Tale Of The Tape: New England Patriots At Buffalo Bills
- QuarterbackThe Patriots are almost certainly going to feel secure knowing they go into every game with Tom Brady at quarterback. His physical gifts are solid, but it’s his coach’s understanding of the gameplan that turns him into an assassin on the football field. He sees opposing weaknesses and he knows how to exploit them. Accurate, smart, tough-minded and driven. Very difficult to beat.First-round pick E.J. Manuel has the honor of starting for the Buffalo Bills at quarterback for rookie head coach Doug Marrone. All he has to do is out-duel Brady for the Bills to come out with the win. Under the category of “stranger things have happened,” this might move to the top of the list if it actually occurs.
- OffenseThe Patriots offense has been a juggernaut in recent years. While it should still be a productive unit, it may take time for the offense to rival what it has been. Wes Welker is gone and Danny Amendola will be asked to take his spot. The TE position is a mess because Rob Gronkowski is not ready and Aaron Hernandez is facing murder charges. RB Stevan Ridley is coming off a 1,263-yard season and he gives the Pats a credible ground game.The Bills have some decent weapons at the skill position, but it might be tough to employ them with all the difficulty they have had at the QB position this summer. WR Stevie Johnson is explosive but inconsistent. He has had some of his best games against New England. C.J. Spiller has the quickness and change-of-direction to give the Bills a credible running attack. The offensive line is questionable, at best.
- DefenseThe Pats improved steadily on defense last year and they were much better in that area than the team that went to the Super Bowl in the 2011 season. Start off with Vince Wilfork in the middle of the defensive line, who excels against the run and can cause havoc on passing plays. CB Aqib Talib gives the Pats credibility in the secondary.The defense was a weakness for the Bills last year, particularly against the run (30th overall). Mario Williams has to be the key to the Bills defense. If he can stay healthy and get off to a good start, he will be very difficult to block. Linebacker Nigel Bradham can stay with tight ends and he is also a terror against the run. Jairus Byrd is a likely star at the FS position because of his speed and ball instincts.
- Special TeamsThe Patriots have had credible special teams for many years, and placekicker Stephen Gostkowski is quite dependable in clutch situations. He made 29-of-35-FG attempts last year and should do better this year. Return specialist Julian Edelman is a fine weapon. Ryan Allen takes over as punter from Zoltan Mesko, who was cut.The Bills play hard on special teams and have provided good coverage on punts and kickoffs this season. Leodis McKelvin has been one of the best punt returners in the league. He returned two punts for touchdowns last season. Unproven Dustin Hopkins takes over at the PK position from Rian Lindell.
Not only do the Patriots have the advantage in each category, the edges at quarterback and special teams are substantial. Add in the differential between Bill Belichick and rookie head coach Doug Marrone in his first game and you have all the ingredients for a blowout. -Steve Silverman, CBS Local Sports contributor