Catching up with … the Bills
|07.16.13 at 8:00 am ET|
As we count down to the start of training camp, we’ll take a look at all 13 opponents on the Patriots’ regular-season schedule and break down each one of them. First up, the Bills.
Specifics: The Bills bookend New England’s season — the Patriots travel to Buffalo on Sept. 8, and host the Bills on Dec. 29.
Say goodbye to … GM Buddy Nix, coach Chan Gailey, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, wide receiver Donald Jones, guard Andy Levitre.
Welcome … new head coach Doug Marrone, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, quarterbacks E.J. Manuel and Kevin Kolb, linebacker Jerry Hughes, linebacker Manny Lawson, defensive tackle Alan Branch.
Recent history: While the Bills threw a scare into New England early in their September 2012 matchup (Buffalo was up 21-7 in the third quarter), the Patriots ended up rolling to a 52-28 decision. The teams played a really entertaining contest when they met again in November in Foxboro, a game that was in doubt until defensive back Devin McCourty picked off Fitzpatrick in the end zone with less than a minute to go, allowing New England to come away with a 37-31 win.
The Patriots should be worried because … the Bills have a new offensive system in place with Marrone, and could surprise some people out of the gate as a result. New England also likely will take some time finding its footing on offense, as a new cast of characters at receiver (and the likelihood that Rob Gronkowski will start the year on PUP) could mean the Patriots have some issues on offense. Everything would have to fall perfectly into place for the Bills, but we’ve seen that play out before: Buffalo shocked New England, 34-31, in September 2011.
The Patriots shouldn’t be worried because … that 2011 game was the exception rather than the rule. New England has dominated this matchup — dating back to 2000, the Patriots have won 23 of the last 25 games between the teams. And while New England might be looking to find its offensive footing early on, the Patriots do have Tom Brady, who almost always has served as the trump card in this rivalry.
For what it’s worth, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see New England go run-heavy against the Bills. Buffalo went light in its game against the Patriots last September in anticipation of the New England passing game, and the Patriots made them pay, going for 247 yards on the ground. Considering the circumstances, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see New England go in that direction again if presented with the opportunity. Stevan Ridley is attempting to become the first running back to ever go for back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons under Bill Belichick, and Buffalo was one of the worst teams in the league last year against the run — the Bills yielded 2,333 rushing guards (31st in the NFL), 5.0 yards per carry (30th) and 145.8 rushing yards per game (31st).
The skinny: Despite their anticipated new look on offense — as well as the fact that they have some talented skill position players already in place in C.J. Spiller and Stevie Johnson — the Bills face an uphill battle when it comes to competing against the Patriots. While there have been some entertaining games, Buffalo has never won in Gillette Stadium, and the Bills have only beaten New England twice in Western New York since 2000. Bottom line is that Buffalo has endured eight consecutive losing seasons and hasn’t reached the playoffs since the 1999 season, the longest active streak in the NFL. If the Bills end up at .500 in 2013, that should represent a quantum leap forward in their journey back to respectability.