Bills vs. Patriots: new faces in key places

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

This weekend's Bills/Patriots season opener will feature a bunch of new players and a lot of change on both sides of the field; will the change allow the Bills to have enough "surprise factor" to pull an upset?

Lest you make the mistake of entering this weekend with the idea that this is "just another" Buffalo Bills game against the New England Patriots, let's rewind the clock momentarily and take a look at exactly how much has changed in this matchup.

Buffalo's sideline contains an entirely new coaching staff - one that will bring a run-first, up-tempo mentality on the offensive side of the ball, and an attack-first, disguise-based philosophy on defense. Bill Belichick and the Patriots will have some scheme familiarity with Mike Pettine's defense thanks to his time spent in New York, but they've never seen that defense played by Buffalo's personnel.

Nor have they seen the Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett offense, or the rookie quarterback charged with running it: E.J. Manuel. They've played up-tempo offenses before, but not necessarily Buffalo's flavor.

The Bills have 20 brand new players on their 53-man roster, including nine that are expected to play significant roles in Sunday's contest: Manuel, receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin, defensive lineman Alan Branch, linebackers Manny Lawson, Jerry Hughes and Kiko Alonso, safety Jim Leonhard and kicker Dan Carpenter.

Nothing has changed schematically for the perennially playoff-bound Patriots, but many of the usual faces won't be on the field - especially on offense. Gone, for wildly different reasons, are Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez, and Rob Gronkowski almost certainly won't suit up as he returns from a litany of offseason health issues. New England's receiver group will feature Danny Amendola and Kenbrell Thompkins, and tight end Zach Sudfeld replaces Gronkowski. Thompkins and Sudfeld are undrafted free agents, and the oft-dinged Amendola is a free agent import from St. Louis.

Many of the faces remain the same: C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, Stevie Johnson, Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Leodis McKelvin, Tom Brady, Stevan Ridley, Logan Mankins, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Devin McCourty and many more have all seen each other before, and will all play key roles in Week 1. But that shouldn't cloud the fact that in many important ways, Sunday's Bills/Patriots game is completely different than what we're used to.

Our discussion question for you this morning: is there enough that's different for the Bills to legitimately have a "surprise factor" card to play on Sunday?

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