NFL Nation: Keith Ellison

Shawne Merriman won't play for Buffalo

November, 27, 2010
11/27/10
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The Shawne Merriman experiment in Buffalo can officially be ruled a failure.

[+] EnlargeShawne Merriman
AP Photo/David DupreyShawne Merriman limped off the field with a leg injury shortly after opening his first practice with Buffalo.
The Bills couldn't make the 26-year-old outside linebacker their reclamation project. They placed him on injured reserve Saturday along with linebacker Keith Ellison.

The move is a lose-lose for the Bills and Merriman. The club wasted roughly $1.7 million in salary on a player who didn't play a down. Merriman, meanwhile, cemented his reputation as injury-prone and didn't generate any precious game film needed to show the rest of the NFL what he could do to secure a nice contract next year.

Merriman injured his leg about 15 minutes into his first Bills practice. The San Diego Chargers waived him last month because he was damaged goods, battling knee and calf problems that kept him from regaining his All-Pro form.

Merriman was a Pro Bowler in each of his first three NFL seasons, accumulating 39.5 sacks. He recorded only four sacks since the end of the 2007 season.

I asked Bills coach Chan Gailey on Wednesday at what point would it become counterproductive to put Merriman on the field, when the most he could play would be five games and the Bills seem to be gaining momentum with players who definitely will be part of the organization's future.

"First of all, you've got to take into consideration if a guy is healthy enough," Gailey replied. "In his case, is the guy healthy enough to get on the field? Second of all, if you get good players you've got to try to use them. To be honest with you, I don't care when it is. You've got to use good players, and he's proven that he's been a good player in years past.

"So if it comes to that, if it gets down to the last couple games, I think it's better to know and to let him play and for us to know what he can do in our defense than it is not to know and always be in question."

The Bills might get a compensatory draft choice for their trouble, but the fact Merriman's season ended as it did doesn't bode well for the quality of the pick. The compensatory formula is closely guarded, but we do know a significant factor is how valuable the departing player's contract is. Playing time and postseason awards also are considerations, and not every player lost or signed is covered by the process.

Of course, the compensatory system could be altered under terms of the new collective bargaining agreement anyway.

Saturday's roster move had a positive local twist to it. One of the players summoned from the practice squad was undrafted rookie receiver Naaman Roosevelt, a Buffalo native who played for the University at Buffalo. Also promoted was linebacker Thomas Williams.

Bills bench first-round pick Aaron Maybin

October, 24, 2010
10/24/10
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Buffalo Bills outside linebacker Aaron Maybin might already be nearing the end of the line.

Maybin
Maybin
The 11th overall pick of last year's draft has struggled to get on the field for one of the NFL's worst defenses. Maybin's playing time has dwindled over the past few weeks, and on Sunday he was deactivated against the Baltimore Ravens in M&T Stadium.

The move not only is symbolic of his failure to develop as an NFL pass-rusher, but also must be extra difficult for Maybin to take. Maybin is from Ellicott City, Md., and considers Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis one of his mentors.

Here are the rest of Buffalo's scratches:

Bye week inventory: Buffalo Bills

October, 14, 2010
10/14/10
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A look at the Buffalo Bills heading into their bye weekend ...

Reason for hope: I considered leaving this section blank because it's difficult to envision the Bills making serious headway this year. They're 0-5, have allowed at least 30 points in four straight games and won't play another game at home for about a month. They're not going to the playoffs, and even a game-to-game spoiler role seems ambitious. Owner Ralph Wilson recently said the rebuilding process will take three more years.

[+] EnlargeFred Jackson
Tom Croke/Icon SMIFred Jackson is averaging 5.0 yards per carry this season.
So what is there to root for? Individual players, I guess. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has been decent, which for the Bills is a coup. In his three starts he has thrown seven touchdowns and just two interceptions. Running back Fred Jackson is an overachiever who leaves it all out on the field. Head coach Chan Gailey hasn't yet figured out how to use ninth overall draft choice C.J. Spiller in the offense, but the rookie playmaker is almost certain to provide a few highlight-reel plays over the last 11 games.

