week, including starting safety Aaron Williams. He's been out since August 11 when he had a violent collision with WR Dez Lewis in a training camp practice.

Williams missed 13 games last season with a serious neck injury that threatened his career. But he says that training camp hit on Dez Lewis was evidence that he's fully recovered.

"The Dez thing just confirms that my neck is good," Williams says. "There's no doubt in my mind when I go out there if I can go 100-percent. I won't play I guess conservative if you want to put it. I only know one way to play and that's full-speed and I told coach that I'm ready to go."

WR Marquise Goodwin was also cleared for practice this week, having completed the NFL mandated concussion protocol. Goodwin hit his head on the practice turf at St John Fisher College in the team's final training camp practice two weeks ago.

And LT Cordy Glenn, who's been out since early with an ankle injury was also cleared to practice and play. Backup OL Seantrel Henderson is back at full practice also as he recovers from an illness.

4. Fast out of the gate

Bills Head Coach Rex Ryan and his Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman, have to love the NFL's Kickoff Weekend. Ryan's first Bills team won the opener against Indianapolis last season 27-14, extending his string to five consecutive opening day wins as a head coach in the league. Ryan is 6-1 on opening day.

And since he's been an offensive coordinator in the NFL, Greg Roman has a perfect 5-0 record in the first game of the year. He was 4-0 in San Francisco before coming to Buffalo last year. Roman's offenses have put up an average of 30 points per game in the first game of the year since he's been a coordinator.

5. Bills defense—bouncing back?

One of Sunday's big storylines will be a story all season for the 2016 Bills – can they recover their defensive dominance? The Bills dropped sharply from fourth overall to 19th in the league last year. It was just the second time a Rex Ryan defense has finished out of the top 10 in the NFL.

The Bills have shaken up the defensive coaching staff and added some important pieces on that side of the ball. But we'll get our first look Sunday as to whether the changes produce results.

6. Dareus out-Corbin Bryant in

Buffalo's defense will be missing one of it's key contributors this Sunday in Baltimore and for the next three games after that. Two time Pro Bowl performer Marcell Dareus is serving a four game NFL suspension. 

His replacement? Veteran Corbin Bryant who more than held his own during the final two three preseason games when Dareus did not play. Sunday's game will be Bryant's 13th start in the NFL. He started 10 games last year when Kyle Williams was out.

7. Ravens wondering about their returning players

We know the Bills will be without some big names this week—Dareus, Reggie Ragland, Shaq Lawson, etc. But Baltimore will be without one of their prize free agents this past offseason. Tight end Ben Watson injured his knee in the Ravens second preseason game and he's out for the year. And the Ravens no doubt will be eager to see how some of their veterans come back after injuries ravaged their roster last year. QB Joe Flacco missed the final 5 games of 2015 when he tore ligaments in his left knee. 37-year old WR Steve Smith tore his Achilles tendon in week eight and went out for the year. And Pro Bowl edge rusher Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles in week one ending his season. 

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