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Sat., Mar. 28, 2015 12:00 AM to 11:59 PM EDT
Sun., Mar. 29, 2015 12:00 AM to 10:59 PM EDT
Mon., Mar. 30, 2015 12:00 AM to 11:59 PM EDT
Opening Day Bills vs. Patriots Pregame Six-Pack
1. Rookie receivers report for duty – The story of the offseason in New England – at least in terms of on-field football issues -- has been the “re-do” that Bill Belichick has overseen at the receiver position. Clearly Aaron Dobson (second round), Josh Boyce (fourth round) and Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted) are going to get their chances to contribute to the passing game.
2. Amendola debuts – Most of the football world was watching Thursday night as Wes Welker and the Broncos got off to a winning start by scoring 49 points in a victory over the Ravens. Welker looked like his usual self working with Peyton Manning to the tune of nine catches, a few third-down conversions and a couple scores. Now, the guy who’s replacing him in New England will get his chance at a positive first impression. Danny Amendola was limited in practice during the week with a groin issue. Though likely not a huge deal, it’s not a great first step for a guy trying to shake the label of being injury prone from his days in St. Louis. Amendola had a very good summer and seemed to have built an early rapport with Brady. He should find room to work against Buffalo’s pass defense and is likely to be targeted by his new quarterback early and often. Fair or not, Amendola is going to be compared to Welker for a while. That means staying healthy, catching eight-plus passes a game and coming up big on third down. He can start building his on Patriots legend this Sunday in Buffalo.
3. Year 2 jumpers – We here at Patriots Football Weekly are always debating the so-called Year 2 jump. It’s that major improvement that can come in a player’s second season. This year the Patriots would seem to have at least two players who might be primed for major leaps – former first-round picks Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower. Jones has had an impressive preseason
4. Contain Spiller – C.J. Spiller had a great season a year ago averaging 6 yards a carry. That began with a 169-yard effort on opening day. Marrone clearly wants to run the ball and make Spiller the centerpiece of the offense. Spiller has made his plays in a variety of ways against the Patriots in the past. He’s a dangerous runner both in space and when hitting a hole to make his own crease. New England’s front should be the strength of the defense. Vince Wilfork now as a veteran ally next to him in Tommy Kelly. And the linebackers are a solid group with Brandon Spikes often setting the tone against the run. But tackling was an issue at times during the preseason, including for the starting linebackers. Jerod Mayo can’t overrun Spiller like he did Reggie Bush in Detroit in August. Missed tackles against a guy like Spiller turn into long runs that could ignite the home team. The Patriots rarely let a running back kill them, but when it happens it’s usually guys with speed who can make plays happen. Contain Spiller and the rest of the Bills offense will have an uphill battle in this contest.
5. Read the Manuel – Manuel is an intriguing athlete as a rookie quarterback. He has the athletic skills to be a playmaker and a talent. But at this point he’s clearly far more about potential and athletic ability than being a proven passer. The first question is whether he has
6. Special teams improvement – Special teams issues, especially in blocking and coverage, are often given a bit of pass in the preseason with all the moving parts in terms of personnel. The New England special teams were not good this summer. There were long returns allowed, short returns produced and a general lack of consistency in any area of the kicking game. That needs to change on Sunday as Scott O’Brien now has a somewhat consistent group of players to get ready for action. Leon Washington is gone, so the perceived boost in the kick return game will have to come from elsewhere. It will be interesting to see if that’s rookie Josh Boyce or one of the running backs or someone else. Julian Edelman didn’t have a great summer on punt returns, but needs to get back to his usual productive self. Ryan Allen also gets to show the world why Belichick chose him over consistent, well-liked veteran Zoltan Mesko. Allen gets the good fortune of a September game in Buffalo with more palatable early season weather than some of wind issues we’ve seen in Western New York late in the season. He also needs to continue the process of holding for field goals and PATs for Stephen Gostkowski. Overall the kicking game needs to prove it’s much better than what it showed more often than not this summer.
Prediction: Some may be surprised that Rob Gronkowski (doubtful) and his potential return wasn’t one of the six points above. That’s because I would be stunned to see No. 87 on the field back in the area of his hometown. I think Gronk is still a week or so away. Thankfully I don’t