Cause for concern: Perhaps most alarming is the "reason for hope" category should be rife with the names of prospects who are contributing, but too many of them have failed to develop. Last year's 11th overall pick, pass-rusher Aaron Maybin, can't get on the field. Top draft choices over the past three years -- Trent Edwards, Marshawn Lynch and James Hardy to name a few -- have been released or traded. Those players should have been the young nucleus of a rebuilding team.

The Bills are weak at critical infrastructure positions: quarterback, offensive tackle, defensive line, linebacker. Their biggest strength heading into the season was their secondary, a unit that helped the Bills rank second in pass defense and second in interceptions last year. Through five games, the Bills rank 11th in pass defense and have one interception. They spent the entire offseason switching to a 3-4 defense, but now they're gravitating back to four-man fronts because they're getting physically overpowered on a weekly basis.

Time to heal: The week off especially will help cornerback Terrence McGee (back), safety Bryan Scott (knee), linebacker Keith Ellison (knee) and tackle Cornell Green (knee). Tight end Shawn Nelson was suspended for the first four games and will benefit from the extra week of practice.

AccuScore forecast: The Bills have not been mathematically eliminated, but AccuScore's computers give them a zero percent chance of winning the division or going to the playoffs. They're pegged for a 3-13 record.

Jaguars at Bills inactives

October, 10, 2010
10/10/10
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Here are the scratches from Sunday afternoon's game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills in Ralph Wilson Stadium:

Jacksonville Jaguars
Buffalo Bills

Tidying up the AFC East tenders

March, 5, 2010
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The Miami Dolphins were the lone AFC East club not to distribute a news release on the qualifying offers they tendered to their free agents.

After the free-agency signing period began at midnight, the NFL distributed the official list.

So, for the record, I give you the Dolphins' tenders.

If another team signs one of the following restricted free agents to an offer sheet and the Dolphins decline to match, then these are the draft considerations the Dolphins would receive as compensation:


Also, the Buffalo Bills listed the players they had tendered but didn't reveal the picks. Here they are, courtesy of the NFL:

Buffalo tenders an RFA quartet

March, 4, 2010
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The Buffalo Bills announced they've tendered qualifying contract offers to four free agents, but didn't reveal what levels.

Buffalo News writer Mark Gaughan reports the Bills gave Wilson a second-round tender.

AFC East: Free-agency primer

March, 4, 2010
3/04/10
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Buffalo Bills

Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Ryan Denney, LB Chris Draft, DB Todd Johnson, G Seth McKinney, WR Terrell Owens, WR Josh Reed, S Bryan Scott, G Kendall Simmons, LB Josh Stamer.

Potential restricted free agents: LB Keith Ellison, QB Gibran Hamdan, G Richie Incognito, TE Joe Klopfenstein, TE Derek Schouman, T Jonathan Scott, S George Wilson, CB Ashton Youboty.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: The Bills are in a rebuilding mode and shouldn't be in too much of a hurry to sign their free agents. In fact, they took the unusual step of publicly announcing they wouldn't offer Owens, Reed or Denney contracts. The most attractive players are Incognito and Wilson. Most of the rest were bit players and injury replacements.

Miami Dolphins

Potential unrestricted free agents: NT Jason Ferguson, CB Nate Jones, QB Chad Pennington, OLB Jason Taylor.

Potential restricted free agents: RB Ronnie Brown, TE Anthony Fasano, OLB Quentin Moses.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: The Dolphins have a tough decision to make on Ferguson. He'll turn 36 during the 2010 season and is coming off a serious quadriceps injury. Without him, however, the Dolphins have a massive void in their 3-4 defense at a position that's difficult to replace. Pennington, Jones and Taylor all could be gone.

