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BILLS HOME IN ON A FAST START
A NEW SEASON: FOUR OF FIRST SIX GAMES ARE IN THE RALPH; FALCONS, CHIEFS AND TEXANS AMONG THE ATTRACTIONS

The NFL schedule might be favorably aligned to help the Buffalo Bills get off to a faster start in 2005.

The Bills open the season at home -- against the Houston Texans -- and play four of their first six games in the friendly confines of Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The Bills hope to avoid a repeat of last season's opening month, when they started 0-4 and had to storm down the stretch in order to finish with a winning record of 9-7.

With first-year starter J.P. Losman taking over the quarterback job, opening at home obviously is better than opening on the road. And the opening stretch for Losman appears less formidable than it might have been.

Four of the first six games are against teams that did not have a winning record last year, and the Bills do not face the two-time defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots until Week Eight.

Of course, it's hard to predict how formidable any opponent will be six months in advance. When last year's schedule was released, a season-finale at home against Pittsburgh, a team that went 6-10 the previous year, didn't look too daunting. The Steelers showed up 14-1.

The Texans went 7-9 last season. However, they won at Buffalo two years ago, 12-10. They also boast a complex and aggressive blitzing defense that figures to challenge Losman.

The most unexpected date on the schedule is a Saturday night, nationally televised home game against the Denver Broncos on Dec. 17.

It's the latest calendar date ever for a Bills prime-time home game. The previous latest was Nov. 1, 1993. ESPN will broadcast the game. It's also the first prime-time game in Ralph Wilson Stadium in five years, since the season-opener against Tennessee in 2000.

The Bills have played only two prime-time home games in the previous 10 years. (The other was in 1999.) In the mid-1990s, the Bills preferred not to host prime-time home games because they presented a harder commute for regional fans. However, that has not been the team's position for numerous years.

"We were hoping for a prime-time home game this year," said Scott Berchtold, Bills vice president for communications. "We would have been happy to have a Monday night game. We think the atmosphere of a night game in our stadium is exciting for the fans. It's a great time to showcase your team."

It's also a very slight competitive edge. If you're going to play in prime time, it's less taxing for the players and coaches to stay at home.

"That's true, but the big thing is for our fans," Berchtold said. "We think they will enjoy it."

Why would the NFL schedule a December night game in Buffalo? Snow games have made for good theater in recent years. The famous Oakland-at-New England playoff game in a snowstorm in January 2002 got good ratings and has been a popular feature of NFL Films content.

The only other prime-time game for the Bills is at the Patriots on an ESPN Sunday night broadcast on Oct. 30. The Bills have not appeared on ABC's Monday Night Football since 2000.

After the opener against the Texans, the Bills visit Tampa Bay, which went 5-11 last year. Then they return home for the first visit to Buffalo by Atlanta's Michael Vick. The star quarterback led the Falcons (11-5) to the NFC title game last year.

The NFL adopted a rotating schedule plan in 2002 that ensures each team will play nondivision opponents within its conference at least once every three years. Every AFC team plays every NFC team once every four years, and they meet at home once every eight years. This year the Bills and their AFC East partners face each team in the AFC West and NFC South.

Just two of the 16 games are based on the previous year's standings. Those two are Houston and at Cincinnati. Like the Bills, the Texans and Bengals finished third in their AFC divisions.

Other tidbits:

This marks the sixth straight year the Bills open at home.

The Week Two game in Tampa will be the eighth meeting between the teams, and all eight have been in Tampa. The Bucs will visit Buffalo in 2009.

Seven of the Bills' 16 games are against teams that made the playoffs last season. Besides New England (14-2), the New York Jets (10-6) and Atlanta (11-5), the other foes that made the postseason were San Diego (12-4) and Denver (10-6).

Eight of the last nine games are against teams that finished 7-9 or better last year.

The Bills will make two trips to the West Coast -- to Oakland and San Diego. Last year they had three West Coast trips.

It's purely coincidence that this will be the fourth straight year the Bills meet the Bengals.

It will be Kansas City's first visit to Buffalo since 1996 and Denver's first visit since 1997.

Add the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the mix of serious suitors for Buffalo Bills running back Travis Henry.

The Bucs always have been considered a potential landing spot for Henry because they are without a starting running back.

However, Bucs General Manager Bruce Allen told a Tampa radio station today that he called the Bills on Wednesday to inform Buffalo that he wants to pursue trade discussions on Henry.

Meanwhile, Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green reiterated in an interview with the Arizona Republic on Wednesday that he considers a trade for Henry to still be a possibility for his team and that he would not rule out the option of flip-flopping second-round picks with the Bills. Arizona has the 44th overall pick. Buffalo has No. 55 in the second round.

The likeliest time for any deal of Henry would be close to draft day April 23 or during the draft.

Tampa, Arizona and Miami are the three teams with no designated back penciled in as a starter on their depth chart.

The full NFL schedule was released Wednesday, containing a rare full slate of Saturday afternoon games on Christmas Eve, the first full Saturday since 1995. The season will end with a full schedule on New Year's Day, a Sunday. On Oct. 2, San Francisco and Arizona will play the first regular-season game outside the United States, meeting in a night game in Mexico City.

The New York Giants and the state of New Jersey have reached an agreement on a deal that will allow the team to build a new $750 million stadium, the governor's office said. A news conference was scheduled for today at the Meadowlands Sports Complex to announce the details.

A source close to the negotiations told the AP that the deal was for 40 years, but included several options that could extend it to 98 years.

2005 BILLS SCHEDULE

DateDayOpponent Kickoff
Regular season
Sept. 11Sun. Houston 1:00
Sept. 18Sun. @Tampa Bay 1:00
Sept. 25Sun. Atlanta 1:00
Oct. 2Sun. @New Orleans 1:00
Oct. 9Sun. Miami 1:00
Oct. 16Sun. N.Y. Jets 4:15
Oct. 23Sun. @Oakland 4:15
Oct. 30Sun. @New England 8:30
Nov. 6Sun. BYE
Nov. 13Sun. Kansas City 1:00
Nov. 20Sun. @San Diego 4:15
Nov. 27Sun. Carolina 1:00
Dec. 4Sun. @Miami 1:00
Dec. 11Sun. New England 1:00
Dec. 17Sat. Denver 8:30
Dec. 24Sat. @Cincinnati 1:00
Jan. 1Sun. @N.Y. Jets 1:00

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com.

News wire services contributed to this report.