Buffalo's defensive line's woes in previous seasons have given critics plenty of ammunition.
After this year's preseason, those same critics are still loud. And, well, probably right. With just 50 sacks in the past two seasons and the same starters returning this season, the defensive anguish looks to continue. Aaron Schobel is coming off foot surgery and has looked lethargic. Meanwhile, Chris Kelsay remained virtually nonexistent. First-round draft pick Aaron Maybin held out through all of training camp and probably will have a learning curve. He did flash big-time potential with a couple of sacks in Buffalo's final two preseason games.
With 78 sacks the past two seasons, the New England Patriots have fared much better than their AFC East rival. In New England's 3-4, Vince Wilfork has terrorized Buffalo at nose tackle.The Bills have looked weak against the 3-4 already, getting decimated by B.J. Raji, Johnny Jolly and the Packers. The Patriots did trade Richard Seymour to the Oakland Raiders, in an absolutely shocking move. The trade netted the Patriots a first-round pick in 2011—great forward thinking. But it leaves this current team lacking firepower up front. Seymour has been a mainstay during the Patriots' entire decade of dominance.
If the Bills want any shot at upsetting New England Monday, the defensive ends need to rattle Tom Brady. The Patriots will feast on the Bills otherwise. Paging Aaron Maybin…
The Edge: New England
Buffalo's linebacker corps is in desperate need of playmakers.
Gone are the days of Cornelius Bennett and Darryl Talley. Kawika Mitchell, though consistent, has shown a lack of being able to make that momentum-swinging play. Keith Ellison is the default starter on the other side. Although an excellent special teams contributor, that talent hasn't equated into the linebacker position.
The one bright spot is Paul Posluszny, who looks to improve on his team-leading 110 tackles in 2008. Rookie Nic Harris could make a splash given time. Inexperience and lack of depth could spell doom for the Bills this year at linebacker. They didn't land any big-name free agents, cutting bargain-bin pickup Pat Thomas.
Veteran leadership and awesome names are what make up the Patriots linebacker unit. The 3-4 defense suits New England because they have the skill in the middle make it work. With Tedy Bruschi's retirement, the Pats' lose the heart and soul of their defense. Bruschi played all of his 13 seasons with New England and his leadership will be missed in the huddle. Unlike Hellman's, this mayo doesn't go bad in the sun – Jerod Mayo, that is. He looks to avoid a sophomore slump and repeat his stellar rookie performance of 2008, when he amassed 128 tackles. Adalius Thomas is a veteran presence, but his numbers declined last season after playing just nine games.
The depth and veteran presence in New England wins this battle. The Pats replenish talent here with ease.
The Edge: New England
The addition of Leodis McKelvin after last year's draft significantly improved Buffalo's secondary. McKelvin could blossom into one of the best shutdown corners in the league with his blazing speed alone. The Bills also boast one of the most underrated corners in the league in Terrence McGee. Donte Whitner has struggled to make game-changing plays with only two career interceptions. His playmaking ability has been in question, thus the addition of rookie Jairus Byrd. Byrd played corner at Oregon, and his transition to safety should turn him into what the Bills want – a ballhawk. The depth that Buffalo has at each position is excellent, from Reggie Corner to Ellis Lankster and John Wendling.
Asante Samuel's departure to Philadelphia hurt the Patriots last season with their interception total dropping from 19 in 2007 to 14 in 2008. The retirement of hardnosed veteran Rodney Harrison could be a blow to the secondary also. New England brought in 36-year-old Shawn Springs for a veteran presence. Brandon Meriweather (four picks in '08) is this group's top playmaker.
Buffalo's depth at corner and safety outweighs that of New England.
The Edge: Buffalo
Buffalo has boasted one of the best special teams units in the NFL the past few seasons under coach Bobby April. Roscoe Parrish could be one of the most electrifying punt returners in the league and McKelvin's world-class speed is clear on kickoffs. Punter Brian Moorman is a class-act off the field and a Pro Bowler on it.
The departure of Adam Vinatieri's clutch kicking didn't faze the Patriots. Stephen Gostowski has filled the big shoes with an 85.6 percent field goal percentage. New England's punt- and kick-return man – Wes Welker – has posted numbers less than stellar. A career 22.8 yard-per-return on kickoffs with one touchdown and a 9.8 ypr on punt-returns with zero touchdowns isn't a huge factor in where the Pats' offense starts.
The Edge: Buffalo
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