New England Patriots

Potential unrestricted free agents: OLB Tully Banta-Cain, CB Leigh Bodden, OLB Derrick Burgess, RB Kevin Faulk, DE Jarvis Green, P Chris Hanson, G Stephen Neal, ILB Junior Seau, TE Benjamin Watson.

Potential restricted free agents: K Stephen Gostkowski, G Logan Mankins, OLB Pierre Woods.

Franchise player: NT Vince Wilfork.

What to expect: Several starters are about to go up for bids, and the Patriots can't keep them all. Expect Faulk to be re-signed without much fuss. Neal, Bodden and Banta-Cain comprise a group they'd have trouble replacing. All three could fetch offers the Patriots would rather not match. Don't count on Watson coming back.

New York Jets

Potential unrestricted free agents: LS James Dearth, DE Marques Douglas, K Jay Feely, LB Ryan Fowler, TE Ben Hartsock, LB Larry Izzo, FB Tony Richardson.

Potential restricted free agents: QB Kellen Clemens, CB Drew Coleman, WR Braylon Edwards, DT Howard Green, T Wayne Hunter, WR Brad Smith, S Eric Smith, RB Leon Washington.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: As a "final eight" team, the Jets have to window shop until one of their UFAs sign elsewhere. General manager Mike Tannenbaum is creative. Don't be surprised if the Jets use trades to upgrade. The key restricted free agent to monitor will be Washington, who received a second-round tender. His agent has been tweeting alarms the Pro Bowler could sign an offer sheet and dare the Jets to match.

Wrap-up: Jaguars 18, Bills 15

November, 22, 2009
11/22/09
4:24
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I think it's safe to say Buffalo Bills fans feel a lot better about their team than they did five days ago.

Bills interim coach Perry Fewell lost his debut, 18-15, when Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard tossed a touchdown to Mike Sims-Walker with 56 seconds to play Sunday.

The Bills are in disarray with head coach Dick Jauron getting canned five days earlier and mounting injuries that included Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch and rookie guard Eric Wood during the game.

But the Bills played hard and probably deserved to win.

Buffalo bucked a few season-long trends. The NFL's worst run defense, despite playing without defensive tackle Marcus Stroud and linebacker Keith Ellison, contained Maurice Jones-Drew for most of the game. Jones-Drew finished with 25 carries for 66 yards and a touchdown.

The Bills, criticized all year for not throwing downfield, broke the club record for the longest pass play. Ryan Fitzpatrick connected with Terrell Owens for a 98-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Owens finished with the types of numbers Bills fans hoped would happen occasionally: nine receptions, 197 yards.

Fitzpatrick, named the starter this week ahead of Trent Edwards, completed 18 of his 31 attempts for 297 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions.

One recurring problem did haunt the Bills: a penalty by an offensive lineman. Tackle Jonathan Scott was called for illegal use of the hands to erase a 53-yard Lee Evans catch and run for what would have been a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. The Bills punted four plays later.

There was no run game. Lynch had eight carries for 18 yards before he got hurt in the second quarter. Fred Jackson ran nine times for 35 yards.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills went into Sunday's game with a ramshackle roster.

They're even more dilapidated now.

In Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, the Bills have lost three more players at the two positions they were thinnest: linebacker and offensive line.

Defensive captain Kawika Mitchell was carted off in the first half with a leg injury that looked serious. This week, Mitchell was switched to middle linebacker to replace Marcus Buggs, who replaced captain Paul Posluszny, who suffered a broken forearm in Week 1.

Buggs was carted off the field with a leg injury in the second half.

Keith Ellison is in the middle now.

The Bills also lost right tackle Jonathan Scott with an apparent leg injury. Scott became a starter when Brad Butler went on injured reserve with a knee injury suffered in Week 2.

Kirk Chambers, a veteran journeyman cut as the end of training camp, replaced Scott.

