SERIES: 93rd meeting. Patriots lead 51-40-1 thanks to dominating the series since 2000, winning 10 of last 11 meetings overall. The only Buffalo victory in that stretch was a 31-0 gem on Opening Day 2003, a win keyed by QB Drew Bledsoe and SS Lawyer Milloy, two ex-Patriots who never achieved the same euphoria with the Bills. That season ended with the Patriots defeating Buffalo by the same 31-0 score in Foxborough on way to winning another Super Bowl. The Bills wound up 6-10 leading to the firing of coach Gregg Williams. So much for fast starts.
2005 RANKINGS: Bills: offense 28th (20th rush, 29th pass); defense 29th (31st rush, 19th pass). Patriots: offense 7th (24th rush, 2nd pass); defense 26th (8th rush, 31st pass)
PREDICTION: Patriots 23-14
KEYS TO THE GAME: When the teams met last December, Bills RB Willis McGahee rushed for just three yards on eight carries. Buffalo revamped its offensive line, and must get better production out of McGahee to help QB J.P. Losman, who is 0-3 lifetime in road starts. The opportunity is there considering the Patriots are without injured LB Tedy Bruschi and are aging at the position, but New England coach Bill Belichick will certainly throw a bevy of looks at the Bills' line. Offensively, Patriots QB Tom Brady still has plenty of weapons, particularly at tight end, despite the holdout of WR Deion Branch. Expect significant work for RB Corey Dillon early on, and the Bills desperately need LB Takeo Spikes to prove he's 100 percent healthy and able to fortify the league's second-worst run defense from last season.
FAST FACTS: Bills: Have 21 new players on the 53-man roster. ... DE Aaron Schobel has 10.0 sacks in his past 10 games. Patriots: QB Tom Brady is 9-1 with a 92.2 passer rating against Buffalo. ... WR Troy Brown needs 18 receiving yards to join Stanley Morgan (10,352) with at least 6,000 in franchise history.
WR Peerless Price, who rejoined the Bills as a free agent, has officially won his old job back as the team's No. 2 receiver. Coach Dick Jauron confirmed that Price will start alongside Lee Evans when the Bills open the season Sunday at New England, although Josh Reed, Price's main competition in training camp, will still play a vital role in Buffalo's passing game as the slot receiver, running underneath routes.
The Bills have no shortage of speed at the position, with Evans, Price, Roscoe Parrish and newcomer Andre Davis each possessing sprinter's ability. Stretching the field isn't a luxury in the NFL, Jauron said. It's a necessity.
"That's one of the things we need to do, make them defend the whole field vertically and not be able to sit on the underneath routes," Jauron said. "All defenses will if you don't threaten them. So we need to go over the top and we have the speed to go over the top. We feel we have route runners underneath also, so it's a nice combination. We just need to get the timing right and keep working at it."
Meanwhile, rookie Kyle Williams appears to have won one of the starting DT positions, as he's listed first on the depth chart ahead of Tim Anderson. But Jauron said not to read too much into it; both will share the load in the team's heavy rotation system.
--QB Kelly Holcomb was named the team's No. 2 quarterback on Thursday. Holcomb, a 10-year veteran, has 21 career starts, including eight last year for Buffalo.
--SS Matt Bowen missed practice for a second day on Thursday and remains questionable for Sunday's game at New England. Bowen missed Buffalo's last three preseason games with a bone bruise on his lower right leg and he had a setback when trying to return to practice.
--TE Robert Royal, who signed with the Bills as a free agent, is most known for his blocking but the team felt he was an underrated receiving threat. Royal showed off his skills in Buffalo's last preseason game against Detroit, taking a short out pattern and rambling for a 20-yard gain. The Bills will look to get Royal loose against New England's aging linebackers on Sunday.
--RB Willis McGahee was held to three yards on eight carries the last time he faced the New England Patriots, the opponent in Sunday's regular-season opener. McGahee enjoyed a strong training camp, averaging 4.9 yards per rush after averaging 3.9 last season.
--DE Aaron Schobel, who posted a career-best 12 sacks last season, is coming off a strong preseason in which he posted two sacks, three tackles and a batted down pass. He should be even more productive in Buffalo's new Tampa Bay-style defense, rushing off the edge more often. In the team's old scheme, he was often used on stunts and didn't get the one-on-one rush opportunities against tackles he favors.
--PK Rian Lindell, who enjoyed a strong season last year, is primed for another big year heading into Sunday's opener at New England. He was 6 of 6 in the preseason, including 3 for 3 from beyond 40 yards.
Besides receiver, linebacker is the biggest question mark heading into the Buffalo game for the Patriots. Tedy Bruschi broke his wrist in training camp and is currently listed as questionable for Sunday's game. Whether or not Bruschi can go will decide who will start at linebacker for the Patriots.
Mike Vrabel has been practicing at both inside and outside linebacker. The team prefers him on the outside because of his pass rush abilities but as he showed last season, Vrabel has the flexibility to move inside and be effective as well. Vrabel's versatility and the emergence of fourth-year veteran Tully Banta-Cain on the outside, likely means Vrabel will begin the season as one of the two inside backers.
If Bruschi plays, he and Vrabel will man the inside, while Banta-Cain and Rosevelt Colvin will line up outside. Colvin really came on during the second half of last season and if he can continue that high-level of play this year, it should allow Banta-Cain to see a lot of one-on-one matchups on the other side.
Vrabel, Colvin and Banta-Cain should be in the starting lineup regardless of Bruschi's status. However, if Bruschi's wrist keeps him on the sideline, newly acquired 37-year old Junior Seau will take his place. Seau isn't the dominant force he once was but he still has the instincts and enthusiasm to make plays. The one worry with Seau is that he could get worn down because of his age. If Seau starts, look for the Patriots to play some 4-3 from time-to-time, with Vrabel as the lone middle linebacker to keep the17-year veteran fresh.
The Patriots abused the Bills offensive line in their second meeting last season and if the preseason is any indicator, that area of the Buffalo offense hasn't gotten any better. Don't expect the Patriots to blitz a lot early in the game. Instead, they will see if their front three of Richard Seymour and company can control the line of scrimmage with Banta-Cain, Colvin, and possibly even Vrabel, rushing from the outside.
--LB Tedy Bruschi returned to practice on Thursday and is listed as questionable for Sunday's game with a wrist injury. Bruschi was wearing a cast on his right wrist that had the words "Bear Down!" on it. At his Thursday press conference, Bill Belichick admitted that Bruschi will most likely be wearing a cast once he returns to the field, which looks like it could be this Sunday against the Bills.
--WR Chad Jackson practiced on Thursday and is listed as questionable for Sunday's game with a hamstring injury. Jackson had only participated in three practices up until now and probably won't play a prominent role against the Bills even if he's active for the game.
--OG Stephen Neal, who missed Wednesday's practice, was back on the field Thursday. Neal is listed as probable for Sunday's game with an ankle injury.
--DL Kevin Smith, a rookie, was wearing a red, non-contact jersey during Thursday's practice.
--OT Nick Kaczur was back on the practice field Thursday. Kaczur has been recovering from a shoulder injury for most of the offseason and is listed as questionable for Sunday's game. It appears that rookie fifth-round draft pick Ryan O'Callaghan will begin the season as the Patriots starting right tackle.
--QB Tom Brady (right shoulder) is listed on the Patriots injury report as probable for the season opener.
--WR Doug Gabriel (hamstring) is listed on the Patriots injury report as probable for the season opener.