By Kevin Oklobzija Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
ORCHARD PARK - As EJ Manuel prepares for his NFL debut on Sunday, he's doing his best to ignore the gravity of the situation.
Namely, perhaps needing to outduel future Hall of Famer Tom Brady while dealing with the tricks and defensive schemes New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick will throw at him.
"I think it's a special game because it's the first," said Manuel, the Buffalo Bills' rookie quarterback. "I don't really look at it as far as going against Tom Brady. I'm playing against his defense, not him."
That's still quite the daunting assignment for an inaugural NFL start. But the Bills may at least have one tiny thing working in their favor against the perennial AFC East powerhouse Patriots:
The Bills are one big collection of unfamiliarity.
Whereas Belichick knew very well the tendencies of recent Bills head coaches - four years of Dick Jauron followed by three years of Chan Gailey - he'll be making educated guesses when it comes to what will be done by new coach Doug Marrone and his coordinators and special teams coach.
Sure, Belichick saw for the previous four years what defensive coordinator Mike Pettine likes to do. Pettine was in charge of the New York Jets' defense. And Bills special teams coordinator Danny Crossman was with the Detroit Lions from 2010 to 2012 and had the same position with the Carolina Panthers from 2005 to 2009.
But Belichick can only guess what lies ahead.
"There's less information to go on in an NFL situation," Belichick said. "We've certainly seen things coach Marrone did at Syracuse (University the past four years) or Mike did with the Jets or Danny did at Detroit on special teams.
"But with new players and new personnel, whatever changes they've decided to make, we won't see that until Sunday. So we'll do our best to prepare for what we have done and what we think they might do."
That makes the week of preparation slightly more complex. The Pats may have been running a certain play on offense in practice because that's how Pettine's defense may line up on third-down-and-eight.
"We've kind of scoured the data base of plays we've run against them (Pettine's Jets defenses) over the years," Brady said. "Fortunately, I played in a lot of those games so I can remember a lot of those plays."
Of course, the past may be just that: passed by.
"Players come and go, coaches come and go," Brady said. "The ability to adapt is a big part of the NFL. We have to be prepared to make adjustments on the opening series."
That's a given. The Bills know it; the Patriots know it.
"Teams hold things back and they bring out new plays or new wrinkles during the game, or new matchups or whatever it happens to be.
"But opening day is opening day; there's a lot of newness all the way around with every team."