Buffalo also is playing without both of their regular starting safeties, Donte Whitner and Bryan Scott.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

A few thoughts on the Buffalo Bills' shoddy performance Saturday night in a 31-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field:

Bills fans have to love the comments from head coach Dick Jauron. Yes, I'm being sarcastic.

"It was a disappointing night," Jauron said. "The good news is that it's preseason. We knew we had a long way to go, and this should show us that we have a long way to go. We've got to get back to work on Monday."

But why do the Bills have such a long way to go? They opened camp a week earlier than the rest of the league and have played an extra exhibition because they were in the Hall of Fame Game.

In the first half, the Bills donated four turnovers, allowed three sacks and had five plays for negative yardage. For the game, they committed 12 penalties for 123 yards.

The Bills' first-teamers should look sharper than their opponents right now. They do not. Reserves and players who won't make the team scored all of Buffalo's points in the second half.

Trent Edwards doesn't look any more comfortable than he did last year. Edwards is entering his third NFL season and second as Buffalo's starting quarterback, but he doesn't seem to be developing the kind of pocket presence you'd like to see from a franchise quarterback.

He threw an interception to end the first drive (the ball was deflected to Packers linebacker Brady Poppinga, but that's because Lee Evans was covered), was sacked twice and lost a fumble to end the second drive.

The first-team offensive line had a rough night. On five series, Edwards was sacked three times. Center Geoff Hangartner was whistled for a false start. Left tackle Langston Walker was penalized for holding.

Terrell Owens was missed. The Bills won't normally face blanket corners like Pro Bowlers Al Harris and Charles Woodson, but Owens certainly would have made things easier for Edwards. Owens' bum toe better not be bothering him when the regular season begins.

Despite a shaky camp, Ryan Fitzpatrick put together another strong exhibition performance. Fitzpatrick completed 12 of 16 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown with one interception. His past two games combined: 25-of-32 for 255 yards.

Xavier Omon is making sure he gets one of those 53 roster spots. The second-year back is projected to make the opening-day roster, especially with Marshawn Lynch suspended for the first three games. But Omon is running hard. He had five carries for only 6 yards, but he scored a touchdown and ripped off a 52-yard catch and run.

Two things that stood out to me on defense: 1) I know that linebacker Keith Ellison is listed at 6-foot and 229 pounds, but he really looked more like a defensive back out there. 2) The second-team defensive line outplayed the first-teamers -- relatively speaking. They were playing the Packers' backups, but ends Chris Ellis and Copeland Bryan and tackles John McCargo and Spencer Johnson played with conviction.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

The Buffalo Bills' most significant revelations Thursday dealt with two players they didn't want any more: Guard Derrick Dockery and tight end Robert Royal.

But they had a lot of assets they preferred to keep.

BuffaloBills.com writer Chris Brown wraps up all the moves they made Thursday.

The Bills re-signed third-string quarterback Gibran Hamdan, fullback Corey McIntyre and defensive back Dustin Fox.

Brown also reports the Bills extended low tenders to linebacker Keith Ellison and safety George Wilson.

The low tender is for one year at $1.01 million and gives the Bills the opportunity to match any offer sheet those players might sign. If the Bills decline to match, they would receive a draft pick commensurate with where that player was drafted -- in Ellison's case a sixth-round pick, and in Wilson's case nothing because he wasn't drafted.

The Bills also retained the rights to several exclusive-rights players: Quarterback Matt Baker, running back Fred Jackson, running back Bruce Hall, tight ends Derek Schouman and Jonathan Stupar, defensive end Copeland Bryan, linebacker Blake Costanzo and long snapper Ryan Neill.

One move not listed in Brown's report is tackle Kirk Chambers. My sources tell me terms have been reached on a multiyear deal. Chambers would have been an unrestricted free agent at 12:01 a.m. Friday.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Miami Dolphins (6-5) at St. Louis Rams (2-9), 1 p.m. ET

The Dolphins need to chalk up a victory to keep pace with the rest of the tightly bound AFC East.

