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Tom Brady's suspension inflates Bills' playoff hopes

The NFL imposed severe penalties Monday against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, suspending the star quarterback four games while fining the Buffalo Bills' AFC East rivals $1 million and stripping the team of its 2016 first-round and 2017 fourth-round draft selections.

You almost have to wonder if Bills coach Rex Ryan is overjoyed at the ruling, or actually a little disappointed.

Think about it: Ryan has been obsessed with the Patriots since taking over as the New York Jets' coach in 2009, never missing an opportunity to tweak Brady and seldom afraid to make headlines before a bout between the division foes.

Even now, as coach of the Bills, he hasn't shied away from the challenge posed by the Patriots, winners of the AFC East in 12 of the past 14 seasons. He relishes the big stage, the bright lights and the chance to send Brady walking off the field, hanging his head in the agony of defeat.

When Ryan slips on his red-and-blue vest and jogs to the sideline Sept. 20 for his second regular-season game in charge of the Bills, he'll look across the field and see not Brady, but fresh-faced backup Jimmy Garoppolo likely taking the field for the Patriots.

For a coach with an unwavering fixation on Brady, that might be a bit, well, deflating.

Of course, let's not go too far. Sure, Ryan would probably like nothing more than to take down a Brady-led squad at Ralph Wilson in September, and beating up on Garoppolo would probably lack the sizzle that Ryan has come to savor.

But Brady will be back by October, setting up Ryan to march his Bills into Gillette Stadium on Nov. 23, trying to earn an even more satisfying win over Brady and the Patriots on Monday Night Football.

It's that game that will give Ryan a bounce in his step, no matter how the Garoppolo-led Patriots perform in the first month of the season. That's just how Ryan is wired.

No matter how Ryan reacts -- and his next scheduled news conference is Wednesday, so we won't have to wait long to find out -- the rest of the Bills organization and its fans have plenty of reason to be overjoyed at the Patriots' penalties.

The Bills have been tormented by their AFC East opponents since Brady took over in 2001, with their 3-25 record against New England over that time among the worst in NFL history for a team against a single quarterback (with the exception of Brady's injury-shortened 2008 season, when now-Bills quarterback Matt Cassel defeated the Bills twice).

Buffalo was briefly introduced to Garoppolo in Week 17 of last season, when the rookie completed 10 of 17 passes for 90 yards in second-half duty after Brady and most other Patriots starters were rested for the playoffs. Garoppolo's 73.2 quarterback rating in that game should hardly inspire confidence for the Patriots that he'll be able to beat the Bills on the road in what is expected to become his second NFL start.

That's reason to celebrate for the Bills, who spent an NFL-high $91.5 million in guaranteed money this offseason in an effort to bolster their roster and make a run at unseating the Patriots in the division. Not only are their chances of defeating the Patriots in Week 2 inflated by Brady's suspension, but the division could be up for grabs if Garoppolo stumbles in spot duty.

If there is going to be a changing of the guard in the AFC East, it will start with that four-game stint, but the effects of the NFL's penalties will reach further. By stripping the Patriots of their 2016 first-round pick, the league's punishment gives the Bills an even greater opportunity to catch up with their division nemesis in the coming seasons.

You can bet that will put a smile on Ryan's face, even if Brady's suspension has taken the air out of the Bills' Week 2 tilt with New England.