Now that the 53-man rosters are set (and subject to change throughout the year) now Bills fans can start to focus on the schedule for the 2014 season. As highlighted on a previous article on Hashtag Sports on April 24th, the Bills will encounter 3 Levels of Chaos. Taking a closer look at the game-by-game breakdown, on paper, how to the Bills measure up to their opponents?
Week 1 – September 7th @ Chicago Bears 1pm
An unfamiliar foe for the Buffalo Bills, the last victory the Bills had against the Bears was in 2002. For those of you who are wondering, Drew Bledsoe was the quarterback in that 33-27 victory. The Bills have never defeated the Bears on the road, and will look to do so for the first time in team history. Planning against Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery is a daunting task, but one that Jim Schwartz was able to do for a pair of victories last season. Hopefully, that trend will continue.
Week 2 – September 14th vs. Miami Dolphins 1pm
Having a divisional opponent early in the year could be good, and it could be bad. If you all recall when the Bills defeated the Patriots at home 31-0 in 2003 (and finished the year losing to the Patriots 31-0) they took advantages during that game and the knowledge that Lawyer Malloy brought to the Buffalo defense. The more upsetting fact is that the Dolphins are coming to One Bills Drive while the weather is still favorable for them. Usually, Miami would travel to Buffalo in December, but when the Bills haven’t made the playoffs in 14 years, don’t expect the league to help you during the scheduling. The Bills went 2-0 against the playoff bound Dolphins last year with Thad Lewis at the helm.
Week 3 – September 21st vs. San Diego Chargers 1pm
Usually, it bodes well when a west coast team has to come to the Eastern Time zone to play a 1pm game, but with some uncertainties with the Bills, no one really knows how the game will play out. If the Bills can get out to an early lead on the Chargers, they will have a legitimate shot to beat the Chargers. Coupling the fact that the Chargers will coming off a week that they have to play the Seahawks, maybe they will be a little more run down when they face the Bills. I am looking forward to seeing Branden Oliver make his return to Buffalo. The UB product made the 53-man roster for the Chargers over this past weekend.
Week 4 – September 28th @ Houston Texans 1pm
With the addition of Ryan Mallet to the Texans, they have been officially dubbed the Junior Varsity version of the New England Patriots. Playing against the Texans might actually help the Bills when they play the actual Patriots, and if Mallet is still not the starter, the Bills will have to face a familiar face in Ryan Fitzpatrick: a player that they are paying 7 million in dead money this season. Depending on how this game plays out, Bills fans will ultimately have the debate on whether cutting Fitz was the right move. Personally, I am not looking forward to seeing Watt and Clowney, and I doubt Manuel is either.
Week 5 – October 5th @ Detroit Lions 1pm
Jim Schwartz makes his return to the team he led for 5 seasons, and game planning against his quarterback and wide receiver who he no doubt marveled at during his time there. The Bills go from facing Watt to Suh, which should give them some advantage the rest of the season. Schwartz’s intel on the Lions will be crucial to obtaining a victory against the high octane offense.
Week 6 – October 12th vs. New England Patriots 1pm
If there was a sure fire way to amp up Bills fans from Monday thru Saturday, it is the prospect to finally ‘stick it’ to the Patriots and their golden boy Tom Brady. Brady has been the proverbial thorn in the side of the Bills since he became the starter in New England. Just as Jim Schwartz has something to prove against the Lions, Brandon Spikes will be eager to show the Patriots that he is a 3-down linebacker and sorry that they didn’t want to move forward with him.
Week 7 – October 19th vs. Minnesota Vikings 1pm
Just as Schwartz’s knowledge of the NFC North is essential to the Bills success defensively, this game against Adrian Peterson will truly test if the run defense for the Bills has improved. Now, if the Bills surrender 100 yards to All Day, am I going to register it as a defeat? No. But, after last seasons abysmal run defense, we as fans want to see something more. As far as the quarterback position, if Matt Cassell is the starter come week 7, this will mark the 3rd former or current Patriots quarterback that the Bills will face in 7 weeks. We just can’t get rid of those guys.
Week 8 – October 26th @ New York Jets 1pm
The Bills will be taking on their 3rd divisional opponent during the first half of the season, and a quarterback that they got the best of in their second meeting last season. This game will mark another time that the offensive line will be tested, as Rex Ryan will no doubt be dialing up some intriguing blitz schemes for EJ Manuel and Nathaniel Hackett. The Bills will have to be on their game on the road against the Jets for their season to be moving in the right direction.
Week 9 – November 2nd Bye Week
Now, normally, when examining the schedule for any NFL team, the bye week is a time to reflect on the season so far, and make the necessary adjustments for the rest of the year. However, not every NFL team have suffered 14 years of playoff-less football, and if the Bills come into their bye week with a losing record either in the division or overall, there could be some drastic changes happening at One Bills Drive. Look for the offensive production, defensive run stopping, and the progression of EJ Manuel and Nathaniel Hackett. If any of those areas are struggling, and the Bills are anywhere from 1-7 to 3-5, I doubt that Hackett will finish the season. We saw the Ravens a couple of years ago dump their offensive coordinator and win the Super Bowl.
