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Pats opponent first look: Buffalo Bills

In our first installment of Pats opponent first look, we put the Buffalo BIlls under the microscope for an in-depth look at what weeks one and seven may have in store for the Patriots. Both games look to be cold days for the acclimated Bills, no matter what the weather is like.

Offense – By the end of last season the Buffalo Bills offense obviously needed attention. When the dust had settled from their 5-11 thrashing of a 2005 season, they hadn't even converted 38 percent on third downs and they had the third-worst touchdown percentage at only 34.7 percent. Ace running back Willis McGahee was utilized surprisingly infrequently in the red-zone as well as on third downs.

"Last year the offense (stunk)," said Willis McGahee. "It (stunk). This year we have new coaches and now everything is different. It's going to be a totally different show. I can bet on it." It's hard to say that this is going to be a safe bet, given that McGahee was nowhere to be found during the Bill's mini-camp.

Admittedly, the Bills are entering the season with Steve Fairchild as their new offensive coordinator. Fairchild, who's arriving after a stint with the Rams, was Buffalo's running backs coach back in 2001 and 2002. He helped develop running back Travis Henry, who had a career-high 1,438 yards rushing in 2002.

Even if Fairchild can provide some answers for the Bills this season, nobody seems to be able to answer their most pressing question: Where's their quarterback? Kelly Holcomb was the best they had last year, but even with Holcomb the quarterback position looks like a duct-taped list of potential backups. The Bills are hoping former first-round draft pick J.P. Losman finally lives up to the hype but he's struggled when given an opportunity to lead the offense so far in his career.

Even if one of the Bills quarterbacks does pan out, there are also serious holes in the wall he'll be lining up behind. Buffalo's offensive line struggled last year to say the least. Veteran offensive guard Chris Villarrial was in and out with injuries and the other guard spot hasn't really been filled in two seasons, with four different men in rotation if you count Mike Williams, who was released this offseason. They've signed rookie Terrance Pennington, their seventh-round draftee from New Mexico, but if that's their best effort at patching holes, their offensive line may be as leaky as the Ted Williams tunnel this year.

Eric Moulds was problematic for Buffalo off the field last year, but in relieving that headache (by letting him go to Houston) the Bills have created a whole new one in trying to fill their No. 2 receiver spot. They still have standout Lee Evans as their go-to pass catcher and are bringing back Peerless Price, who has been in a slump since he left Buffalo three years ago. They've also re-signed Josh Reed for a contract extension and picked up former Patriot Andre' Davis.

Defense – The core of the Buffalo Bills overhaul is going to come on defense. They finished thirty-first in the league in stopping the run last year. New defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, who has just been studying the Tampa 2 pass coverage under the tutelage of Lovie Smith, is revamping the whole system.

Ever since Tony Dungy perfected the Tampa 2 in the 1990s many teams have adopted it; the Bills, Vikings, and Lions are all taking it on this season. Smith was Dungy's linebacker coach then, and brought it to Chicago when he left.

His first name is Japanese for "great warrior" and linebacker Takeo Spikes is living up to it by battling back from last season's injuries. He hopes to be as big of a presence as he was before he left and seems to be healthy. He says his best memory as a Bill is their first win in the 2003 season against the Patriots, so he's going to be trying to bring his A-game to Gillette Stadium on September 10.

Assuming Spikes is fast enough to back-peddle into middle coverage he'll be able to help the Tampa 2 scheme work for the Bills along with defensive back Nate Clements who also looks good.

In addition, Spikes should improve the Bills rush defense, which was trampled last year. Efforts to bolster the defensive line include picking up free agent Larry Tripplett and drafting John McCargo and Kyle Williams. Aaron Schobel may be the most underrated defensive end in the league and is a terror rushing off the edge. It's tough to say whether these adjustments will be enough to stop New England's offense, but considering that everyone has to learn the Tampa 2, not to mention new head coach Dick Jauron's theory and style, it doesn't seem likely.

Overall – This looks to be a serious rebuilding year for the Bills, but that is never a good pre-training-camp prediction. They have third down problems on both sides of the ball, finishing last in the league in stopping opponents' conversions last year.

The offense has big question marks at quarterback, in the line and at receiver. The defense is trying to bounce back from last season's failures in addition to learning a whole new defensive scheme.

This is Dick Jauron's inaugural season as a head coach and the Bills have brought in Marv Levy as general manager to try and turn things around as well. It seems the sum of all parts equals out to a team that will be hard pressed to challenge the Patriots for a division title. However, every Patriots fan knows that special teams can make all the difference between winning and losing games. WithRian Lindell likely to kick above 80 percent again, the Bills may have the best special teams in the NFL for the third year in a row but question marks at quarterback could be their downfall once again.

Patriots sign sixth-round draft pick Stevenson-

The New England Patriots signed rookie guard Dan Stevenson today. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed. New England selected Stevenson in the sixth round (205th overall) of the 2006 NFL Draft.
Stevenson, 23, attended Notre Dame, where he played in 44 games with 35 starts over four seasons, starting the final 34 games of his college career. The 6-foot-5-inch, 300-pound offensive lineman was named Notre Dame's top lineman in 2005 after starting all 12 games at right guard for an offense that averaged 36.7 points and 477.3 yards per game. He was part of an offensive line that allowed just 21 sacks during the 2005 season.

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