State of the AFCE Nation
It’s that time again. That time in late August of every year, when we know all that we can know from four preseason game. That time when professional journalists, sports analysts, and beat writers put pen to paper and pass on what they have learned from watching every practice, OTA, warm-up, and exhibition game.
In other words, they’re writing down a bunch of theories, guesses, and suppositions, because let’s face it: no one knows what’s going to happen when the pads come on for real and the games count. Every season, there’s at least one mind-blowing upset, one team that comes out of nowhere and shocks the world by making a run at the playoffs. I’m not here to tell you how the season is going to end. I’m here to tell you how it’s going to begin.
*puts on those little armless glasses that Morpheus wears in The Matrix*
Let us journey down the rabbit-hole as I tell you what I think about each team and predict each’s Week 1 matchup.
The New England Patriots & the Buffalo Bills
If the AFC East Division were a college conference, we’d all be vicariously rooting for the Patriots to win the Super Bowl every year, like some drunken rednecks down in George rooting for Alabama to win the National Title after losing to them in the SEC Championship game because “SEC! SEC! SEC!”. But we’re not, because this is the mother flippin’ NFL and every Jets, Bills, and Dolphins fans hates the site of Tom Brady smug, girly little face and Bills Belichick’s stoic mein that looks comprised of chopped meat assembled into a vaguely face-shaped object by some greasy pub cook.
That said, the Patriots are once again primed to run away with the division. At the start of preseason, many people (myself included), thought the Patriots might take a step back. After all, Hernandez went to prison, Welker went to Denver (which is sort of like prison, only with a better view), Gronkowski may or may not be able to walk upright, and Lloyd got cut. They replaced this large collection of talent with Danny Amendola, good for an entire season 60% of the time, every time, and a collection of rookie WRs. We all know how well draftin WRs has turned out for ol’ BB in the past.
However, true to oh-so-annoying form, the Patriots have turned this questionable cast of characters into a working offense. Sudfield looks like a mini-Gronk when on the field, Thompkins has been putting up consistent numbers, and Amendola has played multiple snaps without breaking everything. It’s an unavoidable conclusion that the Patriots are simply a very well-run and well-coached organization who makes the most out of the pieces they have and as long as one of those pieces is Tom Brady, they will field a solid team.
On top of the above facts, the Patriots drew a fortunate Week 1 matchup, despite playing on the road. They travel to cloudy and miserable Buffalo to face the hapless Bills. Since their Week 1 fate is intertwined with the Patriots, I shall include them in this section, rather than bore with repetitive ramblings in a “Bills-only” article.
The Buffalo Bills started this offseason with a lot of change. Out went Chan Gailey and his entire staff; in came Doug Marrone and his hand-picked cronies. Buddy Nix retired and handed over the GM reigns to Doug Whaley. And Russ Brandon was appointed as the team’s President and CEO, taking over control from the ancient, senile, and reviled Ralph Wilson.
The Bills started off in typical fashion, drafting a QB in the first round that conventional wisdom considered a reach in the 3rd round, QB EJ Manuel. Depite this disappointingly familiar feeling of “Why in the HELL…?”, they did at least start off right by trading back for an additional pick in the second round, which was put to good use when they drafted WR Robert Woods and LB Kiko Alonso, two players expected to start in Week 1 right off the board. A third round pick of WR Marquise Goodwin, another good prospect, was also well regarded by the media pundits. They also signed a stop-gap QB in Kevin Kolb, expected to provide veteran presence on the field for EJ Manuel to learn from.
Between the infusion of talent on both sides of the ball, Doug Marrone and OC Nathaniel Hackett’s new, up-tempo offense, and DC Mike Pettine’s agressive new defense, Bills fans saw a ray of light in the darkness. Hopes were kindled, spirits began to rise, especially as OTAs and Training Camp reports came in showing improvements in morale and performance on the field. Then a pre-season Week 1 shellacking of the Colts, including a good showing from the young QB in Manuel. A solid victory against Minnesota in Week 2, another good showing from Manuel raised hopes even higher, until Bills fans were talking of a possible.500 season, the first this decade.
Then reality rears it’s ugly head once more. Kevin Kolb is knocked senseless in a Week 3 start against Washington, a start he “earned” due to Manuel’s inexplicable knee surgery that was caused by an unknown incident during the game against Minnesota. With Manuel out for 2 – 4 weeks and Kolb permanently sidelined thanks to a severe concussion, the Bills have turned to rookie Undrafted Free Agent Jeff Tuel. A solid second half performance against the Colts in Week 1 started whispers of Tuel time, but the young QB came crashing back down to Earth in Week 3, “guiding” the Bills to a 30 – 7 loss against the Redskins. With EJ Manuel’s status uncertain, the Bills then named Tuel the Week 1 starter against New England. Then, desperate for QB depth, they signed the 2006 draft bust, Matt Lienart, and some guy named Thaddeus Lewis was acquired in a trade with Detroit. Coincidentally, Detroit was the Bills Week 4 matchup against and Lienart got the start. He posted typically abyssmal numbers, was pulled earler, and Thad Lewis took over. The Bills took another beating, 35 – 13.
And that’s just the offense. On the other side of the ball, FS Jarius Byrd, having finally signed his franchise tender, has already injured his foot and is getting evaluated. The next best player in the secondary, CB Stephon Gilmore, has a broken wrist and will miss 6 – 8 weeks. Hope has been snuffed out. Where once was a faint ray of light, there exists only darkness. Doom hath descended upon the bleak landscape of Western New York.
The above is what I think of New England and Buffalo. Below is what I predict will happen in Week 1.
Previously, I had given the Bills as much as a 50% chance of upsetting the Patriots in Week 1. Now, I literally give them a 0.0% chance of winning this game. Unfortunately, history is doomed to repeat itself and the Patriots are the Patriots and the Bills are the Bills.
New England – 59
(Brady throws for 5 TDs, Ridley gets 2 more on the ground, and the defense gets at least 1)
Buffalo – 20
(I give the Bills 2 TDs because I expect Spiller will tear at least one off from 70 yards out on 3rd and 17)
~ The Most Realistic Bills Fan, CJ