The Buffalo Bills are already a team in turmoil and the season hasn’t even been properly hiked yet. Offensive coordinator Turk Schonert was given the boot last week; and he claims it was because the offense wasn’t simple enough for head coach Dick Jauron, which sounds about right. (Turk with a zinger!) They cut their only truly experienced un-suspended halfback (Dominic Rhodes), one of their best defenders (Chris Kelsay) may still be with his daughter this week, they’re starting a seventh-round rookie at left tackle and Terrell Owens is more concerned with his smash-hit reality show than football.
The Patriots, on the other hand, have a chip on their shoulder the size of David Tyree’s faded career. Coach Belichick is out to prove that Brady’s fine and the Pats offense is back in ’07 form. The defense is younger, quicker and hungrier. And Bill’s sweatshirts are grungier than ever.
So who’s got the edge in Week One? Let’s take a gander:
Quarterback – Tom Brady, perennial all-everything. Poster boy for male vitality. Envy of Brazilian men the world over (but mostly localized in Brazil). Trent Edwards, uh. Er. Hmm. He’s…related to John Edwards? I dunno. Edge: Pats
Backfield – With Marshawn Lynch out due to gunplay, Fred Jackson is your starter in Buffalo with Xavier Omon his backup. Omon! That’s what you’ll be hearing from a lot of Jamaican Bills fans this season. There have been mitigating reports out of New England stating that Sammy Morris is either the starter or the fifth guy out of the backfield. Either way, this will be a running back-by-committee. Morris, Fred Taylor, the ageless Kevin Faulk, Larry “Phony Baloney” Maroney and BenJarvus Green-Ellis should all get their fair share of touches this season. Green-Ellis (whose name sounds like two names got into a horribly mangled car accident) may be the dark horse to take over the starter role. Edge: Pats.
Receivers – Randy Moss. Wes Welker. Joey Galloway. Ben Watson. Julian Edelman. Those are the top five receivers for New England. I think I’d put Terrell Owens somewhere in the middle of that list. Maybe fourth. Maybe sixth? He’s just not the T.O. of yesteryear. Lee Evans should still be the go-to guy for Buffalo. Which means Owens will be jawing off to Jauron by Week Three. Should be a fun year in Upstate New York. Edge: Pats.
Offensive Line – Light, Mankins, Koppen, Neal and Kaczur. This is essentially the same line New Englandites have come to know and love and hate since 2005. Still better than most lines in the league as a cohesive unit, but definitely getting on in years. The Bills have two rookie guards and a rookie left tackle and their line is definitely far-improved compared to last year’s, but not nearly in the same stratosphere as the Patriots frontline bunker. The most exciting aspect of New England’s line might be the arrival of German-born rookie Sebastian Vollmer, whom I’ve dubbed “The Berlin Wall.” (Copyright! Trademark!) At 6’8” 316, Vollmer might be the biggest thing to come out of the University of Houston since Hakeem. Neal and Kaczur could be replaced by Vollmer and Kendall Simmons before the halfway point of the season. Edge: Pats.
Defensive Line – Here’s where it gets a little shaky, with the departure of Richard Seymour. Vince Wilfork is still the best defensive lineman on either sideline in this game, and one of the best tackles in the league. But after him the talent level drops off considerably. Ty Warren and Jarvis Green are serviceable ends; even above-average at times, but never blowing your socks off. Buffalo, on the other hand, has Marcus Stroud in the middle and Aaron Schobel on the outside. And, unlike New England, the Bills have depth: Ryan Denney, Chris Ellis, and holdout Aaron Maybin, to name a few. It isn’t necessarily fair to compare a 3-4 line to a 4-3 line, but even with the possible addition of a veteran like Kevin Carter, the Pats just don’t have the bodies. Edge: Bills.
Linebackers – Here’s where the Patriots have thrived, year in year out. Ever since Belichick’s arrival, New England has become the Penn State of the pros. If the Nittany Lions are Linebacker U, the Pats are Linebacker Inc. While the Bills only have Paul Posluszny, the Pats are stacked with Adalius Thomas, Derrick Burgess, up-and-comers Gary Guyton and Pierre Woods and my vote for Defensive Player of the Year: Jerod Mayo. Even with the departure of the wily veteran, Tedy Bruschi, this squad should excel as Belichick’s teams have done in the past. Edge: Pats.
Defensive Backfield – Against nearly any other team I would just skip this one and give it to the opponent. But despite New England’s sieve-like cornerbacks, the Bills D-Backs might be even worse. Leodis McKelvin and Terrence McGee will have their hands full with Randy, Wes and Joey. Donte Whitner and Bryan Scott will be playing catch-up a lot. And the depth behind them is not strong, to say the least. On the other side, Shawn Springs is a 13-year veteran, but he’ll be guarding the washed-up Terrell Owens, while Bodden and Wilhite chase Lee Evans around. Terrence Wheatley and UCONN rookie Darius Butler round out probably the strongest cornerbacking crew we’ve seen since our last Super Bowl victory in ’04. But the real star of this squad is strong safety Brandon Meriweather. If it wasn’t for Mayo or Wilfork, Meriweather would get my DPotY vote. But the last time a Patriot won that award was nineteen-ninety-never. Edge: Pats.
Special Teams – Stephen Gostkowski is the best kicker in the league. Chris Hanson’s one of the best punters. And Wes Welker is towards the top of the charts in punt returning. McGee and Roscoe Parrish are solid returners for Buffalo, but Belichick has always prided himself on his exceptional special teams, and that doesn’t look to change this year. Edge: Pats.
Coaching – The Bills fired their offensive coordinator (with his complicated schemes) and the Patriots haven’t hired one yet. Tom Brady looks to be the player-coach this season, while Buffalo replaced Schonert with former career backup QB Alex Van Pelt. This one’s a tossup. Jauron. Belichick. Jauron. Belichick. Hmm… Edge: Pats.
Forecast – This game’s gonna be a bit like the Florida Gators scheduling a Week One game against a D1-AA school. We’ll call ‘em Buffalo Atlantic Tech Community College. T.O. will be begging the AD for a transfer after this curbstomping.
Prediction – New England 42 Buffalo 0
MVP: CB – Leigh Bodden. Manhandles Evans, picks off two, runs one back to the house. I’ll be shocked if the Bills get a field goal. SHOCKED!