Top 3 Individual Matchups
1 – Vince Wilfork vs. Eric Wood –The two have battled before. It will be interesting to see what the Bills have devised up front to handle the Pro Bowl defensive tackle and his new counterpart Tommy Kelly.
2 – Danny Amendola vs. Ron Brooks –New England's replacement for Wes Welker has established a rapport with Tom Brady out of the slot. Brooks figures to match up with him most often, but Mike Pettine's bounty of packages could change the assignments.
3 – Nate Solder vs. Mario Williams –A fully healthy Williams enters his second season with Buffalo and Solder won't be the only offensive lineman that sees him. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine intends to move his top pass rusher around… a lot.
Bills Top 2 Advantages
Good advantage – Return game –Even though New England was a very good coverage unit on kickoffs and punts last season (3rd), Buffalo has dynamic game-breaking talent on both kickoff and punt return. Marquise Goodwin already has a 107-yard kick return under his belt from the preseason and is blessed with 4.27 speed. Leodis McKelvin helped Buffalo lead the league last season in punt return average.
Best advantage – Receiving corps –Buffalo's collection of receivers are green, but there's no denying their speed and playmaking ability. With New England's cornerback stable average (ranked 29th vs. pass in 2012) a few big plays by the Bills wideouts could make all the difference.
Bills Number 1 Must
Run defense –The Bills saw what could happen when stopping the run becomes an issue. Caught in a subpackage against New England's spread look, Tom Brady went hurry up and ran the ball on Buffalo's undersized personnel on six consecutive touchdown drives in Week 4 last season. Buffalo has to be more strategically effective and fundamentally sound in stopping an underrated Patriots rushing attack.
Gronk or no Gronk?Coming off of forearm and back surgery this offseason Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski began practicing this past week on a limited basis. He's been a Bills killer over the years with 30 receptions in six games against his hometown team with nine of them going for touchdowns. All indications however, are that Gronkowski will not be far enough along in his recovery to play on Sunday.
Tempo changersThe Patriots attack is widely viewed as a quick-hitting fast-paced offense. There's no debating the speed at which New England's offense can operate as evidenced by their league-leading 74.8 plays per game average last season. However, Tom Brady does not have his foot to the floor the whole game with the Patriots offense. He will frequently change the tempo based on a number of factors, including time and score, field position and defensive personnel groupings.
Beef in the middleThe anchor of New England's front seven has been Vince Wilfork for the better part of the last decade. In the offseason the Patriots added 6'6" 310-pound veteran DT Tommy Kelly to line up next to their Pro Bowl run stuffer. New England was a top 10 run defense last season (9th). With Kelly and Wilfork in the middle the task of gaining yards on the ground figures to be even tougher.
Young receiving corpsMuch like the Bills, the Patriots are going to be relying on some young wideouts in the passing attack. Chief among them for New England is undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins, who is expected to start opposite Amendola. Thompkins was the most targeted receiver in the preseason by Tom Brady. Meanwhile second-round pick Aaron Dobson looks like a developmental player and fourth-round pick Josh Boyce might need some time on the job as well.
Running RidleyThere has been a lot of preseason buzz about Shane Vereen as the replacement for the departed Danny Woodhead, but the Patriots' meal ticket in the run game is Stevan Ridley. Despite all the attention that Tom Brady understandably creates with his passing exploits, the Patriots very quietly had the second most rushes in the NFL last season (523). Ridley had 1,263 rushing yards last season and in his four career games against Buffalo averages five yards per carry (65-327, 3 TDs). With a dramatically overhauled receiving corps New England may lean on him even more early this season.
ReconaissanceThe Patriots are notorious for signing a player to their roster that was a final cut of the opponent they face in Week 1 of the regular season. The general suspicion is that New England's coaching staff pumps the player for information about the respective offensive, defensive and special teams schemes of the team for whom they used to play. Things were no different this season as New England signed former Bills LB Chris White, who was cut by the Lions, less than a week after he was traded from Buffalo to Detroit for QB Thad Lewis.
Quote of the Week"For myself, I expect greatness all the time. I know this is my first NFL game, but I'm not going to look at it like that. I'm looking at it as the Buffalo Bills 2013 season, the first game. We've got to go out there and play hard and execute our offense, and we know the defense will do a good job, too."
--QB EJ Manuel
Stat of the WeekIn 2012 the New England Patriots pass defense ranked 29th in plays allowed of 25 yards or more surrendering a total of 37. Buffalo had four of those 37 in two meetings last season including the season long against the Pats, a 68-yard touchdown.
Milestones in reachStevie Johnson needs one reception for the 250th of his career.
EJ Manuel will become the first rookie to start at quarterback in a season opener for Buffalo in 40 years (Joe Ferguson, 1973).
C.J. Spiller needs 100 rushing yards to become just the second running back in team history to open back-to-back seasons with 100-rushing yard performances (Thurman Thomas – 1991-1993).
Kyle Williams will appear in his 100th career game with the Bills on Sunday.
Final noteIn his career versus the Patriots, C.J. Spiller has rushed for 225 yards on just 41 carries averaging 5.5 yards per rush. His only touchdowns against New England however, have come through the air with a pair of scoring receptions.