Whoever made the Buffalo Bills' schedule sure didn't do them any favors. Saturday's game at the Cincinnati Bengals will be the Bills' third consecutive division-leading opponent.
The game will be the fifth against a first-place team. Four of those contests have occurred in the last five weeks, beginning with a 13-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers. The Bills also fell to the New England Patriots (35-7), who also won the earlier meeting, and Denver Broncos (28-17) the past two weeks.
Now comes the Bengals on the road, where the Bills are 0-6.
"That's just the way the schedule unfolded," Bills coach Mike Mularkey said. "Cincinnati's had an outstanding year. It just so happens we get them after Denver. That's how the cards fall. But I still think we're going to compete like we have been."
Why are the Bills 4-10? Ten of their 14 games have been against opponents with a .500 record or better. The only wins over teams at .500 or better were against the Kansas City Chiefs (8-6) and the Miami Dolphins (7-7), who had a losing record when they fell to the Bills. Buffalo has met only four teams with losing records, winning two of them, and visits the 3-11 New York Jets on Jan. 1.
It was much easier for the Bills last season when they feasted on weaker opposition. Seven of their nine wins came against teams that were .500 or worse.
As expected, the Bills placed tight end Ryan Neufeld on the season-ending injured reserve list. He suffered a knee injury during Saturday's loss to the Broncos. Neufeld, who caught only one pass for 9 yards, was mainly used as a blocker and special teams player. The Bills signed rookie tight end Brad Cieslak off the practice squad to fill Neufeld's spot on the active roster.
Meanwhile, offensive lineman Mike Williams missed another practice Thursday because of a pulled muscle that's been slow to heal. He's been ruled out for Saturday's game.
Mularkey said he will wait until Saturday to decide whether J.P. Losman (shoulder) will be the No. 2 quarterback. Losman, listed as probable, practiced this week but apparently isn't ready to reassume the starting job.
Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer is a Southern California graduate, so it is only natural he show preference toward his fellow Trojans. But no one can claim bias for his choice for the Heisman Trophy.
Palmer, who gets a vote as the 2002 Heisman winner, cast his ballot for USC tailback phenom and winner Reggie Bush. Palmer's vote last year went to USC quarterback Matt Leinart, who also took home the hardware. But Palmer said Bush was more deserving this time.
"I just think he's the best player in the country," Palmer said. "He was the most electrifying and most fun player to watch in the country, so that's why I voted for him."
Palmer is just as high on Leinart, who like Palmer might be the No. 1 pick in the April draft.
"I think he's going to be great," Palmer said of Leinart, who finished third in the Heisman voting this year. "He's very smart, very experienced and he's got all the tools to do it.
"But he has plenty of time to think about that. He's got a lot more things to worry about right now. He needs to handle what's going on with him right now. He doesn't need to worry about the NFL. He needs to worry about beating Texas, and then he can start thinking about the NFL."
Palmer was referring to the Rose Bowl, in which USC plays Texas for the national championship. Palmer is not only predicting a Trojans victory, he's expecting a blowout.
"I don't think it's going to be as close as everybody thinks it is," he said. "I think we're going to win by at least 21 points."
With Christmas just two days away, some of the Bills were asked about their best holiday memories.
Wide receiver Eric Moulds recalled a gift he received from Thurman Thomas during his rookie year.
"He gave me a box filled with nothing but the little foam stuff," Moulds said. "I asked him, 'What was this for?' and he said, 'That's for you to take and go get me a Christmas present.' I thought he was giving me a gift, and it turned out I had to go buy him something."