Just because the Buffalo Bills are only looking at their next opponent, that doesn't mean we can't jump the gun and see what's coming. Each week, we'll be looking at the next few opponents on the schedule to see what might be in store when they face off against the Bills. We call it our Pro Personnel Department series.
Week 2: Bills vs. Patriots
Week 1: Patriots vs. Steelers (Thursday, 9/10, 8:00 p.m. ET)
Where they stand: Now that Deflategate is over and done with, we know for sure (barring injury) that Tom Brady will be under center when the Pats come to Orchard Park next weekend. New England will open the season looking fairly different at a few key spots, as seven players who started in Super Bowl XLIX won't be starting against the Steelers. Still, with the most important position in stable hands, they should remain a threat to win 12 or more games, starting with this one.
What to watch for: How much has the uncertainty of the offseason affected Brady? He struggled plenty during the preseason, notably throwing two interceptions against Carolina defense that the Bills navigated with relative ease. Starting running back LeGarrette Blount will miss the game against his former team due to a suspension, giving Brandon Bolden the lead role. Couple that with the injury status of Brandon LaFell, and Brady's supporting cast is notably weakened. If he can operate anywhere near how the Bills did against the Steelers defense, he'll be a very big threat to the Bills next week, especially with the return of Blount.
Player to watch: DT Dominique Easley. Brady will garner most of the attention, as always. Easley, however, will be a key player on the other side of the ball if the team wants to improve its already-stout defense (No. 8 in scoring and No. 13 in yards allowed last season). Easley was widely considered a Top 10 talent coming out of Florida, but serious knee issues caused him to fall to the back of the first round in 2014. He struggled mightily as a rookie, recording only one sack, but seems to have improved a great deal this offseason. The matchup against a weakened interior Pittsburgh offensive line should give him the chance to make plays, if he really has improved as much as it seems.
Week 3: Bills at Dolphins
Week 1: Dolphins at Redskins (Sunday, 9/13, 1:00 p.m. ET)
Where they stand: Aside from New England, Miami is the only other team in the AFC East that has their quarterback situation definitively settled, with Ryan Tannehill signed through the end of the decade. With that out of the way, the Dolphins felt free to make several moves to bolster the team around him, most notably in the form of star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. The receiving corps has changed a great deal, with most of Tannehill's top targets from last season no longer on the roster. The defense, with the addition of Suh, should be better than the unit that finished No. 20 overall in scoring last season.
What to watch for: How will Tannehill deal with the high turnover at receiver? Of his top four targets last season, only Jarvis Landry remains on the roster. Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline have given way to Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings, and first-round pick DeVante Parker. Charles Clay was replaced by former Browns standout Jordan Cameron, who has a history of injuries to overcome. Miami's success will be dependent on Tannehill quickly developing a rapport with his new crew, and he'll have a chance to do that against a fairly weak Washington defense that gave up the ninth-most passing yards in 2014.
Player to watch: CB Brent Grimes. Since signing with the Dolphins prior to the 2013 season, Grimes has been an above-average defender for their secondary. He recorded five interceptions last season, and was the top cornerback on a defense that didn't allow a 300-yard passing game until Geno Smith's inexplicable Week 17 performance when both teams were out of playoff contention. He did, however, turn 32 this offseason, which is something to keep in mind. He'll have an opportunity to show that he hasn't lost a step in a matchup against DeSean Jackson, who should be well-rested after missing the preseason with a shoulder injury.
Week 4: Bills vs. Giants
Week 1: Giants at Cowboys (Sunday, 9/13, 8:30 p.m. ET)
Where they stand: The Giants have been a team in almost perpetual limbo since winning Super Bowl XLVI four seasons ago. Their record has grown progressively worse, and the coach-and-quarterback duo that was responsible for their recent success is looking older by the season. Eli Manning's contract is set to expire after the season, and with Tom Coughlin inching closer to retirement, this could be the last hurrah for both of them in New York - but the team has too many questions on defense to make a ride off into the sunset seem likely for those two.
What to watch for: How does the defensive line look without Jason Pierre-Paul? JPP slowed down after a breakout 2011, but looked to be returning to form last season, recording 12.5 sacks. Then, an unfortunate firework mishap cost him one of his fingers, which has understandably kept him away from the team for a while. At this point, he's not even under contract with the team, so an appearance against the Bills is an iffy proposition. Currently, New York's defensive ends are Robert Ayers and Kerry Wynn, two players who have a combined 18.5 career sacks. If neither of them can generate the pass rush that Pierre-Paul provides, the Giants could be in for an even longer year than it seemed otherwise.
Player to watch: WR Victor Cruz. Offensively, Manning should be positively giddy at the thought of having Cruz and Odell Beckham, Jr. on his wings. The two played together for one full game last season, in which New York put up 30 points and Manning tossed two touchdowns. This was, of course, before Beckham-mania took hold, and he had one of the best seasons a rookie wideout has ever produced. Now, Cruz returns to a likely No. 2 role, one that he thrived in a few years ago behind Hakeem Nicks. If he's recovered from his patellar tendon injury, and can stay healthy for all 16 games this year, the Giants might be able to put up the kind of offense that can keep them in the shootouts they'll inevitably end up in.