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Rugged roadies, matchups with big-name QBs provide tough tests as the schedule turns

The two greatest quarterbacks in the NFL bookend the 2009 schedule for the Buffalo Bills.

The Bills open the season against three-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady of New England. They close the season against Indianapolis' Peyton Manning, a three-time NFL most valuable player and former Super Bowl MVP.

That's just one of the ways to view the Bills' 2009 schedule as challenging. Based on last year's results, the Bills have the sixth-toughest schedule in the league. The Bills will need to be much improved to exceed their 7-9 record of last season.

Here's a look at the challenges ahead for the Bills the next four months:
Sept. 14, at New England. You know the ugly history. It's probably better to play the Pats early, before Bill Belichick has a stone-cold lock on the Bills' new schemes. Still, odds of a Bills win: 1 in 10.

Sept. 20, Tampa Bay. The Bucs make their first trip to Buffalo in 34 years and bring a new coach, new coordinators and a new quarterback. The Bills' all-time team will be honored. If this isn't a win, prepare to panic.

Sept. 27, New Orleans. Drew Brees brings his aerial circus to The Ralph in one of the marquee home games of the year. The Buffalo offense better show up vs. Gregg Williams' defense because 21 points won't git 'er done.

Oct. 4, at Miami. Marshawn Lynch returns, and the Bills will need him against a smash-mouth AFC East foe. Last year's season went downhill after the Bills blew a 16-7 lead in South Florida. Can the Bills match Miami in the trenches?

Oct. 11, Cleveland. It's a chance at redemption for Trent Edwards, who melted down in last year's Browns game. Cleveland is rebuilding. If the Bills are 3-2 after this game, they're in decent shape.

Oct. 18, at N.Y. Jets. The Bills return to the scene of J.P. Losman's giveaway defeat last December. Expect a defensive game. The Bills' young O-Line better have its blitz-pickups down vs. Rex Ryan.

Oct. 25, at Carolina. Snap your chin straps, Bills defenders. Carolina ranked No. 3 in rushing last year. The Bills need Panthers QB Jake Delhomme to be struggling. It's Buffalo's second trip to Charlotte in 15 years.

Nov. 1, Houston. It's similar to the New Orleans matchup. Houston ranked No. 3 on offense last season. The Bills need to be 4-4 at worst and probably need to be 5-3 to have a shot at 10 wins.

Nov. 15, at Tennessee. This game has "L" written all over it. The Titans have a monster ground game, a brutal front seven and are murder at home. If the Bills aren't leaking oil before, they should be after this one.

Nov. 22, at Jacksonville. If there's such a thing as a get-well road game, this could be it. It's not a tough place to play. The Bills won here last year. It's the fourth straight year the Bills face the Jags.

Nov. 29, Miami. This starts a string of four straight games against 3-4 defensive teams. Uh-oh. Will Terrell Owens be upbeat for the stretch run of the season? Will the no-huddle offense have a pulse?

Dec. 3, N.Y. Jets. Toronto fans should ask for a refund if the Bills don't give them a better show than last year's 16-3 dog vs. Miami. Will this be a big game or a battle for last place in the AFC East?

Dec. 13, at Kansas City. The Chiefs are starting from scratch, but don't expect a 54-point Bills outing like last year in K.C. Still, if there's such a thing as four sure wins on the Buffalo schedule, this is one of them.

Dec. 20, New England. The Evil Empire invades. Hope for a blizzard. True Blue Believers dream this will be a colossal AFC East showdown. Pragmatists gird their loins for a grim three-game gantlet to a dismal finish.

Dec. 27, at Atlanta. The prospects for this one don't look good, either. The Falcons' offense is loaded. It ranked No. 2 in rushing last year. It added All-Pro Tony Gonzalez. Odds are this will be vital to the Birds.

Jan. 3, Indianapolis. Who knows? This could be the last visit of the great Manning's career to Orchard Park. Will he even play? Usually the Colts have things wrapped up by this time. The long, cold winter awaits.

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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