A few weeks ago, we took a look at the Buffalo Bills' 2014 schedule. This was done knowing who the Bills would play, and not when they would play them. Even then, the slate looked like tough sledding. Several playoff teams loomed and the Bills did not get the benefit of a typical last place schedule.
Now that all the blanks have been filled in, the Bills' schedule looks even more brutal than it did at first blush. One positive is that the Toronto "home" game has been discontinued, at least temporarily, giving the Bills the customary eight games at the Ralph. The season starts off with a trip to Soldier Field, to face a Bears team that's added Jared Allen and will have a healthy Jay Culter at their disposal. A secondary that has lost Pro Bowler Jairus Byrd will be immediately tested against the vertical threats of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey.
Home games follow against Miami and San Diego, neither of which promise to be easy. A 2 game road trip to Houston and Detroit beckons after the Chargers game, so the schedule makers have done the Bills no favors to open the season. Next up are the Patriots, who have owned the Bills for what seems like an eternity, at the Ralph, followed by the Vikings. After the Minnesota game, a trip to the Meadowlands to face the always frisky Jets is next on the docket. It is not inconceivable for the Bills to be 2-6 or even 1-7 going into their bye week following the Jets trip.
As it stands now, the most winnable games of the first 8 are the Vikings and Dolphins home games, and the Jets and Lions roadies. The Bills would do well to split these 4. San Diego and New England at home, plus Houston and Chicago on the road will be the most difficult. Even the most optimistic Bills fan would be thrilled to steal one of those match-ups. 4-4 heading into the bye would be the best case scenario.
It gets no less challenging coming out of the bye. The Chiefs, a team that came within within a whisker of the conference semifinals, come to town, after which comes a trip to Miami. Buffalo finishes November with a home stand against the Jets and Browns. If the Bills are going to make a push, this is the month to do so. While Kansas City will be a tough out, the Bills traditionally play the Jets and Dolphins tough, and the Browns game figures to be a spirited chess match between Doug Marrone and last year's Bills' DC, newly minted Browns head coach Mike Pettine. A 3-1 month is not out of the question, but is far from a certainty.
Any Bills backer with playoff dreams will blanch at the December slate of games. There's only one home game for the Bills to utilize their cold weather advantage, and it comes against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, no strangers to frigid conditions. Before the Green Bay game, the Bills must trek to Denver, where Peyton Manning has been nearly unbeatable. They finish the season with a road game in Oakland, who figures to be much improved, and a trip to Foxboro for the Patriots rubber match.
It is tough to look at this schedule and see an end to the playoff drought for long suffering Bills fans. But you can never tell how things will break. Perhaps Oakland's veteran acquisitions break down by season's end. Maybe New England's playoff seeding is already wrapped up and they will have little to play for. There's always a chance Houston and Detroit take a few games to gain their stride under new coaching regimes. As per the usual, optimism springs eternal in Buffalo.
In Case You Missed It:
Stay tuned for Part 3, coming after the draft, wherein we will break down the schedule game by game.