For the Baltimore Ravens, Thursday night's season opener in Denver against the Broncos brings plenty of uncertainty. After an offseason that saw the departure of key veterans such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Anquan Boldin, the Ravens will be fielding a new-look squad for the first meaningful game of the new season.
There's no telling how the new roster will come together, and starting on the road against Peyton Manning and an revenge-minded Broncos team certainly doesn't help the cause.
But, the Ravens proved back in January that they can head to the Mile-High City and pull off the upset, something they'll have to do again on Thursday.
Here is how the Ravens can start the season off in the win column.
Give Torrey Smith Chances Deep
One of the biggest factors that will play into the outcome of the highly anticipated battle is the fact that Broncos' cornerback Champ Bailey will not play.
In the 2012 Divisional Round, Ravens' wide receiver Torrey Smith feasted on the opportunities he had against Bailey, most notably catching two touchdown passes in one-on-one opportunities against the veteran shutdown corner.
With Bailey out, Smith may not get as many opportunities deep, but that shouldn't prevent Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell from capitalizing on the chance to stretch a Broncos secondary that showed blatant holes in the back end in its last meeting with the Ravens.
There is little risk in taking chances deep, as Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is one of the best in the league when it comes to the deep ball.
Having a quarterback who rarely turns the ball over gives the Ravens little reason to believe stretching the defense won't work. Smith is Baltimore's most potent deep threat and giving him two or three opportunities in the first half will keep the secondary honest for the remainder of the game.
Focus on Pass Defense
As if it wasn't obvious enough facing Manning, pass defense should be the main focus for the Ravens, and run defense should be an afterthought.
With uncertainty at Denver's running back situation, it's unlikely the Broncos adopt a ground-and-pound mentality against the Ravens, especially due to the Ravens' improved front seven.
Odds are, Denver's intentions are centered around the pass attack, and Manning will likely have 35-40 attempts by game's end. In the Divisional Round game against Baltimore last season, Manning attacked the sidelines, and his short routes to Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas proved to almost be enough to beat a vulnerable Ravens team.
With a Baltimore secondary that hasn't improved much as a whole since last season, the game plan will likely be the same. With cornerback Lardarius Webb likely to cover Denver wide receiver Wes Welker in the slot for much of the game, it will be up to cornerbacks Corey Graham, Jimmy Smith and Chykie Brown to hold together Baltimore's defense.
That spells trouble for Baltimore, as Graham is the only capable cornerback, especially against one of the league's best wideout duos in Decker and Thomas.
That'll require the Ravens to bring help from other positions, particularly linebackers Arthur Brown and Daryl Smith, who both excel in coverage.
Smith proved during the preseason that he can be an effective defender all around the field, and his value in coverage will be key to hold down the middle of the field against Denver.
Flacco Must Excel With Unfamiliar Targets
For Flacco, the biggest question entering the 2013 season is whether or not he can overcome the losses of Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta and still be a Super Bowl MVP-caliber player.
This season may not be as kind as last year for Flacco though, as he will deal with the fact that he'll be throwing to unfamiliar players at both tight end and wide receiver. At tight end, one of Flacco's favorite targets by season's end could be veteran Dallas Clark, whose playing style is similar to Pitta, however age has affected his productivity.
At wide receiver, two of Flacco's key targets figure to be newcomers, as veteran Brandon Stokley and rookie Marlon Brown proved to be go-to pass catchers for Flacco during the preseason. Will that still be the case once the regular season starts? Only time will tell, however Brown's potential figures to lead to a breakout year for the budding star in Baltimore's offense.
With Bailey inactive, Baltimore will get plenty of opportunities in the passing game outside of Smith. When three wide receivers are on the field at a time, the Denver secondary may not have the depth to compete.
Flacco is facing adversity with a new-look group of targets, but Denver's secondary shouldn't be a daunting task for the veteran signal caller.
Winning on opening night in Denver won't be easy, but the Ravens proved last season that it's possible, and this year's revamped, reloaded and younger team figures to have success.