COMMENTARY | The New England Patriots will start their 2013 season with a Week 1 matchup against the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park on September 8. Although the team always seems to get contributions from all over their roster, the tone is set by their veteran quarterback, Tom Brady.
The Patriots appear to be the more dominant team on paper, but anything can happen, especially in the first game of the year. However, if the 36-year-old signal caller is able to play his game against Buffalo, he will put New England in position to grab a win against their divisional rival.
Here are three things Brady must do in Week 1:
Stay on His Feet: Last season, the Bills tied for just 18th in the NFL with 36 sacks as a team. However, led two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Mario Williams and his 10.5 2012 sacks, their defense can put any quarterback on the ground in a hurry.
Big defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams combined for 10.5 sacks last year, and are able to generate quite a push up the middle.
Brady can lose track of time when checking down his receivers, so being aware of collapsing pockets will be a must. Although he has sometimes received criticism for taking too many sacks, he's generally done a good job of avoiding the rush, averaging just 28 sacks a year over the past three seasons.
New England's offensive line is considered one of the best in football, but a team with talented pass rushers like the Bills could prove to be a challenge. As long as Brady is able to stay upright and get his throws off cleanly, he could be in for a big day.
Spread the Ball Around: A hallmark of Brady's career has been his ability to spread the ball all over the field. This has not only kept more of his teammates in the game, but has also made it difficult for the opposition to zero in on a particular receiver.
Diversifying the passing game could even more important against the Bills. New England may be without star tight end Rob Gronkowski, and lead receiver Danny Amendola was on the most recent injury report with a groin ailment. If one or both of them are unable to go, the slack will need to be picked up by others on the roster.
Fortunately, Brady always seems to flourish no matter who he throwing the ball to, and he has some interesting new candidates this season.
Undrafted rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins grabbed a starting spot after an impressive preseason, while third-down back Shane Vereen has worked on lining up all over the field, according to NESN.com's Doug Kyed.
Rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce, and rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld, will look to start their NFL careers off right, and nothing would help that more than a big play or two against Buffalo.
Even if Brady is left short-handed, he will not lack for receiving options. As long as he spreads out his targets, the New England offense should hum right along as usual.
Grab a Big Early Lead: Not only will Bills' rookie quarterback EJ Manuel be making his first professional start, he has also only returned to practice recently because of a left knee injury.
The 23-year-old Florida State product may be ready to play, but is still sporting a brace. If he is unable to play the entire game, undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel would be next in line to take snaps.
If Brady can give the Patriots a big early lead, it would exponentially increase the pressure for the Bills' quarterback(s).
Playing from behind would require Buffalo to lean more heavily on its passing game. This would reduce the number of chances for star running back C.J. Spiller, who is far and away the team's best offensive player, to break big gainers.
Forcing the rookie quarterback(s) to throw more would also make them bigger targets for New England's defensive backs and pass rushers, and increase the likelihood of mistakes that could further swing the game in the Patriots' favor.
Conclusion: As Tom Brady goes, so goes the New England Patriots. Week 1 of the 2013 NFL season will be no different. He can impact the game in many ways, but as long as he is effective in a few key areas, he will have the team primed for their first win.
In addition to the Yahoo Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports. He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.
You can follow Andrew on Twitter @historianandrew.
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