The regular season-opener between the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens features a pair of starting quarterbacks who used to share the same sideline.
While they represent a contrast in styles, the players share a common goal of getting their franchises on track after disappointing 2015 campaigns.
Baltimore's Joe Flacco suffered a season-ending left knee injury Nov. 22 against the St. Louis Rams and the Ravens never recovered, finishing 5-11. Buffalo's Tyrod Taylor is building off the best year of his career, but the Bills missed the playoffs for the 16th consecutive time -- the longest drought among active teams.
Taylor spent 2011-14 as Flacco's backup in Baltimore before leaving to take the starting job in Buffalo. Ravens coach John Harbaugh lauded his former player's development and his ability to manage the game.
"He has made himself into an NFL quarterback," Harbaugh said. "His quarterback rating last year was very high (99.4). He did it with his legs, certainly, but that is not to take away what from what he has done with his arm and his mind. He operates an offense extremely well. He manages the game very well. He is an accurate thrower. He makes good decisions. The added element of the fact that is he is probably one of the best athletes in the game just makes him a real weapon."
Taylor learned a valuable lesson in what it takes to win, serving as Flacco's understudy in the Ravens' Super Bowl XLVII victory. Taylor valued his time in Baltimore, but he was ready to lead an offense.
"They knew I wanted an opportunity to get a chance to start, or just to compete, for a starting position," Taylor said. "I wouldn't turn that down and they wouldn't have wanted me to turn it down either. I'm happy with how things turned out."
Flacco, who will wear a brace to protect his surgically repaired left knee, had a strong training camp and appears fully ready to re-take the reins. He returns with the most playmakers he's had over his past eight seasons in Baltimore.
The Ravens signed Mike Wallace to provide another downfield threat. Breshad Perriman, a first-round pick in 2015, is expected to make an impact after missing all of last season with a knee injury. Finally, rookie Chris Moore, a fourth-round pick, could also play a big role.
One of the toughest challenges for Flacco will be ensuring his receivers get enough touches, especially with Steve Smith back after a season-ending torn Achilles tendon in 2015.
"I think I have a good relationship with all of those guys," Flacco said. "They understand that it's about winning football and team football around here. They're all going to get their chances. Some games they might not get as many as others."
Flacco could have two rookies starting on the left side of the offensive line with tackle Ronnie Stanley and guard Alex Lewis. The Bills will likely try to aggressively exploit that inexperience ... if they can figure out how to fix their pass rush.
Last season, the Bills had the second fewest sacks in the league (21) behind Atlanta. The pass rush didn't get much better in the preseason as Buffalo managed just four sacks in four games.
On offense, Buffalo did the top rushing attack in the NFL last season, and that unit could help control the clock against the Ravens.
Bills coach Rex Ryan also has some familiarity with the Ravens, spending nine seasons on their coaching staff, including four years as defensive coordinator. Ed Reed, the Bills' assistant defensive backs coach, is in Baltimore's Ring of Honor and is regarded as one of the best safeties in the history of the NFL.
"Those guys do a phenomenal job of getting player that like fit a certain system, that love play the game, that are passionate about it, and that's exactly what we're trying to build here in Buffalo," Ryan said about the Ravens.
The Bills could get a boost with the return of safety Aaron Williams, who returned to practice after missing almost a month with a concussion. He provides effective support for Bills cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby.
Baltimore will be without linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who had offseason foot surgery and has not been able to practice since Aug. 29.