The New England Patriots have won 67 of their last 87 games overall. They have the NFL's best home record since 2002 at a sparkling 30-6. They are 25-7 against the AFC East Division since 2001, winning the division three consecutive years. They have won three of the last five Super Bowls, with last season's 10-6 finish considered an "off" year.
So who in the NFL front office doesn't like the Buffalo Bills, who kick off a new era under general manager Marv Levy and coach Dick Jauron under the most challenging of circumstances, with a road game against coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady at Gillette Stadium on Sunday?
The Bills, coming off a 5-11 season and returning most of their starters, are the biggest underdogs of the NFL's opening week. And they can't argue about it.
New England has won 10 of the last 11 meetings in the series and Buffalo has been one of the NFL's worst road teams of the new millennium, going 1-7 last year away from Orchard Park.
"It's a great opportunity, that's the way I look at it, a great challenge," Pro Bowl linebacker Takeo Spikes said. "It's not a make-or-break game but it sure would be a great confidence boost with a win. I don't care how we get it done, let's get it done. That's what it boils down to."
Jauron, who makes his return to head coaching after an interim stint with the Detroit Lions last season after coaching the Chicago Bears from 1999-2003, is stressing to his players not to dwell on the difficult opening schedule. After New England, Buffalo travels to Miami.
"It's a great challenge but a schedule is a schedule," safety Troy Vincent said. "We have to play them at some point in time, let's go ahead and get it out of the way now. It's a good team to measure up against. You'll find out early exactly where you are."
Week One may be a good time for the Bills to catch the Patriots, like they did in 2003, a 31-0 victory in Buffalo that proved to be a huge aberration. The Patriots went on to finish 14-2 with another ring. The Bills wound up 6-10 and coach Gregg Williams was fired.
New England suffered some key personnel losses in tight end Christian Fauria, wide receiver David Givens, linebacker Willie McGinest and kicker Adam Vinatieri. Logic says the Patriots will have an adjustment period, even though they did outscore their preseason opponents by a whopping 117-60.
"Rationally you'd say the answer is yes," Jauron said. "They've picked up some new people, and trying to work some guys in. But the fact is, they're a pretty veteran team. They've got continuity and they've got a lot of talent."
|Buffalo Bills quarterback J. P. Losman throws against the New England Patriots in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 11, 2005. Losman did not practice Tuesday, Dec. 13, because of an injured right shoulder that could force him to miss Buffalo's game Saturday against Denver. (AP Photo/David Duprey)|
That talent starts with Brady, who is 10-1 against Buffalo with 17 touchdown passes and nine interceptions.
"Whether we'd like to play them early or late, I've never been a guy to worry a whole lot about the schedule, because we have to play them twice, we'll play them there and we'll play them here, and it doesn't make a lot of difference to me when," Jauron said. "We just have to get ready and play the best we can."
When Losman started against the Patriots last December 11 in Orchard Park, he tossed three interceptions to fuel an easy 35-7 New England romp. The Patriots had the ball 42 minutes and piled up 494 yards in setting a team record for first downs with 32. The Bills were held to 14 yards rushing.
"It's Week One and we're focused on the game, it doesn't matter who we're playing," Losman said. "It happens to be this team, a team we haven't beaten in a while, a team I personally want to play better against. It's a team everybody's been trying to knock off for five years. Here's our opportunity staring at us and it just happens to be Week One. But like coach says, we're not going to go down there and trick them, we just have to be smarter, sharper and play harder than they do."