A new era of Buffalo Bills football will officially kick off the regular season at the Ralph at 1 p.m. as Doug Marrone and EJ Manuel debut against the ever so formidable New England Patriots.
For the last decade, the Patriots have absolutely dominated the Bills posting an impressive record of 23-2 since 2000. Bill Belichick is 23-4 as the Patriots head coach against the Bills, and Tom Brady 20-2. This series has been all Patriots, with a sprinkling of competitive football from the Bills, only resulting in 2 lone victories.
However, the completely upgraded coaching staff and 20 new players for the Bills are not going to be thinking of this, as they have never been around to take the pounding. It will be up to them to finally right this horribly misguided ship.
What it Means
The first game of any new era for a sports team is important, but this game has an added significance that is not always found in a first game. First of all, Doug Marrone and the Bills will play the winningest coach in the NFL whose team has won the AFC East every year for the past 10 years. Secondly, and unfortunately, the Bills are in the AFC East and must win this game if they hope to be competitive in the division.
For the Patriots, it is the season-opener, and nobody likes to start out the season with a loss, especially the New England Patriots. After an extraordinarily turbulent offseason dealing with the Hernandez case, the Patriots look to put all rumors of distraction to sleep.
Matchups to Watch
1.) Eric Wood and Bills Offensive Line vs. Vince Wilfork
Yes, it will probably take at least a double team for the Bills O-line to take on the 325 pound behemoth, Vince Wilfork. He will, no doubt, disrupt the Bills inside running game. The Bills, especially Eric Wood, will need to get a strong push up front if they wish to have any production from Spiller or Jackson. They might be one of the league’s premier rushing duo, but they will have nothing to offer if the Bills can’t contain Wilfork, and relying on Manuel to throw the entire game is an unnecessary risk to take.
2.) Bills Defensive Line vs. Patriots Offensive Line
The Patriots have undoubtedly schemed against Mario Williams, but that is no excuse for a lack of production. The Bills have a fantastic defensive line on paper, but if they can’t get to Brady, he will tear an already depleted secondary apart. Brady only threw 8 interceptions last year, but they all came in games where he was sacked 3 or more times. In those games, the Patriots record was a sub-par 3-2. Clearly, if the Bills can disrupt Brady, he will turn the ball over.
3.) Ron Brooks vs. Danny Amendola
Wes Welker may be gone, but Danny Amendola was signed as his replacement, and the only real difference between the two receivers is their name and durability. Amendola has been injury prone in the past, but he will be playing against the Bills. I expect his game to be elevated with Tom Brady throwing to him and his production to increase. Ron Brooks is expected to line up with Amendola most often, but Pettine’s numerous packages will change assignments here and there. Ron Brooks and other Bills defensive backs who will be covering Amendola will need to be aware of his whereabouts, otherwise it will be a long day for the defense.
The Bills Will Win If…
BRADY ISN’T ON THE FIELD!!! This is the theme every year for every team scheming against the Patriots, and the Bills, like most teams in the NFL, can’t keep him off. It is no easy task, but the Bills need to get pressure on Brady. His performance drops, and consequently his team’s does too. Secondly, NO TURNOVERS. The Patriots feed off of Buffalo turnovers. In the last 6 games against the Pats, the Bills have turned the ball over 24 times, that’s absurd. Then again, without Fitzpatrick, we may not throw 3 interceptions per game. Finally, the Ralph must be loud. It’s always loud when the Pats come to town, and the Bills certainly make it difficult to be loud the way they play sometimes, but remember, the last time the Bills beat the Patriots, they overcame an 18 point deficit; Fitzpatrick was quarterback, not Manuel.
The Patriots Will Win If…
THEY FORCE TURNOVERS! They haven’t had a problem doing it in the past 6 games against the Bills, but this is a new Buffalo team, so the Patriots shouldn’t overlook the Bills. They may be one of the youngest teams in the league, but they are certainly talented and athletic. Secondly, if Brady isn’t protected, the Bills will force turnovers. Therefore, it is imperative that the Bills pass rush is contained.
Tom Brady + Bill Belichick = Disaster. This duo is absolutely lethal, no matter how good of a team you are. I truly believe that this year will mark a complete turnaround for the Bills. The Bills have said that they didn’t unveil their plans during the pre-season, so I am really excited to see what they have planned. I expect something up-tempo and a heavy dose of Spiller and Jackson-a far cry from what Chan Gailey called. However, the Bills are a young team going against an experienced powerhouse, the Patriots. Unfortunately, I believe the Patriots will overpower the Bills. However, the Bills will make this game close and exciting.
Patriots win 35-24.