Week 10 – November 9th vs. Kansas City Chiefs 1pm
Revenge is a dish best served cold, as the Bills still have a bitter taste from their loss to the Chiefs last season, a game that was a very winnable one for Buffalo. Alex Smith just signed a 4-year 68 million dollar extension, and with Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis in the backfield, the Bills run defense will be tested again. Mike Pettine’s defensive scheme kept the Bills in the game last season, and it will be up to the Bills offense to make a dent in the Kansas City defense for the Bills to secure a victory.
Week 11 – November 13th @ Miami Dolphins 8:25pm
Again, we see the schedule not favor the Buffalo Bills, as earlier mentioned, the Dolphins visit the Bills when the weather is relatively good, and the Bills have to travel and play a Thursday night game, on a short week, against a division opponent. Thanks Roger Goodell. Depending on the result of the first matchup, and the epic game that the Bills and Dolphins played last season (insert sarcasm here) this game will more than likely be turned off at halftime due to boredom. Coming off a short week, the Bills might be slow to start and if they are, it could mean an early night for Bills fans.
Week 12 – November 23rd vs. New York Jets 1pm
Matching up again against the Jets, much like the Dolphins, the second meeting will strongly be influenced by the result of the first meeting. The Bills will have a few extra days to prepare for the Jets, and just when you think that it will be an advantage, you then realize that the Jets will be coming off a bye week. Scheduling anyone? The Bills will be playing at home in late November, so depending on how the Bills are doing at that point in the season, will depend on if the game is blacked out on local television.
Week 13 – November 30th vs. Cleveland Browns 1pm
Prior to the November 30th meeting, this will be the first time that people have mentioned the Browns and the Bills since the trade at the 2014 NFL Draft on May 8th. The Browns own the Bills 2015 first round pick, and hopefully that is all that they have control of come November 30th at 1pm. This will also mark the return of Mike Pettine to Buffalo as well as Donte Whitner. While some Bills fans might be indifferent about Pettine’s return, it will give them no greater pleasure than seeing Whiter torched for 300 plus yards by EJ Manuel. Another distinct possibility will be the arrival of Johnny Manziel, and if the Bills aren’t in the hunt for a playoff spot, I hope they will be hunting Johnny Football.
Week 14 – December 7th @ Denver Broncos 1pm
Many historians will remember December 7th as Pearl Harbor, and when the Bills travel to Denver to face the Peyton Manning led Broncos, it doesn’t look good for Buffalo. This will mark the start of “The Gauntlet” for the Bills, as they will have to play some of the best teams that the NFL has to offer, starting with the Broncos. Be gentle Peyton.
Week 15 – December 14th vs. Green Bay Packers 1pm
As mentioned earlier, almost to a fault, the Bills used to schedule warm weather teams to come to Buffalo during the months of November and December, and with the recent futility of the Bills, they have 3 away games in the month of December. The sole, and final, home game for the Bills will be against the Green Bay Packers, who might show up to One Bills Drive in shorts and t-shirts, when you compare the climates of the two. The Bills face a hometown boy in James Starks and an offense that is just as lethal as the Broncos. Let’s just hope that Bills fans don’t discount double check out of the stadium at halftime.
Week 16 – December 21st @ Oakland Raiders 1pm
In Week 2, the Bills have a west coast opponent coming to Buffalo, so I guess its only ‘fair’ that the Bills have to travel out to the west coast. Oakland has had some question marks coming into the 2014 season, but they were able to pick up some notable free agents for their defense as draft Khalil Mack, another Buffalo product. If the book on Mack is accurate, EJ better know where he is at all times, or he will fall victim to the Black Hole out in Oakland.
Week 17 – December 28th @ New England Patriots 1pm
If, and I stress if, the Buffalo Bills happen to survive December and are in the playoff hunt, playing the New England Patriots would be the last thing that they would want. Much like scheduling a powerhouse team for your homecoming game, having to play the Patriots the last game of the season, is a lot like pouring salt in the wounds of Bills fans, if they are not in playoff contention. Its going to be cold, its going to be tough, and its going to be a long offseason if the Bills end their season with a loss to the Patriots.
While there might seem like there is a lot of negativity here in examining the Bills schedule, it comes from a place of optimism. The Buffalo Bills, as a whole, are younder and more inexperienced than the last 4 expansion teams (Texans, Browns, Jags and Panthers) and have a greater upside. If they are able to avenge some losses (Browns, Chiefs), go .500 against ‘The Gauntlet”, tap Jim Schwartz for NFC North knowledge, and split the division, they are looking at going at least and 8-8 or 9-7 season. While that might not be the goal of Bills fans, it sure gives them something to build on going into the 2015 season. As for the 2014 season, this is what jumps out at me on paper, but as Chris Berman says, ‘That’s why they play the games.”