The Pats are 9 1/2 point favorites entering the season opener. New England has won 23 of 26 games against the Bills in the 21st century, so the fact this spread isn’t larger on history alone is a bit of a surprise.
But there are a few slivers of hope. The Bills were expected to go quietly into that good night in 2011 but pulled out a 34-31 last-second win at home in September. The Bills also played close in Foxborough last year before an interception in the end zone in the final minute quashed their comeback hopes, as they lost 37-31.
A lot has to go right Sunday for Buffalo to win. But the task is not impossible. Here are four ways it can happen.
The “new attitude” is real
The team has had an aura of change around it since cleaning house with a new coach, general manager and president this past winter. That new coach, Doug Marrone, spoke to the issue this week and said he will have his team prepare as though – more than just a cliché – this will be just another game:
“We’ll be challenged every week in this league. We understand that, and that’s the one thing that you kind of have to block out. You have to kind of see that what happens is and it’s a natural reaction to have, is that when you go out there and you see a reaction of the same old Bills. That’s not the case. That’s what part of the stuff obviously that we try to work on, making sure that things are different. There is a lot of change and change is good at times. We’re working on that with the players to make sure that they understand that so you go in there with a breath of fresh air and attack and play.”
The running attack takes off
C.J. Spiller was among the league leaders in yards per carry last season and surpassed 1,200 yards despite missing time with injuries and a coach who didn’t want to cut him loose. Marrone appears ready to do that, which is why fantasy owners have consistently made Spiller a top-ten draft pick in leagues across America the past two weeks. Giving him 25 touches each game will only benefit the Bills, who can complement him with 10-15 carries from the other thousand-yard rusher in their backfield, Fred Jackson.
The defense makes fans believe the hype
Big-name additions last season did nothing to keep the Bills from the bottom of the defensive rankings in the NFL. But new coordinator Mike Pettine’s newly installed system will preach attacking rather than reacting. The three to four seems better-suited to Buffalo’s personnel. Having to do without Stephon Gilmore at cornerback and (possibly) Jairus Byrd at safety greatly thins out the secondary. But if the front seven can somehow keep Tom Brady scrambling for answers – he won’t have Rob Gronkowski to shred the Bills this time around – then Buffalo has a shot.
Manuel gets hot out of the gate
Hope is high for rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, but the truth is nobody knows what to expect from him. The Pats are known for confounding opponents with irregular game plans from coach Bill Belichick. So Manuel has his work cut out for him. He didn’t even have time to show in the preseason what he could due, as a knee injury sidelined him for two games. But if he shows some of the ability that made him a first-round draft pick, then Bills fans might just see the dawning of the franchise’s second golden age.
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