What to Watch For: Patriots at Bills
Friday, September 06, 2013
It's hard to believe that any game in the NFL could be called "a gimme."
Sure, the New England Patriots have dominated the Buffalo Bills, their opening week opponent this week, in recent memory. To be exact, the Bills have played patsies to the Patriots for much of the last decade, with the Pats winning 18 of the last 19 games between the two, and scoring at least 31 points in each of the last six. The first meeting last year, in Buffalo, saw New England hang half-a-hundred (52 to be exact) on a Bills' team that actually had a halftime lead in the game.
The real kiss of death for Buffalo? Averaging four turnovers per game against New England over the past three years.
Yup, no matter the time, no matter the place. Like death and taxes, a Patriot win over Buffalo is all but assured.
Except that this is the NFL, where parity (not parody) usually rules. When you least expect it. Buffalo has a new head coach in Doug Marrone, a former NFL lineman who had reasonable success in the college ranks at Syracuse; they've got a new quarterback in rookie E.J. Manuel, who fits the mold of a modern-day "athletic/running" quarterback with some nifty moves and a strong arm. C.J. Spiller is strong, fast and a more-than-capable game-breaking NFL running back. They've got a formidable front line on the defensive side, which could prove problematic for a Patriots' ground assault.
They've also got swagger, which can never be underestimated. WR Stevie Johnson said earlier this week there's no one in the Patriots' secondary "who can cover him. Not even Pat Chung." Chung doesn't play for the Patriots any longer, but that's a minor detail. Mouth opened. Was a foot inserted when he said that?
Let's see whose feet are more fleet in Week One.
Orchestrating the Offense
How well Tom Brady finds his new receiving corps is at the heart of the entire Patriots' story as the season begins. Most seem to think it won't be a problem targeting Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson, but will they turn in similar results to season's past (Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch)? And while the offense showed it can run the ball with authority during the pre-season, it may be that the best way to beat Buffalo's challenge is through the air - with question marks in the Bills' secondary as opposed to strength up front.
Defending the Edge
The decided advantage the Patriots hold here is in defending rookie quarterbacks, more specifically. New England holds a 13-4 record over rookie starting QB's under Bill Belichick. E.J. Manuel, Buffalo's starter, is a rookie. In fact, no rookie making his first start in the NFL has ever beaten the Patriots under Belichick, but then again, teams that have rookie starting QB's probably aren't among the top tier of teams in the league. Play with aggression and make it a long day for Manuel, it should be a long day for the Bills.
Re-live the Past
Not the recent past, as the off-season was certainly one to forget in many ways for the team and the organization as a whole. However, reintroducing the roster to the Patriot Way over the past decade-plus...playing with confidence, swagger, hunger...is important as a decidedly younger team (with 14 rookies) tries to make a name for itself. It will be up to Brady, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and a few others to be demonstrative in style, and devastating in performance, in order for the 2013 Patriots to live up to any hype as a true Super Bowl contender.