The best match-up on the NFL slate this weekend is a heavyweight battle between the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Jets. The game pits two of the AFC's elite against each other in an early season test. Baltimore's best will certainly need to step up for the Ravens to win this game.
The Ravens have assembled a talented roster that warrants Super Bowl considerations. All that talent means nothing if players do not step up in games like this.
If these five players perform as expected on Sunday night, the Ravens will tag Rex Ryan with a loss for the second year in a row.
A year ago, Anquan Boldin caught seven passes for 110 yards against the Jets. In that game, Boldin was the only receiver in the Ravens lineup worth worrying about for the Jets.
That has changed this year.
Torrey Smith finally emerged as the deep threat the Ravens drafted him to be last week with five catches for 154 yards and three scores. Smith gives the Ravens passing game a dimension it lacked last year.
Smith will not repeat his numbers from a week ago, but he will create matchup problems that Derrick Mason could not. The Jets may consider using Darrelle Revis on Smith. That would leave Antonio Cromartie to cover Boldin.
If that happens, look for Boldin to dominate Cromartie on underneath routes. Cromartie is a solid corner on deeper passes, but he is not physical enough to shut down Boldin in the short and intermediate passing game.
Anquan Boldin may not reach 100 yards on Sunday, but he will keep the chains moving. That is where Boldin is most valuable, in the passing game.
Haloti Ngata's impact does not always show up on a stat sheet. As a defensive tackle, his role is largely clogging space and busting up run plays. Any tackles he makes are a bonus.
The Ravens need Ngata to be at his best this Sunday to shut down the Jets' run game. The Baltimore run defense is up to its usual tricks this season, allowing only 84 yards per game. Ngata has been a big part of that success.
The Jets offense has struggled to run the ball this season. If Haloti Ngata and the Ravens run defense continue their strong play, the Jets' offense will become one dimensional.
The Jets do not want the game to fall into Mark Sanchez's hands. That, however, is exactly what the Ravens' defense wants.
The Jets limited Ray Rice to only 43 yards in last year's game. Their ferocious run defense of a year ago, however, has struggled in 2011.
Ray Rice is just as good as McFadden. The Ravens were lucky to beat the Jets without much production from their star running back. Joe Flacco will not have to do it all for the Ravens this year. He will get some help from the running game.
One of the most interesting and important match-ups on Sunday night will be between two of the oldest players on the field. This game could be decided by the Ravens ability to limit LaDanian Tomlinson's production as a receiver.
That's where Ray Lewis comes in.
At 36, Lewis remains one of the premier linebackers in the NFL. His ability to cover Tomlinson out of the backfield could be the difference in the ballgame.
Lewis will also be counted on to help neutralize tight end Dustin Keller. Keller and Tomlinson have been Mark Sanchez's favorite targets. Shutting these two down will force Sanchez to look for his wide receivers.
The Ravens have to like their chances of winning this game if it comes down to Mark Sanchez beating them with the downfield pass.
There is no better player at the safety position when it comes to reading a quarterback than Ed Reed. This Sunday, he will turn his attention on Mark Sanchez.
Sanchez has played well this season and has shown continued growth, becoming more than just the game manager he has been up to this point in his career. He has not, however, gone up against a ball hawk of Reed's caliber.
I would not bet on Sanchez getting through this game without Reed getting his hands on at least one pass.