AFC East: Week 1 Preview

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots begin the season with a trip to Buffalo.

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots begin the season with a trip to Buffalo.

Welcome to football season!

With a lopsided win over the Baltimore Ravens, the Denver Broncos kicked off the 2013 NFL season in style on Thursday night, showcasing the team’s Super Bowl credentials from the off. Sunday will see 26 other teams look to join the Broncos in starting the season the right way.

2013 AFC East Preseason Standings

2013 AFC East Preseason Standings

One of those teams expected to fare well the season is the New England Patriots, although by Patriots’ standards there’re a lot of questions to be answered. However, as far as the AFC East goes, the team should have an easy run at the division this year. But how far can should really take the Patriots? We’re about the find out.

Read on for the preview of Week 1 in the AFC East. For extended trends and in depth odds, be sure to click on each matchup page.

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills

Ralph Wilson Stadium, Orchard Park, NY, 1:00 p.m. ET

Rookie E.J. Manuel starts for the Bills.

Rookie E.J. Manuel starts for the Bills.

No team had a more turbulent offseason that the Patriots. That’s saying something considering all that has been happening in Florham Park, N.J.

Bill Belichick will be happy to lead his team onto the field Sunday to take on division rivals the Buffalo Bills. At least on the field the Patriots can emerge from the shroud of the Aaron Hernandez saga.

The Patriots open the season at 10/1 to win Super Bowl XLVIII, ranking the team fourth on the NFL futures list. That’s fairly optimistic for a team that ranked 29th against the pass last season and returns with a very questionable receiving corp. Still, as we previously reported, the Patriots have a habit of succeeding without a superstar receiver.

New England confirmed Saturday that TE Rob Gronkowski will miss this visit to Orchard Park. Jeff How of the Boston Herald suggests that it may even be Week 3 or 4 when he does return to the field, having undergone surgeries this offseason. His absence looks like a big deal for a team that is without 70 percent of last year’s receiving output for one reason or another. But then again, Tom Brady has made a career of finding new, reliable targets, so we’ll have to wait and see.

While New England’s offseason was undeniably rough, the Bills didn’t have a much better time of things. A miserable 6-10 season derailed fans last season, fans that had seen a lot of money spent to improve the team. Entering this season, there’s far less optimism surrounding the team.

Injury may already have derailed Buffalo’s season before a ball has been kicked. A quarterback race between Kevin Kolb and rookie E.J. Manuel saw both injured. Subsequent speculation suggests Kolb, suffering a concussion, may never return to football. Manuel meanwhile is healthy enough to start in this opener. But can he have a season befitting of last year’s rookie quarterback crop?

Sunday’s opener opened with New England (-525) favored over Buffalo (+405) on the moneyline. The spread opened at a conservative 5, but has risen to as high as 10½ since. The over/under opened at 53 but has slipped to 51.

New England is 64-41-1 all-time against Buffalo and has owned the Bills in recent years. The Patriots have won three straight, 18 of the last 19, and 23 of 25.


Miami Dolphins at Cleveland Browns

FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland, OH, 1:00 p.m. ET

Ryan Tannehill leads the Dolphins into Cleveland.

Ryan Tannehill leads the Dolphins into Cleveland.

While it may not be one of Sunday’s high-profile games, this showdown in the Forest City is one of the more intriguing matchups on the schedule.

The Miami Dolphins are coming off a season that reintroduced some respectability to the team. A 7-9 record may not seem all that impressive, but after some hard times in South Florida, there was plenty to suggest the Dolphins are moving in the right direction, including QB Ryan Tannehill, who impressed in his rookie season.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns may have finished the year 5-11 but the side took large strides to turning things around. In 2012, the Browns lost five games by a touchdown or less. Had things gone the other way they could have finished the year 10-6. While there’s no point arguing the ifs, ands, and maybes, this does show how close the Browns can keep a game, and with the principle players a year older and a year wiser, Cleveland could be spoiling a few afternoons this season.

Sunday’s game is going to be tight, as depicted by the betting lines. The spread opened at 1½ in favor of Miami but there has been some movement since. At the time of publication, Bovada has the Browns favored by two while BetOnline has both teams even. Shop around here based on who you like. For more NFL odds, click here.

The Dolphins are 9-8 all-time against the Browns but only 4-6 in games played in Cleveland. The Browns have taken the last three played at Cleveland Browns Stadium, renamed this offseason to FirstEnergy Stadium. The Dolphins haven’t won a game in the stadium since October 10, 1993.

Cleveland has won four straight in the series, with Miami’s last win coming at Pro Player Stadium, as it was then, on December 26, 2004. Recent history favors the Browns in this one, but this one’s almost a coin-flip.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Jets

MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ, 1:00 p.m. ET

Rookie Geno Smith starts for the Jets.

Rookie Geno Smith starts for the Jets.

Having gone from AFC contenders to laughing stock in the blink of an eye, the New York Jets had hoped for a quiet offseason and a return to form. Of course, this is the New York Jets so the former was unlikely at best while the going consensus is that the latter is unthinkable. In short, the Jets are not expected to fare well this season.

Presumed starting QB Mark Sanchez is out with a shoulder injury, an injury that will sideline him for the opening weeks and potentially for the rest of his time in New York. Rookie Geno Smith, he of the NFL Draft strop, will take over the reins with Matt Simms in a backup role. The Jets released Brady Quinn Saturday for financial reasons, but are likely to re-sign him Monday as an insurance policy.

The Jets will begin the new season with a visit from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with former Jets’ cornerback Darrelle Revis leading the charge.

The Buccaneers will enter the game in slightly better shape than the Jets, but there’s a dysfunctional air about the team too. Most experts expect this to be QB Josh Freeman’s last shot at retaining his place in the starting lineup. Meanwhile, head coach Greg Schiano may have dodged a bullet last season, but another 7-9 season, or worse, is likely to see him headed back to NCAA football.

You’d be hard pushed to find two NFL teams with a more lopsided history that the Jets and Buccaneers. New York has beaten Tampa Bay in 9 of 10 meetings all-time, including all six played in New Jersey. The Buccaneers will hope the change of venue to MetLife Stadium will bring with it a success that has been sorely lacking in the past.

The game has seen a swing on the betting lines since opening earlier this week. The Jets opened as the favorite with the spread at 2½, but the continued controversy surrounding the team, as well as ESPN placing the team dead last in its power rankings, has seen Gang Green become an underdog. The Bucs are now favored by as many as four points with some bookmakers. The over/under opened at 41½ but has fallen to 39½ as this one looks more and more like an offensive disaster zone.


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