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Bills' schedule suspense ends tonight (and probably earlier)

For those of you holding up all of those big plans for family and other personal and business gatherings between September and January, the NFL is about to end the suspense.

By 8 p.m. ET – and almost certainly much sooner because of leaks that invariably occur – the league will reveal its 2016 regular-season schedule.

So many of you who have been waiting to exhale (or who are or will become panic-stricken because you decided to roll the dice on that wedding or Bar Mitzvah), you’re only hours away from knowing when the Buffalo Bills will face their 13 opponents that have long been determined.

Although the NFL put the schedule to bed on Wednesday, it will continue the tradition of waiting until a prime-time television show on NFL Network to make it public. Each team receives an advance copy of its own schedule, and although employees are sworn to secrecy by league officials in New York, you can be certain of lips being loose and beans being spilled during the course of the day.

Besides preparing the schedule unveiling on their website and other forms of in-house media distribution, employees of the Bills and their counterparts throughout the NFL are also wasting no time locking in hotel reservations and going about other planning for eight regular-season road trips and various other activities staged around home games. The order of the Bills’ four preseason games, with date ranges, was announced last week, but exact dates and times will be included with tonight’s announcement.

Meanwhile, certain dates, such as those for the season-opener and prime-time games, have a way of trickling out through the day. Eventually, the entire schedule of the Bills and multiple other teams will begin popping up in cyberspace before any “official” announcement.

It is a Twitter bonanza.

What we know ...

Besides AFC East opponents New England, Miami, and the New York Jets, the Bills also have home games against Arizona, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco.

Besides their division opponents, the Bills have road games against Baltimore, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Oakland, and Seattle.

What we’ll find out ...

The opener: If it’s at home, as was the case last year, maybe the NFL will want to get one of the less attractive teams on the schedule (Cleveland or Jacksonville) out of the way, because after all, an opener at home carries its own brand of excitement regardless of the opponent. If it’s on the road, there is reason to believe that it would be against one of the three West Coast opponents, especially if the NFL accommodates the Bills’ request not to play back-to-back West Coast games. It would seem logical to schedule one of those trips at the beginning of the year, one in the middle of the season, and one at the end.

Prime time: The Bills will play at least one prime-time game, as all teams make a Thursday Night Football appearance (last year’s was against the Jets at MetLife Stadium). The question is, will they also get a Monday night game, as they did last season at New England, or a Sunday night game? And will the league see fit to put a prime-time game at Ralph Wilson Stadium, which hasn’t hosted one since the Bills faced the Dolphins on a Thursday night in 2012? Will the NFL, as it was in 2015, be all about Rex Ryan story lines by scheduling prime-time games against his former team, the Jets, and his “arch enemy,” Bill Belichick?

West Coast trips: The Bills have three: at LA, Oakland, and Seattle. Some clubs want the NFL to schedule games involving coast-to-coast travel back-to-back so that they can stay on the West Coast for a week and eliminate a round trip, and league tends to accommodate them. But at last month’s NFL meeting in Boca Raton, Fla., Ryan said the Bills told the NFL they would prefer not having back-to-back games on the West Coast because Ryan was concerned it would put players in too much of a “vacation” frame of mind. Before the Bills mentioned their preference to the league, an NFL official told The News that it planned to give the Bills back-to-back West Coast games, on the presumption they would want it that way. For the record, those of us who cover the team are perfectly fine with a week-long stay in Southern California, especially after the leaves change colors in Western New York.

Divisional/conference/killer road clusters: A year ago, the Bills played two divisional games and faced four AFC opponents in the first seven weeks. They played three consecutive non-conference games (against NFC East opponents) in December. They also had a brutal stretch of five out of six games on the road (they lost four) in the second half of the schedule.

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