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Finally, AFC East foes are up

With the game Sunday against the rival Miami Dolphins, this is the latest in the year the Buffalo Bills have ever opened their division schedule.

Since the NFL realigned in 2002, only twice has a team played its first division game in Week 8 or later. In 2005 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played their first in Week 9 and New England played its first in Week 8 the same season.

"I would have preferred to at least played one or two by now, but it is what it is," said linebacker Kawika Mitchell. "We've got three in a row and it should be fun to see how that plays out. Everybody's playing pretty well right now. You can't count out New England even though they're struggling a little bit, it'll be interesting to see. Hopefully we can continue to be strong in all four quarters and these are the most important games, so we need to get it done."

The New York Jets, Dolphins and Patriots all have played two AFC East games so far.

"If you want to get to the playoffs, then those are the most important games, so it will be critical to make sure we respond well to our schedule," Mitchell said.

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The Bills' offensive line didn't give up a sack on Sunday and quarterback Trent Edwards showed what he can do when given time. Edwards was 25 of 30 for 261 yards, one touchdown and finished with a 114.0 passing rating.

"The guy was going through the reads and finding open guys," said center Duke Preston, who started in place of the injured Melvin Fowler. "Those checkdowns that he threw (Sunday) kept us out of third-and-long situations and kept us moving down the field."

Edwards completed passes to seven different receivers, including eight to Lee Evans.

"He managed the game so well and does such a good job of finding the open receiver," Preston said. "Knowing our offense and using everybody that we have -- we have weapons all over the place."

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Bills linebacker John DiGiorgio (leg) and right guard Brad Butler (strained knee) were undergoing evaluations on Monday after suffering injuries during Sunday's game.

DiGiorgio, who was injured during a punt return and was carted off the field, had an MRI Monday, while Butler strained his left knee early in the game and returned briefly but was unable to finish. Coach Dick Jauron said today he won't know the extent of either injury until Wednesday.

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A 5-1 record gives the Bills a measure of confidence, but in the NFL a team's fortunes tend to shift from week to week.

"You look at the league, and there's just parity," he said. "You see every couple of years teams come up and make a name for themselves and they might hang around top a little bit and then it seems to turn. You look at the predictions coming into this year with Colts and the Chargers and the seasons they're having right now."

The Colts and Chargers -- along with the New England Patriots -- were considered three of the better teams in the AFC and of the three only the Patriots at 3-2 are above .500.

"That's not to say things can't flip again during the season because it's a long year," Preston said. "We're off to a great start but we recognize it's very possible to lose two or three straight. . . . This thing is far from over."

But if the Bills have some success against Miami, the New York Jets and New England -- all AFC East foes -- they can make it difficult for anyone to catch them in the division.

"These games coming up are the ones that really count," Preston said.

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Bills players Ryan Denney, Derrick Dockery and Marshawn Lynch will sign Billieve pink logo merchandise as part of the Billieve -- Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign from 6-7 p.m. today at the Bills Store at One Bills Drive.

Fans can purchase Billieve pink logo merchandise including mini-helmets, t-shirts, caps and knit hats at the store that night or bring Billieve pink logo merchandise they already have purchased. The Bills players will be signing Billieve pink logo merchandise exclusively to support the campaign. Five dollars from the sale of each Billieve pink logo item will benefit the Western New York Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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