1. Get Shady, or Karlos, going. The Bills’ running game totaled 147 yards in Week One against Indianapolis, but only 41 of them came from franchise running back LeSean McCoy, pictured. After the game, he admitted to not being 100 percent coming off a hamstring injury, although he played 71 percent of the offensive snaps, so the coaching staff must have thought he was close. McCoy left practice this week after aggravating the injury, so his availability is in question. McCoy was held to 2 yards or less on 12 of his 17 carries against the Colts. After missing a big chunk of training camp, chemistry with his offensive line is a concern. Nevertheless, the Bills need to get better blocking up front and need McCoy or backup Karlos Williams to hit the holes with conviction Sunday.
2. New England is young up front. The Patriots started three rookies on the offensive line in Week One in center David Andrews and guards Shaq Mason and Tre’ Jackson. While they did a solid job against the Steelers, Pittsburgh doesn’t possess the type of defensive line the Bills will put on the field Sunday. Even without Marcell Dareus, the Bills were able to limit the Colts to just 64 yards rushing in Week One. The Bills also got good pressure on Andrew Luck, even if they only sacked him twice. As could be expected with Rex Ryan, the Bills sent a variety of blitzers, rushing at least five on 26 of 54 dropbacks, according to Football Outsiders.
3. What to do with Stephon Gilmore? The Bills’ top cornerback has said he’d welcome the opportunity to cover Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Williamsville native. While one can appreciate his valor, it’s hard not to think “be careful what you wish for.” Behind J.J. Watt, Gronk is perhaps the most dominant player in the NFL at his position. Therefore, it’s unlikely the Bills will ask Gilmore to handle him exclusively Sunday. A better plan may be to have Gilmore man the right cornerback spot. That’s because Brady was a perfect 13 for 13 when throwing to the left side of the field in New England’s Week One win.
4. Sammy Watkins should have a favorable matchup. The Bills’ No. 1 receiver was held without a catch for the first time in his career in Week One against Indianapolis. No big deal, the Bills have said, since they won comfortably. There’s no doubting, however, that Watkins needs to be a huge part of the offense this season. After being matched up against the Colts’ Vontae Davis in Week One, Watkins is likely to see Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler on Sunday. The Patriots’ second-year cornerback struggled in a Week One victory over Pittsburgh.
5. Back up the tough talk. Rex Ryan has made it clear that he’s fine with his players expressing themselves. That has resulted in what could be construed as some bulletin-board material for the Patriots. It’s refreshing to hear players speak their minds, and there’s nothing wrong with the Bills finding some swagger. Even the team’s Twitter account got into the act. But given the one-sided nature of this rivalry in recent years, they may have put some added pressure on themselves.
Outlook: Even at 38, Brady is operating with surgical precision. Belichick continues to make chicken salad out of less desirable ingredients. As long as those two are in place, the AFC East feels like it belongs to New England.
Prediction: Patriots 28, Bills 24.