By Mark Gaughan / NEWS SPORTS REPORTER
The statistics say the Buffalo Bills have the seventh-easiest schedule in the NFL, based on last year’s records. Don’t be fooled. Last year’s records mean little. The Bills face tough divisions in the AFC North and NFC South. The good news is four of the first six are at home. But there are no easy games for a young team like the Bills. Here’s a look at the challenges ahead for the Bills the next four months:
Sept. 8, New England
This would have been the most opportune time to catch the Pats. Belichick doesn’t yet have a lock on the Bills’ schemes. Unfortunately, injury bug devoured One Bills Drive.
Sept. 15, Carolina
Cam Newton comes to Buffalo. It’s the Panthers’ first OP visit since 2005. Tough game. Panthers ranked 12th on offense, 10th on defense and went 5-1 to end last season.
Sept. 22, at N.Y. Jets
Look out, EJ Manuel. The first road start for a rookie QB often is ugly. Mike Pettine returns to N.Y. Jets have beaten Bills eight of last 10.
Sept. 29, Baltimore
It’s the Bills’ first meeting with a defending champ since 2005 and only the second time the Ravens have come to OP. A brutally tough, physical test for Bills.
Oct. 3, at Cleveland
Two similar teams. This is no gimme. Like Bills, Browns have talent on D and upgraded at coordinator (with Ray Horton). Go deep. Browns secondary is suspect.
Oct. 13, Cincinnati
Bengals have made playoffs 3 of last 4 years and have a loaded defense. Their front four may be NFL’s best. If Bills are 3-3 after this, it would be awesome.
Oct. 20, at Miami
Big-spending Dolphins are coming off bye and may need it. Miami could be 1-4. Pressure will be on Fish. Bills pass rushers could do well. It’s a toss up.
Oct. 27, at New Orleans
Bills corners had better be healthy. Saints have ranked in top four in passing seven straight years. Great road trip for fans, bad one for team.
Nov. 3, Kansas City
Bills face Chiefs for sixth straight year. Many are picking Chiefs for big revival under Andy Reid. It’s C.J. (Spiller) vs. J.C. (Jamaal Charles).
Nov. 10, at Pittsburgh
Tough game for EJ because you can’t run on the Steelers. The QB must be good vs. Men of Steel. On one hand, Pittsburgh is aging.
On other, Big Ben is 49-15
Nov. 17, N.Y. Jets
This is Bills’ third game vs. team coming off a bye. But you have to think Team Rex will be reeling, coming to The Ralph at 2-7. Make them 2-8.
Nov. 24, Bye. The latest bye week for Bills since 1999. Dream: They stunned Pats, outcoached Panthers, feasted on Jets and stand 7-4. Reality: How’s 4-7 sound?
Dec. 1, Atlanta
ATL has grudge matches before (Saints) and after (Packers). Maybe Rogers Centre karma will put them in sleepwalk mode. Or not.
Dec. 8, at Tampa Bay
It’s Bills’ 10th meeting with Bucs and ninth in Tampa. Bucs offense is tough; defense is suspect. Special teams coached by Dave Wannstedt.
Dec. 15, at Jacksonville
It’s the ninth meeting with Jags in 11 years. Jags were in bottom four on offense two straight years. Make it three. Bills win.
Dec. 22, Miami: Funny how NFL schedule works. This is ninth time in 13 years Miami plays at Buffalo after Thanksgiving. Will Fish be in hunt or uninterested?
Dec. 29, at New England
You know the drill. Bills have lost 12 straight at The Razor in Foxborough. Odds Pats have playoff spot sewed up: 3-2. Odds Bills can get to 8-8: 4-1.