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The schedule is out, and so is my hasty Bills prediction

It seems silly to predict the Bills' record one hour after the release of the new NFL schedule. Really, how can you project what will happen in a game six or eight months from today, not knowing how teams will enhance their rosters in the draft or what's left of free agency?

Based on Doug Whaley's comments at the pre-draft luncheon, I don't know who the starting quarterback will be on Sept. 13. Will it be EJ Manuel? If so, how long will Manuel keep the job if he struggles the way he did a year ago? Whaley didn't rule out the possibility of a rookie winning the job.

One thing is certain, however. It's shaping up as the most interesting season in recent Buffalo history. When Rex Ryan became the head coach, the Bills became a national attraction again. The NFL made that clear Tuesday night when they gave the Bills their scheduled first Monday Night Football appearance in six years.

The Bills will travel to Foxborough to play the defending champion Patriots on Monday, Nov.23. That comes 11 days after a Thursday night game at the Jets on Nov. 12.

Ryan said at his opening press conference that it's still the Patriots he wants to beat the most. But you know he'll want to crush the Jets, who fired him after last season. So Rex's first two much-anticipated "grudge" games as Bills coach will be back-to-back national TV games in midseason.

The Bills played on Monday last season, but only because their Sunday home game against the Jets had to be moved because of the snowstorm. Before then, the last time the league put them on the Monday night slate was a 25-24 loss on opening night in '07 at New England.

There was a time, of course, when it was commonplace for the Bills to be recurring characters on the national stage, when making theplayoffs was an expectation and American sports fans couldn't get enough of a talented, resilient and explosive football team.

Between 1988 and 2000, the Bills made 25 appearances on Monday Night Football. Think about it. That's basically twice a year. I have family members back in Rhode Island who were kids during those years and became Bills fans because that fascinating team was on TV so often.

So under the Pegulas and Ryan, it's the dawn of a new, relevant age for the Bills. When Ryan shows up on the cover of Sports Illustrated, hanging out with Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas at the Big Tree Inn, you know there's fresh promise in the air. Or is that stale Blue Light?

I would love to predict an end to the playoff drought, a 16-0 season that would culminate in the Bills finally winning the Super Bowl. Covering Ryan is going to be a blast. I can't imagine what it would be like if he took the Bills on a deep playoff run.

But it's my nature, and my job, to be skeptical. They'll be better. The question is how much better. Ryan is a big upgrade over Doug Marrone. The running game will be better with LeSean McCoy. The defense will be very good, though not as good as fans want to believe.

A year ago, I picked them for 6-10 when the schedule came out. I was three games low. Still, they were an average team. If the Pats had anything to play for in the finale, the Bills would have finished 8-8. They were one play away from losing to Detroit and Minnesota.

The fact is, they could be significantly better this season and still go 9-7. A lot of fans have them figured for 10-6 at the worst. I'm sure they'll be a chic pick with many of the national magazines -- like the that set up its cameras in the Big Tree awhile back.

Despite the gaudy numbers, and the stunning shutdown of Aaron Rodgers here, I still think the defense is a bit overrated. It was overlooked somewhat in the stretch run, but the defense allowed 4.8 yards a rush over the last 10 weeks of the season.

Until I see tangible improvement from Manuel or another quarterback, I see another 9-7 season that falls short of the playoffs.

A game-by-game look at the 2015 Bills schedule:

Game 1, Sept. 13
vs. Indianapolis, 1 p.m.

Did you know Andrew Luck threw for exactly 370 yards four times last year? Luck launches an MVP season by throwing for 370 yards and four TDs. Colts, 37-24.

Game 2: Sept. 20
vs. New England, 1 p.m.

Wow, in the first two weeks they're at home against the combatants from last year's AFC title game. Rob Gronkowski in four career games in Buffalo has 23 catches for 361 yards and five TDs. Patriots, 33-28.

Game 3: Sept. 27
at Miami, 4:25 p.m.

Rough day for ground and pound attack against $114 million man Ndamukong Suh. By the way, Suh actually showed up for voluntary workouts this week. Dolphins, 20-6.

Game 4: Oct. 4
vs. Giants, 1 p.m.

LeSean McCoy has five 100-yard games against Giants in career. Make it six. Giants went to Super Bowl last two times they played Bills. Not this year. Bills, 24-10.

Game 5: Oct. 11
at Tennessee, 1 p.m.

Titans hired 77-year-old Dick LeBeau to run the defense. What they need is a quarterback. So do the Bills. Matt Cassel replaces injured Manuel, who had horrible first half. Bills, 17-14.

Game 6: Oct. 18
vs. Cincinnati, 1 p.m.

You're not a playoff team when visiting Andy Dalton is the best QB on the field. Jeremy Hill runs for 167 yards as Kyle Williams is out with injury and run defense gets exposed. Bengals, 25-18.

Game 7: Oct. 25
at Jacksonville (London), 9:30 a.m

A road game at Wembley Stadium sure beats a home game in Rogers Centre. Doug Marrone, the Jags' new O line coach, will obviously be up for this one. Bills, 16-13.

Game 8: Nov. 8
vs. Miami, 1 p.m.

Manuel returns as starter and has acceptable home performance, similar to last year's home opener. Charles Clay worth the money for one day with two TDs against old team. Bills, 20-13.

Game 9: Nov. 12
at Jets, 8:25 p.m.

A nation turns its lonely eyes to Rex in his return to New York. No telling who will be Jets' QB. Geno Smith? Ryan Fitzpatrick? Marcus Mariota? Whatever. Bills, 23-17.

Game 10: Nov. 23
at New England, 8:30 p.m.

Ryan is the best at preparing for Tom Brady. Beating him is another matter. Glow of last year's win in season finale at Foxborough has finally dissipated. Patriots, 24-13.

Game 11: Nov. 29
at Kansas City, 1 p.m.

Amazingly, they meet for eighth year in a row. Chiefs won the last two in Buffalo. But Cassel relieves struggling Manuel at QB and leads Bills to 17-16 victory.

Game 12: Dec. 6
vs. Houston, 1 p.m.

Seriously, Brian Hoyer at QB? They'll be pining for Fitz before long. Mario Williams get three sacks against old mates. Keep J.J. Watt out of the end zone and you'll be fine. Bills, 34-16.

Game 13: Dec. 13
at Philadelphia, 1 p.m.

LeSean McCoy goes against his old coach, Chip Kelly. Kiko Alonso is waiting. So is Eagles' new tailback, DeMarco Murray, who gashes the Bills for 144 yards. Eagles, 27-17.

Game 14: Dec. 20
at Washington, 1 p.m.

Sammy Watkins has a career day with 180 yards receiving against the NFL's worst secondary and Rex's defense ties Robert Griffin III up in knots. Bills, 36-13.

Game 15: Dec. 27
vs. Dallas, 1 p.m.

No DeMarco Murray, but Jerry's boys still have Tony Romo, strong offensive line and top-5 offense. Bills haven't beat 'Boys since 1996. Cowboys, 29-24.

Game 16: Jan. 3
vs. Jets, 1 p.m.

Fitz gets the start and has a big game with 269 yards and 3 TDs. But he throws an iterception to Aaron Williams in the end zone in the final minute. Bills, 27-23.

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