They impressively rattled off four straight victories before losing at home last Sunday to the Patriots. That one defeat has the Dolphins tied for last place in the division with the Bills and two games out of first place with only five to play.

After going 1-15 last year, the Dolphins could lose all of their remaining games and still consider 2008 a significant improvement, but they've played so well that not making the playoffs will be a major disappointment in the organization.

A loss to the Rams would be a colossal blow not only to the Dolphins' playoff hopes, but also to their psyches.

The Rams are that bad. They rank among the worst five NFL teams in every major statistical category except for passing defense, where they're 21st.

Miami should be able to do whatever it wants offensively, although the team lost top receiver Greg Camarillo to a season-ending knee injury. Undrafted rookie Davone Bess and veteran Ernest Wilford should have greater opportunities to get involved.

Miami could feast on St. Louis' careless offense. Miami is tied for third with a plus-8 turnover ratio. St. Louis is tied for 28th with a minus-7 ratio, thanks to 14 interceptions and eight fumbles.

San Francisco 49ers (3-8) at Buffalo Bills (6-5), 1 p.m. ET

Teams that travel three hours eastward have failed to win a game this year, but the 49ers have been a dangerous opponent in recent weeks, and the Bills can't consider themselves back on track after a single victory -- regardless of how decisive -- in five games.

The Bills are coming off a 54-31 romp over the Kansas City Chiefs. The 54 part looks spectacular. The 31 part should make Bills fans wince.

Cornerback Jabari Greer will miss his second straight game with a knee injury. Strong safety and captain Donte Whitner is doubtful. Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Schobel isn't returning from his foot injury either. Linebacker Keith Ellison is questionable, further depleting a position that has needed safety Bryan Scott to convert.

All eyes will be on Bills quarterback Trent Edwards to see if he can build off last week's sharp performance. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more.

Fans hope that's a sign Edwards has his game back together after four straight games in which he looked utterly lost.

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3) at New England Patriots (7-4), 4:15 p.m. ET

How legit is Matt Cassel? We'll have a better idea when we see how he performs against the Steelers' unforgiving defense.

Cassel has thrown for at least 400 yards his past two games versus the Jets and Dolphins. Those aren't pushovers, but the Steelers rank No. 1 across the board in total defense, run defense and pass defense.

How Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels choose to attack will be fascinating to see, but don't expect fireworks. The Steelers allow only 2.9 yards per rushing attempt and 168.8 passing yards a game. Opponents are scoring under 15 points against them.

It's uncertain how the Patriots will use their backfield because there's no recent information to draw from. Cassel has been throwing like he's in the Arena Football League. The Patriots might be so inclined again, but who will take handoffs if they decide to run?

Sammy Morris has been playing, but has carried only 13 times the past two weeks. Rookie BenJarvus Green-Ellis has only nine carries, although he did score a garbage-time touchdown against the Dolphins.

Another back to consider, LaMont Jordan, has been practicing this week and could play for the first time since Week 5.

The Patriots match up favorably on defense. The Steelers have been wobbly. They rank 26th in total offense, 24th in run offense and 18th in pass offense. The Steelers also are 28th in sacks per pass play.

Denver Broncos (6-5) at New York Jets (8-3), 4:15 p.m. ET

Sure, it's a showdown between two division leaders. But the teams aren't remotely similar in how they're perceived heading into Week 13.

The Jets are being debated as the team to beat in the AFC and a Super Bowl contender. Brett Favre is generating MVP talk, but running back Thomas Jones might be having an even b
etter season.

They have won six of their past seven games and five in a row, including back-to-back victories over the Patriots and the previously undefeated Titans. The Jets haven't lost a game in regulation time since Sept. 22.

The Broncos, meanwhile, are coming off a demoralizing loss at home to the deplorable Raiders.

Yes, the Raiders also beat the Jets, but that game was played in Oakland and went into sudden death. The Broncos were trounced by 21 points at home. The Broncos also lost to the Chiefs and despite a winning record have been outscored on the season.

