By Gregory Hunt
If it’s possible for one NFL team to “own” another NFL team, then the New England Patriots definitely own the Buffalo Bills. Since the Bill Belichick era began in 2000, the Patriots are 23-3 against the Bills. The three victories by the Bills came in 2000 (a 16-13 overtime win at New England), 2003 (a 31-0 triumph at Buffalo) and 2011 (a 34-31 comeback victory at Buffalo).
But according to Buffalo wide receiver Stevie Johnson, he alone can turn this lopsided rivalry back in Buffalo’s favor. Speaking to reporters on Monday, Johnson made the claim that Buffalo is capable of beating New England, “Because I’m here. I don’t think they have anybody to stop me.”
To a certain extent, that’s true. New England’s defensive secondary has been a weak spot in recent years, and last season the team was 29th in the NFL in passing defense. However, in order for Johnson to harm the Patriots, someone needs to successfully pass the ball to him. Given Buffalo’s quarterback situation, that’s easier said than done.
The Bills were 6-10 last season, finishing in 4th place in the AFC East. It was the fourth consecutive season in which the Bills lost 10 or more games. The Bills have not had a winning season since 2004, when they finished 9-7, and they have not qualified for the playoffs since 1999. Head coach Chan Gailey was fired at the end of the season and he was replaced by former New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator (2006-2008) Doug Marrone.
Bills on Offense
Buffalo’s quarterback situation is in disarray as the team enters Week One of the 2013 season. Six-year veteran Kevin Kolb, the anticipated starter who arrived in Buffalo this year after stints with the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals, is currently on the injured reserve list after suffering a severe concussion that may be career-ending. Rookie first-round draft pick E.J. Manuel did not look impressive during the preseason, and then things became even more complicated when he suffered a minor knee injury and missed two weeks of practice after undergoing surgery on that knee. Thaddeus Lewis and Matt Leinart were both signed and released before they could barely learn the playbook, so the only healthy quarterback left standing is Jeff Tuel, an undrafted rookie free agent from Washington State.
Coincidentally, Washington State is the alma mater of former Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who also played for the Bills from 2002-2004.
Thanks to all the question marks at quarterback, the success of the Bills offense will fall to its No. 1 running back, C.J. Spiller. Last year, Spiller averaged 6.0 yards per carry while rushing for 1,244 years and six touchdowns. However, he enters this season with a heavy personal issue on his mind. Last week, he left the team briefly after the suicide of his step-grandfather, Hubert Allen. According to police in Florida, Allen is alleged to have killed two people and shot two others before killing himself.
Bills on Defense
On defense, while the picture isn’t great for the Bills, at least it’s better than the picture on offense. The Bills were ranked a below-average-but-not-too-horrible 22nd in total defense last year, but the team was ranked 10th in passing defense. Former New York Jets defensive coordinator (2009-2012) Mike Pettine now holds the same position in Buffalo, and his 2009 Jets defense was ranked No. 1 in the league.
Pettine’s best defensive player is probably free safety Jairus Byrd, who was slapped with a franchise tag last week, but he is suffering from plantar fasciitis which could seriously hamper his mobility. The team’s best cornerback, Stephon Gilmore, will miss the first few weeks of the season with a hand injury. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams and defensive end Mario Williams combined for 15.5 sacks last season, and it will be critical for them to get even more pressure on opposing quarterbacks this year.
The Patriots turned over almost their entire core of receivers during the off-season, but don’t expect New England to struggle very much against the Bills. After all, Tom Brady is still New England’s quarterback, and he has previously dominated the Bills with not-so-spectacular receivers like David Givens and Deion Branch. The key to stopping the Patriots is getting pressure on Brady, particularly up the middle, but that’s not something the Bills are known for. Expect New England to get another easy win at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday.
For more news and updates, visit New England Patriots Central
Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner.