Around the AFC East, Week 1: New England Patriots

Each Friday during the off-season, Buffalo Rumblings dedicates our front-page space to learning a bit more about the inner workings of the Buffalo Bills' three biggest rivals - our AFC East counterparts.  Here, we wrap up the Week 1 festivities with yet another QB discussion - this time on the Pats' depth behind Tom Brady with MaPatsFan at Pats Pulpit.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the 2008 season for the Buffalo Bills was the team's inability to capitalize not only on a weak schedule and a 5-1 start, but the Patriots' loss of all-world QB Tom Brady for the season.  Buffalo had a golden opportunity to finally compete with the Pats; instead, the Bills were once again swept by New England en route to a third consecutive 7-9 season, while the Pats calmly won 11 games.  No big.

Now Brady's back.  Yay?

Considering the Patriots' bold off-season decision to trade Brady's understudy, Matt Cassel, to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Patriots now have more questions than answers behind the three-time Super Bowl champion signal-caller.  The Brady Backup Plan was my topic of this week's conversation with MaPatsFan, our resident Patriots blogger.

I am only recently coming to grips with the reality that Tom Brady, on an at least mostly-healthy knee, will return to his cyborg-like Bills destruction tendencies next season.  (I mean, we ONLY lost to you guys by a combined 23 points last year... those were, sadly, close games from our perspective.)  How concerned are you, however, with the notion of turning to Kevin O'Connell in the event that Brady has to miss any amount of time next season?

MaPatsFan: 2008 was an eye opening season for many of us in Patriots Nation; it proved just how wrong we could be.  Looking at the pre-season, Matt Cassel looked simply awful and many of us, including myself, were calling for his head come cut day.  As we all know, history has proven Bill Belichick is smarter than me and saw something in Cassel that fans and analysts alike missed.

We were carrying four quarterbacks (Brady, Cassel, Gutierrez, and draftee O'Connell) into the regular season and someone had to go; Gutierrez was demoted to the practice squad and the remaining three looked to be the three we'd carry.  Still mystified at Cassel's retention of the backup spot, we all know what happened next.

The Kevin O'Connell question is much like the Matt Cassel question: no one really knows how he'll do until he's put into a game situation and is able to get more reps under his belt.  He looked pretty good during the 2008 preseason and some think he's being groomed to take over the spot after Brady decides to call it quits and retire to his supermodel wife.  I would be concerned if Kevin had to take the reins simply because he has fewer years in the system than Cassel did before his takeover: one versus three.  However, O'Connell is a more gifted quarterback and a far better scrambler than any of the other quarterbacks.  In fact, during college Kevin had the most rushing yards of any offensive player on his team!  Word is his offensive line was so horrible he had to scramble constantly.

***

Kevin O'Connell is an interesting player to me - very athletic, but very raw as a passer.  I think he'd probably do OK as a fill-in starter in New England, though he'd obviously need a grace period to develop on the field, just as Cassel did last season.  One thing is certain: depending on the path to get there, I doubt I'd find myself complaining too much if the Patriots had to figure out just how good O'Connell is/can be during the 2009 regular season.

What are your thoughts on New England's quarterback situation? Will Brady be able to play right away? Does his presence alone prevent the Bills from sniffing the post-season?  Fire away, folks - week one of Around the AFC East is in the books.

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