Sunday likely will come down to Denver quarterback Jay Cutler against the New York secondary. The Jets' impenetrable run defense ranks first in the NFL and stonewalled Titans duo Chris Johnson and LenDale White.

But the Jets can be had through the air when teams don't throw near cornerback Darrelle Revis. Cutler ranks third in yardage, but only 16th in passer rating because he has thrown a dozen interceptions.

 
 Rich Kane-US PRESSWIRE
 Will the Bills regret hastily placing LB Angelo Crowell, last year's leading tackler, on injured reserve?

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Almost forgotten amid the buzz surrounding the Buffalo Bills is whatever became of Angelo Crowell.

In a bizarre sequence of events, the veteran linebacker elected to have knee surgery three days before the season opener. The Bills, incensed at the timing and fuming over left tackle Jason Peters' holdout, placed Crowell on injured reserve.

Just like that, the Bills scratched last year's leading tackler for the season. They did so even though Crowell's recovery would have lasted five weeks at the longest. He could have played 11 games and the postseason.

The Bills' decision screamed of vindictiveness from emotions already inflamed by Peters' absence. Crowell was on the final year of his contract. Letting him rot will curtail his value on the free-agent market.

But who did the Bills really punish, the player or themselves?

"I'm advising Angelo to take the high road and not respond to some inaccurate comments coming out about him," Crowell's agent, Todd France, told me Friday night.

The matter essentially was brushed aside by other news. The next day, Peters agreed to report to the Bills, ending a prolonged saga that hovered over the team for weeks. Then the Bills beat the Seattle Seahawks on the same afternoon the AFC East broke wide open with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's buckled knee.

Crowell became an afterthought. The Bills moved his locker stall from a place of prominence to a corner location befitting practice squad players, and everybody went about their business in Orchard Park.

"No one is going to quit on me," Bills owner Ralph Wilson told Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan after the Seahawks victory.

Crowell won't need the locker. He went home the day the Bills ended his season. He hasn't been back since and doesn't intend to return.

Noted sports surgeon Dr. James Andrews this week performed the operation on Crowell's left knee, which had been bothering Crowell since last season. Crowell is rehabbing in Pensacola, Fla.

France said the procedure was more intensive than the one Crowell would have undergone to get him back on the field sooner. But when the Bills ended Crowell's season, he decided he might as well get the works.

While Andrews isn't the type of doctor who would cut on an athlete for no reason, the Bills claimed Crowell didn't need the surgery. The Bills felt blindsided by his decision even though he struggled through training camp and played only one preseason game.

Adding to the odd situation, though, was the fact Crowell practiced the day before he revealed his intention to have surgery and was not listed on the injury report.

"No player wants to be out any amount of time or have surgery in any season, much less his free-agency year," France said. "At this point, he's dealing with it as best he can. He's trying to stay positive and get 100 percent healthy for next season."

The Bills could have waited to see how Crowell's knee responded to the surgery. They could have kept him on the roster while he recovered, which is what they did last year with backup defensive end Ryan Denney, who broke his foot in preseason and missed the first seven games.

Instead, they banished him to the corner.

Tackles aren't an official NFL stat, which is why there's a discrepancy between the Bills' number for Crowell (140) and NFL.com's (126). Either way, he led the team last year. He also recorded two sacks, an interception and a forced fumble.

Keith Ellison is a decent replacement and won't hurt the Bills' defense by being on the field, but for a team that hasn't made the playoffs a franchise-record eight straight seasons, why throw away a top player so hastily?

The only way Crowell would not have made the Bills a better defense down the homestretch would have been unforeseen complications.

The Bills have an unblemished record. But that doesn't mean that haven't already made a major mistake.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

New York Jets at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m. ET

One month ago, nobody could have envisioned the Jets and Dolphins being the sexiest Week 1 game in the AFC East. They combined to win five games last year.

But the elements have changed, and fans haven't stopped drooling for weeks.

