As we enter the middle of the 1st round of the NHL playoffs (which have been outstanding), the NFL schedule release is the first tangible sign that football is coming sooner rather than later; and for Buffalo sports fans still smarting from the Sabres’ dismal season that is welcome news.
I have to say I was left decidedly underwhelmed when the schedule came out 30 minutes early on the Bills’ website (courtesy of an NFL faux pas). No game on Thanksgiving after it was supposedly leaked by the Bills was a bit of a letdown, but my biggest disappointment came from not seeing a Monday night game on the slate. When Fox Sports Wisconsin reported the Bills would face the Packers on a Monday night at The Ralph I was more than excited to see the Bills on the league’s big stage for the first time since 2009; sadly, it wasn’t to be. Miami as a home opener will definitely be a blast, but I’d much rather see the Fish make the trek north in December. There are also no warm weather teams forced to deal with the cold and wind of Buffalo in November and December; the only two warm weather teams the Bills face beyond Week 10 (Oakland and Miami) are both on the road.
Everything is not negative, though. Four home games in September and October, plus a Packers team that draws well in December, will have Bills execs and salespeople pretty happy. You’ll also remember the Bills taking issue with the number of times they had to face a team that had an extended period of rest before playing Buffalo. That won’t be an issue this year as there are only four matchups this year involving a team having extended rest, and the Bills have the benefit of a long rest in two of those. Most obvious among the positives for this year’s schedule: no Toronto game. It has been much discussed so I won’t beat a dead horse, but it’s nice to see eight games at the Ralph again.
On to the week to week breakdown; keep in mind these are obviously done before the draft and before things like preseason injuries are accounted for.
Week 1: At Bears- The Bills open on the road against an NFC team for the first time since 1997, and visit the Bears for the first time since a 40-7 beat down in 2006.
I don’t see it being that bad of a day for the Bills, but I don’t see a win. If the Bills’ front seven can harass Jay Cutler consistently it could be a different story, but the combo of Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall against a still unproven Bills run defense and a secondary missing Jairus Byrd doesn’t bode well. Final Score: Bears 27, Bills 17.
Week 2: Dolphins- The Bills swept Miami last year, and will make it three in a row in the rivalry. My reasoning rests in the unsteady right arm of Ryan Tannehill. Simply put, I don’t think he’s very good. After being shut out in a must win game at The Ralph last year, the Bills front four could have another field day. Final Score: Bills 28, Dolphins 10.
Week 3: Chargers- This game is a tough one for me. The Chargers went on a tear at the end of last year to not only make the playoffs but beat Cincinnati on Wild Card Weekend. Despite that the Bolts still ranked near the bottom of the league in pass defense, and in a coin flip I think the Bills will pull this one out. A cross country flight plays a factor in this one, as the Chargers were inconsistent on the east coast last year. Final Score: Bills 24, Chargers 23.
Week 4: At Texans- This could be the Bills first encounter with old friend Khalil Mack. The Bills will likely face Case Keenum under center, or potentially a rookie QB making his fourth NFL start; good news when you have a front four like Buffalo’s. If the run game does its job, the Bills move to 3-1. Final Score: Bills 24, Texans 13.
Week 5: At Lions- Jim Schwartz makes his return to Detroit. While Matt Stafford and company had the propensity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory last year, I don’t see them slipping up against Buffalo. Schwartz might have some added insight on his old team, but not enough. Final Score: Lions 27, Bills 17.
Week 6: Patriots- I know the Bills have beaten the Pats once since I was 15. I also realize that that one win was beyond unlikely given the Bills personnel and Tom Brady inexplicably throwing four picks. I’m still taking the Bills. They should’ve won on opening weekend last year, and have come close more than a handful of times in Foxboro. This is the one the Bills finally get from New England without feeling like they stole it. Final Score: Bills 28, Pats 21.
Week 7: Vikings- This is one of the games I label as a “must win” if the Bills want to be taken seriously as a playoff contender. The Vikes have two playmakers on offense in Adrian Peterson and Cordarrelle Patterson, and Patterson was more of a threat on special teams last year. They still don’t have a quarterback and the defense is not what it was two or three years ago. The Bills get it done, but make it way more difficult than it should be. Final Score: Bills 21, Vikings 17.
