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Analysis: Game-by-game predictions for the Bills' 2017 schedule

Sean McDermott was asked Thursday afternoon whether he'd have his highlighter out later that evening when the NFL released schedules for all 32 teams.

In particular, reporters wanted to know if the Buffalo Bills' coach would circle the team's matchup with the Carolina Panthers, for whom he previously served as defensive coordinator.

"They’re a good football team," McDermott said. "I’ll tell you what I am going to circle, is the next practice: Phase Two, which starts Monday. That’s the next thing on my calendar and then what happens after I get off this stage is going back to finish up with our players and then get on this draft again. That’s not a cop-out answer, that’s what I focus on and that’s what I want our players and our staff to focus on."

Boooooo!!! It is a cop-out answer! Of course, that's the approach McDermott has taken since being named coach, and there's nothing wrong with it.

"We’ve got to get ourselves right, and you guys have heard me say that before. Sticking with that process – that’s a word I say a lot, I know – but I believe in it," he said. "In order to get to where you want to get to, we’ve got to make sure we’re taking the right steps in between now and then."

Since McDermott doesn't want to look ahead, we'll do it for him. Here is a game-by-game rundown of the Bills' 2017 schedule, along with a prediction for each:

Week One: Sunday, Sept. 10 vs. New York Jets, 1 p.m.

The Bills couldn’t ask for a better home opener from a chances-they-win standpoint. The Jets figure to challenge for the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. Anything less than a comfortable Bills win will be a disappointment. Prediction: Bills.

Week Two: Sunday, Sept. 17, at Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m.

McDermott’s homecoming will be the home opener for the Panthers. Coming off a massively disappointing season following their Super Bowl run in 2015, Carolina needs quarterback Cam Newton to return to his MVP form of 2015. Prediction: Panthers.

Week Three: Sunday, Sept. 24, Denver Broncos, 1 p.m.

Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison gets his “revenge” game a week after McDermott (OK, maybe revenge is a stretch). The Broncos will have a new look under new coach Vance Joseph. Who will be a quarterback for them? And will their defense be the championship-caliber unit it was under old friend Wade Phillips? The thinking here is it won’t. Prediction: Bills.

Week Four: Sunday, Oct. 1, at Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m.

The defending NFC champions will be in their new stadium. McDermott knows them well from his time in Carolina, but stopping Matt Ryan and Julio Jones will be a big-time challenge. Expect the Bills to be decent-sized underdogs here. Prediction: Falcons.

Week Five: Sunday, Oct. 8, at Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m.

It’s a return trip to Paul Brown Stadium for the Bills after they won there in 2016. The Bengals lost star receiver A.J. Green on the first play of the game then. Cincinnati’s got a talented roster, even if it feels like the window is slightly closing for them. This feels like a coin-flip game. Prediction: Bengals.

Week Six: BYE WEEK.

Week Seven: Sunday, Oct. 22, vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m.

There shouldn’t be any excuses for the Bills in this one. They’ll have had a week to get healthy and face an opponent McDermott knows well. How big of a step can Tampa quarterback Jameis Winston make in his third year? That will play a big impact in the outcome here. Prediction: Bills.

Week Eight: Sunday, Oct. 29, vs. Oakland Raiders, 1 p.m.

Khalil Mack’s homecoming. The Raiders’ star will return to Western New York on an Oakland team that likely feels it was cheated out of a possible Super Bowl run when quarterback Derek Carr got hurt last year. It’s a tough trip for West Coast teams to make, but the Raiders figure to be AFC contenders. Prediction: Raiders.

Week Nine: Thursday, Nov. 2, at New York Jets, 8:25 p.m.

The Bills play 14 games at 1 p.m., one game at 4:05 p.m. on the West Coast and this is their only prime-time appearance. With no Rex Ryan, it’s sort of a surprise the Bills will be playing in New York on a Thursday for the second time in three years and third overall against the Jets in the middle of the week. Who will be starting at quarterback for the Jets at this point? Prediction: Bills.

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 12, vs. New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m.

McDermott’s familiarity with the NFC South should help the Bills in 2017. He knows the Saints well, too, and gets extra time coming off the Thursday night game, which falls at a favorable point on the schedule. Win this one to go above .500 and the Bills will be squarely “in the hunt.” Prediction: Bills.

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 19, at Los Angeles Chargers, 4:05 p.m.

Anthony Lynn gets his revenge game. The atmosphere inside the 30,000-or-so seat StubHub Center should be wild to see. Pro tip: JetBlue’s direct to LAX is super easy, and there’s a red-eye home for Bills fans who want to make the trip. L.A. in mid November sounds nice, although the result might not make for a nice flight home. Prediction: Chargers.

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 26, at Kansas City Chiefs, 1 p.m.

How many times have the Bills gone to Kansas City in late November and had their hearts ripped out? It feels like an every-season occurrence. The only question here seems to be what inventive way they will find to suffer another one of those losses. Prediction: Chiefs.

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 3, vs. New England Patriots, 1 p.m.

The return of Stephon Gilmore (and maybe Mike Gillislee) doesn't come until December. This figures to be the end of the toughest stretch on the Bills' schedule. Picking against New England is pretty much impossible. Prediction: Patriots.

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 10, Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m.

This is a tough game to get a feel for. The Colts seem like they should be good, but have figured out a way to mess things up even with Andrew Luck. Like with the game against the Bengals, this has the feel of a "coin-flip" game at the moment. Prediction: Bills.

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 17, vs. Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m.

Getting the Dolphins at home in December is always what the Bills should root for when the schedule comes out. In a bizarre twist to the schedule, Buffalo plays Miami twice within the last three weeks of the season (and New England twice in December). Even last year, when the Dolphins were a playoff team, the Bills should have beaten them at New Era Field (if it weren't for Dan Carpenter, that is). Prediction: Bills.

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 24, at New England, 1 p.m.

The best hope for the Bills here is that the Patriots have the division title and their playoff position safely wrapped up and are happy to sit Tom Brady for at least some of the game. It's probably a week too early for that, though. Prediction: Patriots.

Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 31, at Miami, 1 p.m.

New Year's Eve on South Beach? That doesn't sound too bad. Based on the projected record to this point, the Bills won't have anything to play for here. The three-game losing streak to the Chargers, Chiefs and Patriots sunk things. Now, who's ready for another offseason of "should we bring Tyrod Taylor back?" Hooray! Prediction: Dolphins.

Final record: 7-9.

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