By Bob Socci, 98.5 The Sports Hub

BOSTON (CBS) — They have gone against one another since staging the first-ever game in the AFL, a preseason encounter in July 1960. Decades after the NFL merger, they remain division foes in the AFC East.

But aside from the typically harsh winters that hit Western New York and Southern New England, lately they’ve had little else in common. The Patriots have succeeded as a model of stability, and the Bills have struggled as the exact opposite.

Buffalo last won the AFC East in 1995, finishing 10-6 under Marv Levy. In the ensuing 18 seasons, the Bills have employed seven other head coaches, the newest of whom is Doug Marrone, who makes his debut Sunday behind rookie EJ Manuel — Buffalo’s eighth different opening-day starting quarterback since Jim Kelly last played in 1996.

At 6-10 in 2012, the Bills endured their eighth consecutive losing campaign and were excluded from the postseason for the 13th straight year, marking the league’s longest current playoff drought. They were also swept by the Patriots in their season series for the 10th time in 12 years.

Meanwhile, New England went 6-0 within the division and captured its 10th AFC title since 2001. In defense of that crown, Belichick enters his 14th season as head coach with Tom Brady set to make his 12th straight opening-day start. In fact, since Buffalo’s most recent division championship, only two Patriots quarterbacks have handled the season’s first snap (Brady and Drew Bledsoe) for just three head coaches (Belichick, Bill Parcells and Pete Carroll).

First And Foremost

The first player Belichick mentioned at Monday’s press conference when discussing Buffalo’s personnel was the Bills’ exceptional returner Leodis McKelvin.

“They have a lot of explosive players. Obviously, McKelvin in their kicking game is a big guy for us,” said Belichick, who then noted the likes of offensive threats C.J. Spiller and Stevie Johnson.

McKelvin has 13 career returns (punt and kickoff) covering 40-plus yards, including four for touchdowns. As a rookie in 2008, McKelvin had an 85-yard runback at Gillette Stadium. The Bills also feature newcomer Marquise Goodwin, their third-round pick from Texas, who ripped off a 107-yard kick return in the preseason at Indianapolis.

Meanwhile, this preseason, the Patriots allowed punt returns of 62 and 30 yards and kick returns of 33, 38, 40 and 63 yards. Granted, much of the personnel employed in August is no longer on New England’s active roster. Still, the last thing the Pats want to accord any quarterback — especially one making his pro debut — is the benefit of good starting field position. That’s why, mere coincidence or not, it makes perfect sense that McKelvin was foremost in Belichick’s comments.

Three And Out

1. The famous Buffalo chicken wing was born in 1964 at the Anchor Bar. But if you’re heading to Western New York this or any other weekend, rather than indulging in what’s become a staple of every football Sunday at the birthplace of the Buffalo wing, you’ll be best served at Duff’s or, a personal favorite (see next item), downtown’s Gabriel’s Gate.

2. To most, admittedly, Buffalo isn’t likely to inspire much sentimentality. Yet for me, this blue-collar city where Zubaz pants are still in use, if not in style — as if they ever were — will always occupy a very special place. I happened to be here in late April when I was officially named the heir to one of sports broadcasting’s greatest legacies, thanks to 98.5 The Sports Hub and the Patriots. I celebrated that night with a dozen wings at the aforementioned Gabriel’s Gate.  It’s almost apropos then to enjoy the honor and privilege of following Gil Santos for my first regular-season broadcast with partner Scott Zolak in Orchard Park. Thinking more practically than philosophically, I’m just grateful that our first call from Buffalo takes place in September rather than, say, December.

3. On the subject of Zo, my own words can’t adequately express how great he and the rest of our crew have been through our first month together. Nor can I tell you how much fun I’m having ‘working’ with everyone involved in our broadcasts. Hopefully, starting Sunday and extending into February, I won’t have to; and you’ll be able to hear for yourself.

Bob Socci is in his first season as the radio play-by-play voice of the New England Patriots. You can follow him on Twitter @BobSocci.

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