The Boston Patriots won a playoff game with Buffalo last year and as a reward got the Eastern title and the opportunity to be smashed by San Diego in the championship game. Such an embarrassment as the one in San Diego probably will be avoided by Boston this season, since the Patriots do not seem to have the weapons to repeat as Eastern champs.
A spinal disk operation that kept Halfback Ron Burton out of all 14 league games in 1963—although he did perform in the playoff and championship games—has left Burton a step slower and the Boston offense that much poorer. Without Burton, too much of a burden falls on Fullback Larry Garron and on Boston's defensive unit.
Quarterback Babe Parilli has been on the injured list almost as often as not, and sub Tom Yewcic receives a frightful booing from Boston fans. The receivers lack speed, although one of them, Gino Cappelletti (right), did much to put Boston into the championship game by kicking 22 field goals and leading the league in scoring.
Defense is what carries the Patriots. Nick Buoniconti is an excellent linebacker, and Larry Eisenhauer is a top defensive end. Boston Coach Mike Holovak thinks Don Webb, recovered from a knee operation, can be the best corner back in the league. But Holovak must find a young tackle to rest veterans Bob Dee and Jesse Richardson.
Offensive weaknesses may wear out a good Boston defense.
Buffalo Bills Owner Ralph Wilson has never kept a rubber band around his wallet when it comes to signing talent. As a result Buffalo has an offensive line that is the envy of the AFL. Stew Barber and Dick Hudson are the tackles, Billy Shaw and Dave Behrman are the guards, and Al Bemiller is the center, and there are some good rookies trying to break in. Injuries ripped the Bills last season, but with that offensive line in top physical condition to block for the remarkable fullback, Cookie Gilchrist, the Bills are very hard to stop.
Gilchrist also was slowed by various ailments last season. This year he is in such peak form that he has been asking to play on both offense and defense, as he did in Canada before moving on to the AFL. Wray Carlton, returned from an injury that kept him out last season, will be the other running back, although the swift Leroy Jackson could find steady employment at last as a sweep man. Ernie Warlick at tight end, Bill Miller at split end, and the dangerous deep threat, Elbert Dubenion, at flanker, give the Bills capable receiving. Rookie John Simmons, on the verge of being cut, suddenly blossomed during exhibition games.
Jack Kemp, who is sometimes very good and sometimes the opposite, will be the quarterback again. But Daryle Lamonica, a good deep thrower now in his second season, has the ability to step in when Kemp falters.