Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 1:
Game plans will be an exercise in speculation. There's always a healthy dose of mystery heading into opening weekend. Teams withhold much of their playbooks throughout the preseason, creating wonder about how a new player will be utilized or how much coaching philosophies might have changed since the year before. Whoever guesses best likely will win Sunday's matchup between the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills in Ralph Wilson Stadium. New Bills coach Chan Gailey has installed his offense and has switched the defense to a 3-4. The Bills also will show their full backfield for the first time. Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch return from injuries sustained in the preseason opener. With them out, rookie lightning bolt C.J. Spiller was limited to tailback duties. Where will Spiller line up now? Could be anywhere. The Dolphins, meanwhile, have new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Gailey has been watching Denver Broncos film and trying to project how Nolan will use the Dolphins' roster.
The New England Patriots defense could be in for a long afternoon. The Patriots better have something up their sleeves for the Cincinnati Bengals. Otherwise, Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens will have plenty to crow about. How will the Patriots contain the Bengals, who have placed an emphasis on their passing game? They added T.O. and drafted tight end Jermaine Gresham in the first round to help quarterback Carson Palmer. The Bengals have a strong enough rushing attack to keep any defense honest. Straight up, the Patriots appear to be at a disadvantage against the pass. The Patriots have the NFL's least experienced cornerbacks in Darius Butler and rookie Devin McCourty. As for a pass rush, the Patriots haven't had an effective one for a couple of years.
Don't dismiss the possibility of a big game from Darrelle Revis. The All-Pro cornerback had one week of practice to get ready for Monday night's opener against the Baltimore Ravens. He missed training camp and all four preseason games during his contract dispute. But that doesn't mean Revis will be rusty. Remember when the Jets signed cornerback Ty Law off the street in November 2008 for a Thursday night game against the Patriots? Law was 34, and they lined him up against Randy Moss. In the first half, Moss had zero receptions. He finished with three catches for 23 yards, and it took a pinpoint Matt Cassel rollout pass and a sensational sideline grab to beat Law for a 16-yard touchdown. Revis isn't 34 years old, and he wasn't signed off a free-agent scrap heap just before Thanksgiving. Revis kept himself in shape while AWOL, working out with a fellow Aliquippa, Pa., native named Ty Law.
If you have Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams on your fantasy team, start them. Heck, fourth-stringer Lex Hilliard might be a decent option against the Bills' run defense. The Bills' transition to a 3-4 defense hasn't made them noticeably better against the run, and they ranked 30th last year. The Bills were on the smallish side to begin with, and they're dealing with injuries at linebacker. Starting outside linebacker Reggie Torbor and backup inside linebacker Antonio Coleman won't play. Top inside linebacker reserve Kawika Mitchell was placed on season-ending injured reserve Friday. Newly acquired inside linebacker Akin Ayodele will be deactivated until he learns the system. On top of all those circumstances, Buffalo boasts a formidable secondary. Motivation for Miami to throw will be low.
Left guard, not quarterback, could turn out to be the Jets' weakest link. All eyes will be on Mark Sanchez on Monday night. So they might not see the peripheral blurs attacking him in the pocket. Left guard is among the chief concerns. The Jets featured a mimeograph offensive line over the past two seasons. That's 33 games of continuity for one of the best units in the league. But the Jets cut Pro Bowl left guard Alan Faneca, and his potential replacements have been shaky. Matt Slauson won the job by default over disappointing rookie Vladimir Ducasse. As head coach Rex Ryan acknowledged in "Hard Knocks," there's not a lot of faith in either of them to keep Sanchez off his back.