After what looks to be a fairly easy opening-day opponent in the New York Jets, the Buffalo Bills seemingly have significant challenges throughout their 2017 schedule.
Three of their first five games are on the road, and they all figure to be tough: the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, and Cincinnati Bengals.
Then, there’s what looks to be a daunting stretch from Week 10 through Week 13, where the Bills face the high-powered offense of the New Orleans Saints at home, play road games against the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs, and take on the New England Patriots at New Era Field.
Finally, the Bills ring in the holidays with their final two games on the road against AFC East foes, the Patriots and Dolphins, on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
Here’s a closer look at what’s in store for the Bills in the next four months:
SEPT. 10, N.Y. Jets, 1 p.m.
Cynics might very well label this “The Tank Bowl,” with the Jets having been written off during the offseason for unloading key veterans and seeking the top pick of the draft for their quarterback of the future, and the Bills apparently following a similar path. For now, it is one of two games Bills fans are chalking up as a win. You can guess the other.
SEPT. 17, at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane have their homecoming at the place where each built his credentials to become a first-time coach and general manager. Their familiarity with the Panthers’ personnel should help with the task of trying to steal a road win from Ron Rivera, McDermott’s second-most influential mentor after Andy Reid, and Cam Newton.
SEPT. 24, Denver, 1 p.m.
These aren’t the Broncos that won the Super Bowl a couple of years ago. That’s mainly because the starting quarterback – assuming he’s still on the job at this point – will be Trevor Siemian and not Peyton Manning. But the Bills still have to figure out how to block Von Miller and otherwise overcome what remains a solid defense.
OCT. 1, at Atlanta, 1 p.m.
We should have a pretty good idea at this point how well the Falcons are dealing with the trauma of blowing a 25-point lead to lose Super Bowl LI to the Patriots. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones figure to put the Bills’ new secondary through a rigorous test.
OCT. 8, at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
When the Bills played at Paul Brown Stadium last season, the Bengals lost their biggest difference-maker, receiver A.J. Green, on the first play from scrimmage. It was all downhill for them from there. The Bengals’ edge in talent could be harder to overcome this time.
OCT. 22, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
After a bye, the Bills will be well-rested for the Bucs. It will be another good test for Buffalo's defense, assuming Jameis Winston makes the big strides he's expected to make in his third season as a starter and working with a dynamic receiving duo of DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans.
OCT. 29, Oakland, 1 p.m.
Welcome back to Western New York, Khalil Mack. The former University at Buffalo star will look to repeat the one-man-wrecking-crew show he put on against the Bills' pass-blockers and Tyrod Taylor in Oakland last season. With Derek Carr recovered from the broken leg that derailed what looked like a possible Super Bowl run, the Raiders will be formidable.
NOV. 2, at N.Y. Jets, 8:25 p.m.
Whether this is “Tank Bowl II” will be determined by all that unfolds with these teams through the first seven games of the season. It isn’t crazy to wonder who the respective quarterbacks will be for this Thursday Night Football encounter, because of the uncertainty surrounding that position for both teams.
NOV. 12, New Orleans, 1 p.m.
It helps that the Bills will have had some extra recovery time after their Thursday night game at MetLife Stadium. They’ll need it, because Drew Brees will be looking to light up Buffalo’s secondary. He’ll also have the help of a strong one-two running punch from Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson.
NOV. 19, at L.A. Chargers, 4:05 p.m.
Remember Anthony Lynn? There was a point during the Bills’ last coaching search when the interim replacement for Rex Ryan was widely thought to be the front-runner for the full-time spot. Instead, Lynn wound up with the Chargers, and he’ll get a chance to get some revenge in their temporary home, the 30,000-set StubHub Center.
NOV. 26, at Kansas City, 1 p.m.
Student vs. Teacher II. No one has had more influence on McDermott than Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who gave McDermott his start in the NFL in Philadelphia. Will the Bills’ history of finding excruciating/mind-boggling ways to lose to the Chiefs continue? Well, at least there's a whole lot of great barbecue to consume.
DEC. 3, New England, 1 p.m.
Stephon Gilmore, Mike Gillislee and Chris Hogan come back looking to torment their former team. Rob Gronkowski, assuming he’s still healthy, will be looking for a typical big Western New York homecoming. Of course, as always, the most important member of the Patriots’ traveling party is that Brady guy.
DEC. 10, Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Andrew Luck’s health status has been a lingering question for a long time. What it will be for this game is anyone’s guess, even with it falling so late in the season. As home opponents go, the Bills usually can feel good about their chances against these guys, regardless of who's at quarterback.
DEC. 17, Miami, 1 p.m.
This is the Bills’ third home game in a row and, in an odd scheduling twist, their first of two encounters with the Dolphins in the final three weeks. What sort of Miami team will the Bills face? After losing Ryan Tannehill to a season-ending injury, the Dolphins are hoping Jay Cutler finds the magic he once had with Adam Gase.
DEC. 24, at New England, 1 p.m.
The brutal stretch continues with a trip to Foxborough, Mass. When the Bills traveled here a year ago, Tom Brady was serving his suspension from “Deflategate” and, due to an injury to backup Jimmy Garoppolo, the Bills faced third-stringer Jacoby Brissett. Their best hope this year is that the Pats have the division and home-field advantage wrapped up.
DEC. 31, at Miami, 1 p.m.
Will the Bills be in a position to celebrate something more than the impending flip of the calendar to 2018? Or will they be merely playing out the string and shifting attention fully in the direction of what they’ll be doing with all of those draft picks they’ve stockpiled in the first three rounds? If they land a playoff berth with their current roster, that would be quite an accomplishment.