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Opt-outs and the departure of Tom Brady have gutted the New England Patriots. Two other teams are rebuilding. It means the Buffalo Bills are on the ascension at the right time and can steal their first AFC East title since 1995, but there can be no horsing around … unless your name is Ed Oliver.

Oliver is a potential difference-maker for the Bills in his second NFL season, a guy who can clog the middle and pressure quarterbacks for a defense already among the NFL’s best. And he can ride horses effortlessly.

The Buffalo Bills are on the rise again

When the Buffalo Bills selected defensive tackle Ed Oliver with the ninth overall pick of the 2019 NFL draft, general manager Brandon Beane did so with the hope that it would be the last time in a while that the team would be on the clock so early in the evening.

It may very well work out that way. Despite losing three of their last four regular-season games, the Bills finished 10-6 and reached the playoffs for the second time in three years after 17 consecutive misses.

Though quarterback Josh Allen does not qualify as elite just yet, his passing numbers in his second season improved across the board while he remained fearless running the ball when necessary. Adding wide receiver Stefon Diggs in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings gives Allen the extra target he needs to start accumulating 300-yard days.

The Bills’ strength, however, will once again be their defense. Buffalo was second in the league in scoring defense and third in yards allowed. With most of the unit back and stability on the coaching staff, the presumption is that opponents will consider scoring 17 points against the Bills to be a good day at the office.

It didn’t matter that Ed Oliver lost his starting job

Fresh off a solid three-year career at the University of Houston, defensive tackle Ed Oliver moved directly into the starting lineup as a Buffalo Bills rookie in 2019. Although he lost the starting job to Jordan Phillips at midseason, that was more of a technicality than anything else. He played only a handful fewer snaps per game and still put up good numbers.

With Phillips now having moved on to the Arizona Cardinals, Oliver will be the man holding down the middle of the line. Oliver should roar past his rookie totals of 43 tackles and five sacks compiled as he filled the void left by the retirement of Kyle Williams.

Naturally, that assumes that Oliver avoids any serious injuries. In that respect, it might help if he stayed away from horses.

Ed Oliver has always been around horses

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen was driving around Western New York on Saturday when he shot some video of a man riding a horse. It was none other than teammate Ed Oliver, all 6-foot-2 and 287 pounds of him.

The Houston native told reporters last year at the NFL Scouting Combine that he asked his father for a horse as a child and actually got one named Caledonia that he still owns. His second horse was named Oreo, and he prepared Oliver well for life in the NFL trenches.

“I got into riding Oreo, and I swear that horse tried to kill me a couple times. Fighting with that horse is really the reason I became fearless and why I’m able to go up (against) 6-5 and 300-pound guys. It’s a walk in the park. When you fight with a 1,000-pound animal, I ain’t worried about no 300 pounds.”

Let that be a warning to centers and guards across the league.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.