The New England Patriots did not win the AFC East last year, losing on tiebreaker to Miami as both teams finished 11-5. However, there's little argument that the Patriots are still the team to beat in the division, especially with Tom Brady set to return at quarterback. New England has also proven to be the toughest team for Buffalo to beat as they have not posted a victory against them since the 2003 opener.
Both teams made key additions to their rosters in the offseason. But regaining Brady as their quarterback is a tough one to top, even with the signing of Terrell Owens.
Are the Bills now in a better position to post a win over their divisional nemesis?
Based on their free agent acquisitions, draft class and players returning from injury it appears as though they are. But there will have to be some surefire elements to Buffalo's performance if they're to pull off a win, particularly one at Gillette Stadium in Week 1.
Pressure on BradyThe Giants proved in Super Bowl XLII that getting pressure on Brady is one of the most effective means of slowing down New England's passing attack. Of course New York also had three very skilled pass rushers in that game in Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck.
Buffalo has improved their pass rush ability with the addition of top pick Aaron Maybin. His lightning quick first step demands attention.
Aaron Schobel is rounding back into form after missing both games against New England last season. Schobel has had some of his greatest pass rush success against New England with 11 in 14 career games, which is the most against any division opponent.
The addition of a proven veteran line coach in Bob Sanders is also expected to raise the collective level of play up front.
Whether defensive coordinator Perry Fewell also has some schematic surprises remains to be seen.
Be able to adjustThe Bills have had success against the Patriots running the ball over the past few years, but rarely has it been throughout an entire game. Last year's season finale was the latest example. Fred Jackson ran wild starting in place of an injured Marshawn Lynch as he rumbled for 103 yards on 20 carries, averaging better than five yards per rush in the first half alone.
But Buffalo's 115 rushing yards at the half resulted in just 161 by game's end, with Jackson gaining just 33 in quarters three and four. Good teams take away what you're doing well.
The Bills were not able to effectively adjust on the fly and exploit other parts of New England's defense when they began to neutralize Buffalo's ground game.
Now equipped with more offensive weapons, particularly Terrell Owens and Dominic Rhodes, Buffalo has answers when players like Lee Evans are taken away with double coverage or Lynch is unable to play due to suspension as will be the case in the season opener.
Big playsBuffalo has done a decent job of converting third downs against the Patriots of late to help sustain drives. In their last four meetings they've converted 22-49 for a respectable 45 percent success rate. The problem is rarely have the Bills been able to sustain drives long enough to get into scoring territory, namely the red zone.
In their last four meetings, the Bills have cracked the New England 20-yard line a total of four times. And they tallied two touchdowns and a field goal on those trips. Part of that is due to a lack of big plays.
Again armed with more offensive threats it will be more difficult for New England to simply shut down Lee Evans with Owens on the other side. Underneath options like Roscoe Parrish, Josh Reed and Fred Jackson should have more opportunities to take short passes and turn them into long gains with Evans and Owens more capable of stretching out New England's defense.
Big plays also have to be made on the defensive side of the ball, which means takeaways. And that is usually dependent upon pass pressure which takes us back to the aforementioned pressure on Brady.
Be aggressiveFinally when you're going against a team the caliber of a New England, you can't play too close to the vest. You have to be aggressive. If an opponent isn't worried about the unexpected they've got half the battle won.
By no means does that mean being foolish with the ball, but to beat a team as dominant as New England has been you have to take risks. Buffalo hasn't taken many in their last four meetings with the Patriots. Part of it is because New England is capable of dictating play to their opponents a good portion of the time.
But the Bills have raised their talent level and should be able to dictate play to their opponents more often this season including New England.
Whether that means Buffalo is ready to beat New England in Week 1, will depend on a lot of developments in training camp, not the least of which is the jelling of the offensive line. But it's safe to say that the Bills personnel-wise are in perhaps their best position this decade to pull it off.