Rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel gets his first look at three-time Super Bowl champ Tom Brady on Sunday afternoon as the Buffalo Bills host the New England Patriots at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
After missing most of the preseason recovering from a minor knee procedure Manuel begins his NFL career against one of its greatest passers, and one of the best teams in the last decade. The Bills hope the Florida State standout can provide some stability at quarterback and eventually lead them back to the playoffs.
The Patriots are coming off one of the more disturbing and drama-fueled offseasons ever in the NFL. Now-released tight end Aaron Hernandez was charged with murder, Rob Gronkowski is still recovering from forearm and back injuries, and Wes Welker left on rather bitter terms. That would leave Brady without his three best receiving threats, but New England has faith in undrafted receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, and rookie Zach Sudfeld.
Out of Cincinnati, Thompkins led the Patriots with 15 catches for 166 yards, while Sudfeld hauled in eight balls for 101 yards and a touchdown. Recently signed Danny Amendola will fill the void left by Welker, and it looks like Brady has a brand new arsenal to dominate the AFC East once again.
The Bills welcomed new head coach Doug Marrone from Syracuse for his ability to work with young passers, and thus a lot is expected of Manuel. He has a solid target in receiver Steve Johnson, and an excellent young rusher in C.J. Spiller, who was eighth in the NFL with 1,244 yards and six touchdowns last season.
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Buffalo also saw top offensive guard Andy Levitre walk via free agency to Tennessee, putting pressure on second-year left guard Colin Brown, fifth year right guard Kraig Urbik, and center Eric Wood to protect Manuel and continue to open holes for Spiller.
Both teams have their fair share of injuries in Week One. Buffalo safety Jarius Byrd, who may or may not have requested a trade earlier this week due to contract negotiations gone awry, is listed as doubtful with a foot injury. Bills place kicker Dustin Hopkins is also working through a right groin injury.
Pats rookie receiver Aaron Dobson, who was just as impressive as Sudfeld and Thompkins in the preseason, is listed as questionable with a hamstring strain. Gronkowski remains doubtful, and several reports have indicated he won’t be back until Week Three at the earliest, though New England did decide to keep him off the PUP-list, a move that would have made him unavailable for the first third of the season.
The game begins at 1 p.m. ET and will be broadcast by CBS or watch a live online stream by purchasing NFL Game Access here.
Betting Odds: New England is favored by 10 points.
Over/Under: 51 points
Prediction: New England 28, Buffalo 24