Top 3 Individual Matchups
1. Terrell Owens vs. Shawn Springs – The two veterans are supremely familiar with one another having gone head-to-head seven times in the last nine seasons. Springs isn't 100 percent healthy, but has held his own in a good portion of the matchups. Owens has gotten the better of Springs of late however, averaging almost seven catches, 90 yards and better than a touchdown per game in the last four meetings.
2. Geoff Hangartner vs. Vince Wilfork – Buffalo's new pivot man will get an early taste of the divisional roadblocks he'll face this season in the opener with Wilfork. Though he'll get some assistance from left guard Andy Levitre, having success against the Patriots nose tackle will be critical if the Bills are to get their run game going.
3. Terrence McGee vs. Randy Moss – McGee has had some good recent success against Moss. He held the dynamic wideout to just five catches for a pedestrian 53 yards in their first meeting last season. Moss had just one catch for 13 yards in the season finale in '08, but that was due more to the 75 mph winds than McGee. It wouldn't be surprising to see McGee following Moss all over the field Monday night.
Top 2 Bills Advantages
Good advantage – Punt return – Roscoe Parrish is the NFL's all-time leader in punt return average and New England's punt coverage unit is coming off a season in which they ranked 31st in that category. It's likely that the Patriots kick out of bounds every time they do punt to eliminate this mismatch, but if they don't Buffalo's unit could make a difference.
Best advantage – Element of surprise – Even for divisional opponents that know one another fairly well, with a new offensive play caller in Alex Van Pelt all of Buffalo's preseason tape and tendencies from a season ago are obsolete. The Bills have a rare opportunity to spring some new looks on the Patriots forcing them to adjust on the fly. Even Bill Belichick said in terms of preparation, "opening day is always the toughest."
Number one must
Productive run game – Fred Jackson and Xavier Omon have to put together a productive four quarters to give the Bills a shot at victory Monday night. Jackson has had success against the Pats in the past, including last year's season finale when he averaged five yards a carry en route to a 127-yard day, but almost all of those yards came in the first half. That success must be sustained throughout the game.
A consistent run game will take the pressure off of Trent Edwards and in turn the offensive line by staying out of long down and distance situations when New England's defense get creative and confusing. Buffalo had a tougher group of men up front. Jackson and Omon have to run effectively behind them.
Younger 'D' – New England's defense is in the midst of a youth movement, at least among the back seven. Gone are Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Ellis Hobbs, Deltha O'Neal, Rodney Harrison and Rosevelt Colvin. Throw in Richard Seymour, who was recently traded and that's the most turnover the Patriots defense has seen in some time. While veterans man the outside corners in Springs and Leigh Bodden, two of the linebacker positions are being filled by former undrafted rookies in Gary Guyton and Pierre Woods. Whether New England's defense will be schematically sound in Week 1 remains to be seen.
RB by committee – Though Sammy Morris is the starting running back for New England, he's not expected to log 20-25 carries a game for the Patriots. Veteran free agent signee Fred Taylor, Laurence Maroney and BenJarvus Green-Ellis are all expected to see time here and there in New England's ground game.
The reason why is the Patriots' top three backs (Morris, Taylor, Maroney) all have injury histories with Taylor probably being the healthiest the past few seasons despite being the oldest of the group. Veteran Kevin Faulk remains the team's third down back.
Brady helps run game – With Tom Brady back in the fold the New England attack figures to lean more heavily toward the pass once again in 2009. But Brady's presence also helps New England's run game by keeping defenses honest. Last season with Matt Cassel at the controls, the Patriots ran the ball 91 times in their two meetings with the Bills last season but New England only averaged 3.4 per carry.
In the two matchups in 2007 with Brady at quarterback the Patriots averaged 4.5 per carry. Brady's passing exploits are so respected that eight in the box is a rare sight for New England's backs when he's in the game.
Familiar face – Bills former fourth-round pick Sam Aiken has a larger role in New England's offense this season. Primarily a special teams standout for most of his career Aiken is the Patriots' fourth wideout and in their spread attack he's likely to see respectable playing time in the opener Monday night. Aiken had six catches for 102 yards in the preseason.
The new Seymour? – With Richard Seymour jettisoned to Oakland via trade, stepping in to fill the void at right defensive end is veteran Jarvis Green. Entering his eighth season Green would've been a starter for the majority of NFL teams the past seven years, but Seymour made Green a rotational end. Now with a starting role the former fourth-round pick is expected to excel. In 2007 when he filled in for an injury Seymour, making 10 starts, he finished second on the team in sacks.
Extra pass rusher - The Patriots finished in the middle of the pack last year in sacks ranked 14th in the NFL in 2008 with 31. That might not seem terrible for some, but it's the second lowest sack total for Belichick's Patriots in his eight seasons as sideline boss. So Belichick sought more pass rush help in the form of Derrick Burgess, who he acquired from the Raiders last month in exchange for a 2010 draft pick.
Burgess is a two-time Pro Bowl end that is expected to be used in passing situations as an outside linebacker opposite Adalius Thomas.
Quote of the week - "I believe in myself. That's number one, and the confidence that I can help and what I can bring to this team. Also, I hope it's contagious. I have a lot of confidence in the guys. They have confidence in me, and we've been practicing hard. Preseason is over. Everybody knows this is the real deal. And we're going to play it like the real deal."
Stat of the week – The Bills are aiming for their sixth straight win in September.
Milestones in reach
Lee Evans can move into sole possession of fifth place on the Bills all-time receptions list with a catch on Monday night.
Terrell Owens can move into sole possession of sixth place on the NFL's all-time receptions list with a catch on Monday night. He's currently tied with Bills all-time leading receiver Andre Reed.
Rian Lindell needs one field goal to reach the 900-point mark in his NFL career.
Final noteIt might sound insignificant, but not to the special teams coaches for both the Bills and the Patriots. Both teams are fielding rookie long snappers in 2009. The Patriots will have sixth-round pick Jake Ingram handling long snapping duties this season as he replaces departed veteran Lonie Paxton.
The Bills will have Garrison Sanborn making his NFL debut after beating out Ryan Neill for the job.