It's nice that the game is being played in the friendly confines of Ralph Wilson Stadium, but the Buffalo Bills will be one of the biggest underdogs of the NFL's opening weekend when they host the New England Patriots. The injury bug has gnashed away at some of the team's key players, the secondary will be limited without Stephon Gilmore (wrist) and Jairus Byrd (foot), and rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel (knee) may be playing before he is ready.
Tom Brady and the Patriots could have a field day against the Bills' defense, putting Manuel in position to win a shootout in his first career start. Healthy or not, that's a tough proposition for anyone. As long as Manuel plays reasonably well, the Bills could lose big and still walk away feeling optimistic about the season.
Meet the Bills
The Bills are in rebuild mode, so perhaps fans should temper their Super Bowl aspiration for 2013. That said, there are a lot of things to like about the team going forward. On offense, there is a high-ceiling rookie quarterback who was hand picked by a new coaching regime and coupled with a pair of talented rookie wideouts in Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin. If things click, the Bills' offense could be humming late in the season behind C.J. Spiller in the running game.
On defense, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine may be the most exciting addition. Pettine has a reputation for creativity and getting the most out of his players. He may be the man to finally unleash Mario Williams. The linebacker corps is young and the secondary is potentially excellent if healthy. The Bills have the pieces they need to win, now it's question of putting them together.
Meet the Patriots
Wes Welker's nine receptions and two touchdowns for the Denver Broncos on Thursday night probably didn't assuage fears that Patriots fans have about the receiving corps. Danny Amendola and Kenbrell Thompkins could soothe a lot souls by catching a lot of passes against a weakened secondary. They'll have help from a running game led by Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen that has torn the Bills up in recent meetings.
Defensively, the Patriots are young, but if Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower can make big second year leaps, the defense has the potential to be very good. Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard and Devin McCourty form what seems like a strong secondary, though the unit wasn't particularly good last season. They will have potentially one of the league's best front sevens in front of them, however.
Local Takes: Bills
Stopping the run first against New England - effectively forcing the ball back into Brady's hands - may not sound like the soundest of game plans, but there's little doubt that any pro offense is much tougher to defend when the running game is clicking. If the Bills can slow down that facet of the Patriots offense for once, they'll be in better shape than they typically are against New England; the Patriots have averaged 36.9 points per game against Buffalo during their string of run game dominance, after all.
Local Takes: Patriots
It's Tom Brady's world and we're just living in it. That includes the slew of rookie receivers set to hit the field Sunday. No more practices. No more fake games. Guys like Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce, Aaron Dobson and Zach Sudfeld are on the clock now. They've done wonderful since training camp started, but it's different now. The defense will hit harder and run faster. Can they hold up? We might not see all of the rookies shine Sunday, but the opportunities will be there for at least one of them to do something great.
Follow the Fun
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@ByTimGraham -- Bills beat writer
Doug Marrone keeps saying EJ Manuel's knee is 110 percent. My suspicion is that Manuel missed those two weeks to have bionics installed.— Tim Graham (@ByTimGraham) September 6, 2013
@shalisemyoung -- Patriots beat writer
Tom Brady had all receivers in Cali for 2 wks in the spring - something he's never done before. wanted to start building relationships early— shalise manza young (@shalisemyoung) September 6, 2013
From Week 1 picks, Ryan Van Bibber like the Patriots to win and cover the 10-point spread:
I am looking forward to what Mike Pettine, the Bills' defensive coordinator, can do with this group. Unfortunately, he is not gifted with magic heeling powers that would get Jairus Byrd and Stephon Gilmore on the field this week. You don't have a chance against New England with a depleted secondary.
The Patriots are favored by 10 points and as many as 11 points by sports books, according to Oddsshark.