Keys to the game:
-Quarterback performance. Both teams have new QBs starting their first game with the club. For the Ravens, it is the young and inexperienced Chris Redman, who has thrown only 3 passes in his NFL career thus far. Carolina features surprise starter and AARP member Rodney Peete, who has taken one snap in the last two years. Neither will be challenging particularly strong secondaries, so this will be an opportunity for both to rally their teams and establish confidence early in the season.
-The Ravens' 3-4 alignment vs the Panthers' front five. In years past, Baltimore relied on two mammoth tackles to occupy blockers and allow their ends to gain upfield penetration and their linebackers to roam unblocked. This year the onus will be on the LBs to make plays behind a makeshift line. At the very least, it will be a different look for Carolina to face and a special challenge. Their offensive line has talent and is improving, giving up the fewest sacks in franchise history last year. If they can control Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware at the line, establish the run, and give Peete time to throw, it would all but seal the game. If, on the other hand, Lewis, Boulware, and company do a "Blitzburgh" imitation, it could be a long night for the Panthers.
-Special teams. If the quarterbacks struggle, this could be a low-scoring affair. The ability of either team to break a long return, hit a clutch field goal, or pin the opponent deep on punts will be crucial. Carolina features Pro Bowlers Todd Sauerbrun and last year's rookie sensation Steve Smith, while the Ravens may miss specialists Jermaine Lewis and Kyle Richardson as much as any of their departees.
2001 rankings: Ravens: offense 14th (11th rush, 16th pass); defense 2nd (4th rush, 8th pass). Panthers: offense 30th (29th rush, 26th pass); defense 31st (31st rush, 28th pass).
Injuries – Baltimore at Carolina
Out: RB DeShaun Foster (knee), DE Kemp Rasmussen (hamstring), CB Dante Wesley (hernia)
Probable: DT Brentson Buckner (knee), OLB Mark Fields (shoulder), DT Sean Gilbert (knee), K John Kasay (groin), G Jamar Nesbit (ankle), DE Mike Rucker (ankle)
Possible impact: Look for injuries, even minor ones, to impact the defensive
line rotation to a degree. Will Kasay kick well with the groin injury?
Out: DB Will Demps (elbow)
Doubtful: CB James Trapp (chest)
Questionable: FS Gary Baxter (thigh), DT Anthony Weaver (ankle)
Possible impact: With all of Baltimore's injuries on the defensive side of
the ball, Carolina's offense could benefit. Look for a possible Baltimore
deficiency in coverage.