It would be one thing if the teams played only once every four or five years, but, as AFC East foes, there are two matchups every season. There is no way to sugarcoat it: The Patriots have owned the Bills this millennium.
However, 2013 is shaping up to be a season that could serve as the turning point in the rivalry. Both the Bills and Patriots have made important changes heading into the year, and the balance of power is noticeably shifting. When the two teams meet in Week 1, it will be a chance for the Bills to reassert themselves and come out from under the burden of Patriots domination.
Here are the five main reasons why they are going to do just that and knock off New England to start the season:
1. Element of Surprise
The Bills have a completely new coaching staff, with new offensive and defensive schemes. Although there is footage of the Doug Marrone-Nathaniel Hackett offense from their time with the Syracuse Orange, and of the Mike Pettine defense from his time with the New York Jets, Patriots coach Bill Belichick will not have the luxury of footage showing these schemes employed by the current Bills personnel.
At the same time, the Bills will have a new quarterback implementing that scheme. Due to the injuries to E.J. Manuel and Kevin Kolb, the Patriots may not be entirely sure who the quarterback will be until game time. It is presumed that Manuel will start if he is healthy enough after his minor knee procedure. If not, the start will likely be given to undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel, for whom there is almost no tape for the Patriots to study.
New England's problems are compounded further by the fact that preparing for Manuel's duel-threat attack will be completely different than what would be needed to prepare for Tuel's more traditional skill set.
2. Pressure on Tom Brady
Speaking of the new schemes being implemented in Buffalo in 2013, the Bills' new defense is shaping up to be the type that will give Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense a lot of trouble. New defensive coordinator Pettine is known for schemes that focus on putting consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and the Bills have enough speed up front to pull it off.
Brady thrives on having the time to spread the ball around to his various weapons. If defensive ends Mario Williams and Alex Carrington can open up paths for blitzing linebackers such as Manny Lawson and Kiko Alonso, it is easy to see Brady being rushed into mistakes. This is the formula that led to Brady throwing four key interceptions against the Bills in Buffalo's last win in the series in 2011. If Brady turns in a similar performance, it should be smooth sailing for the Bills in Week 1.
3. Uncertainty in Patriots' Receiving Corps
Along similar lines, Brady may need the extra time to throw that the Bills' defense will not give him. This is because all of Brady's favorite targets from years past will not be available to him in Week 1, leaving the Patriots with big questions as to who will be catching passes.
Rob Gronkowski appears unlikely play due to injury, which would leave the Patriots with injury-prone Danny Amendola and unproven targets Zach Sudfeld and Kenbrell Thompkins. This should put a damper on the Patriots' pass-heavy attack, especially considering the fact that Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus should be clogging the middle to prevent any attempt to establish a rushing attack.
4. C.J. Spiller
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots' defense does not have an answer for C.J. Spiller, one of the elite playmakers in the NFL. Buffalo's coaching staff has made clear that Spiller will be the focal point of the offense, and it should be apparent in Week 1. Expect Spiller to get the ball early and often, in both running and passing plays.
Although the Patriots can clog the middle with Vince Wilfork, it is unclear whether they can chase Spiller down on the outside and when he makes his trademark cuts. Chandler Jones and the Patriots' linebackers do have impressive speed, but Spiller is one of the fastest backs in the NFL and should be able to wear down New England's defenders over four quarters.
Finally, notwithstanding all of the factors in Buffalo's favor, the Patriots are generally considered the overwhelming favorite heading into the game. While the Patriots do have history on their side, Marrone and the new coaching staff have the Bills hungry to make a statement. The fact that no one expects Buffalo to make that statement takes all of the pressure off heading into the game, and it will allow the team to play loose.
The Patriots are always expected to compete for a Super Bowl. Things not going right for them early in the Week 1 game should cause things to snowball as the Bills gain more confidence playing in front of their home crowd. It is this early momentum, plus the facts above, that should lead Buffalo to the huge Week 1 upset, setting the tone for a bounce-back season in Buffalo.
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Del Pearson is a lifelong Upstate New York resident and follower of the Buffalo Bills. He has been attending games since childhood and more recently writing about the team as a Yahoo Contributor.
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