The Bills’ schedule is out. Plan your trips, buy the new grills, renew your hope.
Here are some initial thoughts, game by game:
• @Baltimore, Sept. 11 (1 p.m.): Yes, the Ravens were 5-11 last season but they also lost nine of those games by a touchdown or less. Joe Flacco, returning from his torn ACL, gives them a chance to rebound right back into contention. The big story here? Rex Ryan’s return to Baltimore, where he oversaw one of the league’s best defenses. He’ll hope to confuse an opposing quarterback in Week One the way he did last year with Andrew Luck.
• New York Jets, Sept. 15 (8:25 p.m.): A home game in prime time ... that is a home opener? Keep your head on a swivel in those tailgates, Bills fans. Western New York just might morph into Bourbon Street. Ryan had his former team’s number in two emotionally charged wins last season that kept the Jets out of the playoffs. Now, he doesn’t have to wait. He gets the Jets right away at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
• Arizona, Sept 25 (1 p.m.): A 14-3 season crumbled in the NFC Championship Game for the Cardinals. They’ll need Carson Palmer to shake off that four-interception meltdown and be the MVP candidate that threw for 4,671 yards, 35 touchdowns and only 11 picks in the regular season.
• @New England, Oct. 2 (1 p.m.): If Tom Brady’s suspension is reinstated, there’s a chance the Bills can steal one on the road. Yes, Brady has had Buffalo’s number (and that’s putting it lightly), but Buffalo also had one of its best defensive performances of last season at New England.
• @Los Angeles, Oct. 9 (4:25 p.m.): The Rams unloaded a ridiculous amount of picks to snag the first overall selection, be it Carson Wentz or Jared Goff. The schedule-makers did the Bills a solid in spreading out the West Coast trips, too. They’ll head west once a month over three months.
• San Francisco, Oct. 16 (1 p.m.): This should be a win, even with Chip Kelly in town. This NFC power went from having a surplus of talent across the board to a bare cupboard in a matter of two seasons. At home, Buffalo needs to take care of business in games like this.
• @Miami, Oct. 23 (1 p.m.): The Mario Williams Reunion. Some in the Bills’ locker room believe he quit on the team last season. Now, he’s on the other sideline. Ryan himself was eager for the reunion earlier this offseason.
• New England, Oct. 30 (1 p.m.): Chris Hogan heads back to Western New York with a dose of motivation. Buffalo offered him the low tender and he inked a three-year, $12 million deal with the Patriots. Will Hogan’s career take off with Brady after three seasons with three different quarterbacks?
• @Seattle, Nov. 7 (8:30 p.m.): One of the toughest places to play in the NFL, hands down. The loudest crowd is still coupled with a cutthroat defense. This will be Tyrod Taylor’s toughest task to date and a major litmus test heading into the bye week.
• Bye week
• @Cincinnati, Nov. 20 (1 p.m.): If Andy Dalton is in, instead of A.J. McCarron, does Cincinnati knock off Denver? The Bengals had a much more explosive offense. This Patriots-Seahawks-Bengals stretch might define Buffalo’s season.
• Jacksonville, Nov. 27 (1 p.m.): An EJ Manuel meltdown doomed the Bills against the Jags in London last season. All signs point to Buffalo drafting a quarterback at some point, but there’s a reasonable chance Manuel is the No. 2 quarterback again. Blake Bortles (4,428 yards, 35 touchdowns) is quietly emerging as one of the best young passers in the game.
• @Oakland, Dec. 4 (4:05 p.m.): These aren’t the same old Raiders. They have a promising nucleus of Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Latavius Murray, and now have both Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin rushing the passer.
• Pittsburgh, Dec. 11 (1 p.m.): The snake-bitten Steelers have limped into the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. There may not be a better quarterback-running back-wide receiver trio in the league than Ben Roethlisberger, LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown. If healthy, they’ll be a Super Bowl contender.
• Cleveland, Dec. 18 (1 p.m.): The Browns? Not quite. They’re yet again in the midst of a total rebuild. Cleveland signed Robert Griffin III in the offseason, but will have its eye on a quarterback in the draft, whoever the L.A. Rams pass on at No. 1.
• Miami, Dec. 24 (1 p.m.): The Bills swept the Fins last season in convincing fashion – 41-14 and 33-17 – and may need to do the same considering their difficult schedule. The question in Miami is if Adam Gase can do to Ryan Tannehill what he did to Jay Cutler in Chicago.
• @New York Jets, Jan. 1 (1 p.m.): Week 17. New Year’s Day. Rex’s Return. With, quite possibly, playoff implications on the line. As if there was any doubt.