Thanks to a return to prime time, games against former players and coaches and several appealing home contests, the Buffalo Bills' 2007 schedule is one of their most interesting in years.
The Bills make their first appearance on Monday Night Football in seven years on Oct. 8 when the Dallas Cowboys come to Ralph Wilson Stadium for the first time since 1996. Adding spice to the matchup is the appearance of former Bills coach Wade Phillips, who replaced Bill Parcells in Dallas in February, and mercurial wide receiver Terrell Owens.
The Bills haven't hosted a Monday night game since beating Denver, 27-20, on Sept. 26, 1994. The Bills' past nine Monday night outings were on the road, including their most recent appearance on Dec. 11, 2000 at Indianapolis.
The Bills have only one night game and another at 4:05 p.m. on Oct. 28 at the New York Jets, but that could change because the NFL's flexible scheduling allows Sunday afternoon games from Weeks 10-15 and Week 17 to be moved to NBC's 8:15 Sunday night broadcast.
"During the time I coached here we had 14 Monday night games and only two of them were at home," said Bills General Manager Marv Levy. "Having our Monday night game at home and against the Cowboys, which have such a national interest, is very good. Wade Phillips and company coming back here also make it really interesting."
The Bills will renew acquaintances with former running back Willis McGahee and linebackers London Fletcher and Takeo Spikes. McGahee returns to Buffalo with the Baltimore Ravens, who make their first-ever appearance here on Oct. 21.
The game is of particular interest to Bills fans still seething over comments McGahee made about the city shortly after being traded last month.
Fletcher and the Washington Redskins welcome the Bills to town on Dec. 2. As an added bonus, the Bills face former head coach and Redskins defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for the first time since he left Buffalo after the 2003 season.
The Bills won't see Spikes, who was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, until the regular season finale in Philly on Dec. 30.
Other highlights of the 2007 schedule:
Based on the cumulative 2006 records of opponents, Buffalo and Oakland will play the most difficult schedules in the NFL. The teams' 2007 opponents were a combined 138-118 (a .539 winning percentage) last season.
The Bills face only three teams that had losing records last year and seven games are against 2006 playoff clubs. Their home opponents were a combined 75-53 last season.
"We knew who we were going to play because of the NFL formula of establishing opponents in advance," Levy said. "It is a tough schedule, but we also know the fortunes of teams tend to swing more swiftly in today's game than they did a few years ago."
The Bills open at home for the seventh time in eight years, against Denver, followed by trips to Pittsburgh and AFC East nemesis New England the next two weeks.
The Steelers, who missed the playoffs after winning Super Bowl XL in 2005, will be making their home debut under new coach Mike Tomlin. Buffalo has lost its last five games at New England and dropped 12 of the last 13 meetings overall.
The second half of the Bills' schedule gets a little easier. Although they will likely be underdogs against New England, at Jacksonville (Nov. 25) and Philadelphia, there are winnable games against Miami (Nov. 11 and Dec. 9), at Washington and Cleveland (Dec. 16) and at home versus the New York Giants (Dec. 23).
The Dolphins come to Orchard Park in December for the fifth time in seven seasons. Buffalo is 5-2 against Miami at home in December, including a 21-0 shutout last season.
A huge plus for the Bills is a home schedule that's attractive from a ticket-selling standpoint. In addition to hosting AFC East rivals New England (Nov. 18), Miami (Dec. 9) and the Jets (Sept. 30), all of the five non-division visitors have been to the playoffs at least once in the last two years.
"I think the league did take into mind what would maximize fan interest," Levy said. "Our late games are very intriguing to home fans with Miami and the Giants. There is a very even beat to our schedule, which is very good."
The Bills expressed concern that late-season games in Western New York's winter weather hurt attendance. They failed to sell out their final four home dates last season.
This year, Miami and the Giants are the only December games.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who lobbied NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on the Bills' behalf to create a schedule that would prevent another season of blackouts, is pleased with the team's 2007 slate.
"Ralph Wilson Stadium will see some great, prime-time football in 2007," Schumer said in a statement. "I am happy that the NFL heard our concerns loud and clear, and made a schedule that should punt hated blackouts out of the ballpark."