The Jets pulled off the biggest blockbuster trade in franchise history and obtained future Hall of Fame QB Brett Favre. The Dolphins wound up with a fine hand-me-down, signing Chad Pennington and giving him an opportunity for immediate retribution.

Sunday's storylines also include Dolphins football czar Bill Parcells lifting the curtain on his latest project -- against one of his former teams, no less. Dolphins rookie head coach Tony Sparano will make his debut against Eric Mangini, who is from another branch on the Parcells coaching tree. Mangini for the first time will be squaring off to some degree with his former mentor. Dolphins RB Ricky Williams is making his eleventy-sixth comeback and the Jets' rebuilt offensive line will be on display.

So there's some stuff to watch -- if you're into that kind of thing.

Most intriguing about the latest installment of this illustrious AFL rivalry, however, are the QB subplots. Aside from special teams, either Favre or Pennington will be on the field throughout.

The Dolphins might hold a significant advantage with Pennington. He spent eight years with the Jets and was with them through voluntary workouts, minicamp and the first two weeks of training camp.

When he lines up behind C Samson Satele and surveys the defense, it should feel like taking a ride through the old neighborhood. Pennington is the most efficient passer in NFL history and is known as one of the most cerebral. It will be interesting to see how he integrates the familiarity.

Favre, meanwhile, is learning a system and teammates Pennington knows better than he does. Favre showed proficiency with Brian Schottenheimer's playbook in the preseason, but does he know enough of the calls to make them work in Week 1?

For this game anyway, the edge should be Pennington's.

Prediction: Dolphins 24, Jets 21

Seattle Seahawks at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m. ET

If the Bills are realists, they know they're playing for a wild-card berth barring a New England Patriots collapse. The Bills need to win every game they're supposed to, and this is one of them. They are opening their season at home against a Seahawks squad thinned by injuries and suspensions.

The Bills, however, are suffering from an internal crisis. The Bills already were without Pro Bowl LT Jason Peters, whose contract dispute doesn't appear close to a conclusion, when they learned Thursday their top returning tackler from last year was done for the year.

LB Angelo Crowell stunned the Bills by electing to have knee surgery. The Bills, apparently upset that another player was thinking of himself first and the team second, responded by placing Crowell on injured reserve.

But Sunday will come down to how the players respond, not the front office. The Bills either can rally together or wallow in discontent. Backup QB J.P. Losman supposedly is done pouting about his role, but WR Lee Evans expected to have his new contract finalized by now.

The game likely will be decided by the Bills' front seven defenders, their six regulars and whomever replaces Crowell -- either Keith Ellison or John DiGiorgio. The Seahawks are smarting at receiver and will need to run the ball effectively to win. That means they'll need to neutralize DT Marcus Stroud and then deal with MLB Paul Posluszny and strong-side LB Kawika Mitchell.

On offense, all eyes will be on QB Trent Edwards. He was limited to only four series in two preseason games because of a deep thigh bruise. How quickly he can find his game rhythm will be crucial. Bulldozer RB Marshawn Lynch should help.

Prediction: Bills 21, Seahawks 17

Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots, 1 p.m. ET

Patriots coach Bill Belichick should rest QB Tom Brady and give the Chiefs a sporting chance -- kind of like taking the laser sight off the rifle before you shoot fish in a bucket. Or something like that.

The Patriots are among the best two or three teams in the NFL. The Chiefs smell worse than Manny Ramirez's batting helmet.

New England does have a weakness: its secondary. Problem is, Kansas City doesn't appear to have the tools to exploit that shortcoming or accomplish much else. Miami's starters totally manhandled Kansas City's starters in the third exhibition game, traditionally the preseason game that most resembles a regular-season contest.

In case you've forgotten, the Patriots feature WRs Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Jabar Gaffney, RBs Laurence Maroney and LaMont Jordan and the most formidable defensive front in the league. They have that Brady guy, too.

Prediction: Patriots 42, Chiefs 10

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