Week 8: At Jets- The Bills haven’t beaten the Jets in New Jersey since 2009, and have looked particularly awful in their four losses there since. Factor in the arrival of Chris Johnson to the Jets’ backfield, and how awful EJ looked there last year, and it doesn’t bode well this time around either. Final Score: Jets 30, Bills 16.
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Chiefs- The Kansas City Chiefs were the beneficiaries of Jamaal Charles’ monster season in 2013.
I’m also assuming Andy Reid and friends had a multitude of horse shoes lodged in various places for the first nine weeks of 2013; how else would you explain Jeff Tuel hitting Chiefs CB Sean Smith in the numbers for a 100 yard touchdown? The team is essentially the same outfit the Bills bludgeoned a combined76-24 in 2011 and 2012, with the exception of Alex Smith. The Bills get revenge from last year. Final Score: Bills 27, Chiefs 17.
Week 11: At Dolphins- Barring any trades or major injuries this should be similar to Week 2 in Buffalo, and by that I mean the Dolphins will likely still be starting Ryan Tannehill. It will be interesting to see how the Bills handle the warm temperaturs of Miami in November; the average high in Buffalo on November 13 is 48 degrees, while in Miami it is 82. I’m taking the Bills anyway, in a closer game. Final Score: Bills 17, Dolphins 14.
DISCLAIMER: I’m really not a big fan or the Dolphins…if the Bills were an expansion team I’d still take them in both Miami games.
Week 12: Jets- It’s difficult to pick this game given that the Jets still haven’t named Michael Vick or Geno Smith their starter. Based on Vick’s injury history I’m going to say Smith will get the nod for this contest. If that’s the case, it’s good news for the Bills. Smith struggled mightily here last year; while I don’t see him going 8-23 with three picks again, an (hopefully) improved Bills run defense and a front seven that’s still very strong means I don’t see him throwing for 250 either. Final Score: Bills 23, Jets 14.
Week 13: Browns- The annual Bills-Browns game could be very interesting this year. Cleveland has a strong defense, and Brian Hoyer gave them NFL caliber quarterback play last year before being lost for the season. The potential for a rookie quarterback starting for Cleveland makes thise tough. Based on my predictions the Bills would enter this game at (a very generous) 8-3, primed for a letdown. Final Score: Browns 24, Bills 21.
Week 14: At Broncos- The Broncos still have Peyton Manning, last I looked, and Wes Welker is good for about 13 catches and 105 yards with a few touchdowns every time he plays the Bills. Final Score: Broncos 38, Bills 20
Week 15: Packers- Niagara Falls’ own James Starks returns to Western New York, sadly he also brings Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, and Randall Cobb. The Bills can find solace in the fact that Green Bay’s offensive line isn’t stellar, and if the weather does its part to help neutralize Rodgers, they could have a shot. Final Score: Packers 27, Bills 21.
Week 16: At Raiders- The Bills haven’t played in Oakland since 2005. Assuming the Raiders aren’t starting a rookie under center, the Bills will face either Matt McGloin or Matt Schaub, while Trent Edwards holds a clipboard.
Run defense could carry more weight than usual if the duo of Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden are healthy and can channel a little magic from 2010. Final Score: Bills 23, Raiders 17.
Week 17: At Patroits- With the division likely sewn up the Pats could potentially give the Bills a late Christmas gift and rest some starters. Once you remember Bill Belichick still coaches New England that thought quickly goes away, especially if the Bills get a win in Orchard Park. Final Score: Pats 30, Bills 24.
It is highly unlikely that I’m correct on even half of these, but if I manage to go 16 for 16 it would put the Bills in an interesting spot. The team would (hypothetically) finish at 9-7, right in the thick of the AFC playoff picture (remember, San Diego got in at 9-7). It would also be the team’s first winning season since 2004. The Bills would also post a 4-2 mark in the AFC East, which would be the first time the Bills finish with a winning record in the division since 2007. They would also be 8-4 in the AFC, which would help the cause in terms of playoff tiebreakers.
While the likelihood of this season playing out in this fashion is very slim, I’m looking forward to the afternoon of September 7th, and I can’t wait to star the tailgate at the Ralph the next weekend. Go Bills.