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Predicting the results of the Bills' 2020 schedule

The Buffalo Bills officially have the NFL’s attention.

Evidence of that came Thursday night when the league announced its 2020 schedule for all 32 teams. The Bills are scheduled to play four prime-time games in the upcoming season – in Week 6 at home against the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday Night Football, in Week 13 at San Francisco on Monday Night Football, Week 14 at home against Pittsburgh on Sunday Night Football and Week 16 at New England again on Monday Night Football.

No wonder the team changed its name on Twitter to Primetime Bills.

Not since the 2000 season have the Bills been scheduled for more than two prime-time games. The four scheduled prime-time appearances matches the most in a single season in franchise history. Most recently, the Bills had four prime-time appearances in 1996 – quarterback Jim Kelly’s final year with the team. They also has four appearances in 1991, ’92, ’93 and ’95.

The 2000 season was also the last time the Bills had a scheduled spot in what has become the league’s marquee time slot – Sunday Night Football. Last year’s appearance in Week 15 against Pittsburgh was flexed into the league’s most-viewed television window, as was the previous Sunday night appearance, a 2007 home game against New England.

The 2020 schedule will feature a lot more travel. Last year, the team ranked 29th in the NFL in air miles traveled, with just 8,710. This year, The Buffalo News estimates the team will fly 20,060 miles – with two trips to the Pacific time zone and two more to the Mountain time zone – a total that would have ranked 12th in the league a year ago.

The league also announced its preseason schedule Thursday, with the dates and times of games to be determined. The Bills visit Baltimore in Week 1 (Aug. 13-17), host Atlanta in Week 2 (Aug. 20-24) and Indianapolis in Week 3 (Aug. 27-30) and the close the preseason at Detroit in Week 4 (Sept. 3).

Here is a game-by-game look at the regular-season schedule, with a predicted result:

Week 1: vs. New York Jets, 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 13

Analysis: This is the third time in four years the Bills and Jets will face each other in the regular-season opener. The two teams split their season series last year, with each team winning on the road – although New York’s win came in a meaningless season finale in which the Bills played their backups. Running back Frank Gore will return to New Era Field as a member of the Jets after spending last season with the Bills. The Jets’ main priority this offseason has been to rebuild their offensive line in front of quarterback Sam Darnold. That included using their first-round draft pick on Louisville offensive tackle Mekhi Becton. As he has since they came into the NFL, Darnold trained with Bills quarterback Josh Allen this offseason in Southern California. Prediction: Win.

Week 2: at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20

Analysis: The last time the Bills visited the Dolphins in September was the 2015 season. Allen and the Bills will line up against old friend Shaq Lawson in what promises to be steamy South Florida weather. Lawson was part of a major spending spree by the Dolphins this offseason that also included the additions of linebacker Kyle Van Noy, cornerback Byron Jones and offensive lineman Ereck Flowers. The Dolphins’ rebuild will be centered around the success of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, taken with the No. 5 overall pick in the draft. Miami also added offensive tackle Austin Jackson and cornerback Noah Igbinoghene in the first round and traded for former 49ers running back Matt Breida. Prediction: Win.

Week 3: vs. Los Angeles Rams, 1 p.m., Sunday Sept. 27

Analysis: The Rams’ fall from a Super Bowl team two years ago has been steep. They went 9-7 last season and missed the playoffs, with head coach Sean McVay no longer looked at as the league’s darling. Amazingly, the Rams haven’t had a first-round draft pick in the last four years – the result of making go-for-it moves during their championship window. That looks to be now shut. The team went through a salary-cap purge this offseason, losing running back Todd Gurley, edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr., linebacker Cory Littleton, linebacker Clay Matthews, cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman and safety Eric Weddle, among others. Prediction: Win.

Week 4: at Las Vegas Raiders, 4:25 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 4

Analysis: Bills Mafia in Vegas – what could go wrong? The Raiders’ move to Sin City is one of the big offseason stories in the NFL – immediately making for a popular road trip. The team can expect plenty of visiting fans to be in attendance each week. The Raiders spent big to add linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski in free agency and retooled their offense in the draft, adding speed to the lineup with the selection of Alabama receiver Henry Ruggs III in the first round. They have a brewing quarterback controversy with Marcus Mariota joining Derek Carr. Prediction: Win.

Week 5: at Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11

Analysis: The Bills – and their fans – will return to Nashville for a second straight season. Last year, the Bills’ defense dominated Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota in a 14-7 Buffalo victory. That performance led to the Titans to making a quarterback switch after the game, with Mariota being replaced by Ryan Tannehill. The Titans responded by making a run all the way to the AFC championship game. Tannehill was re-signed, as was running back Derrick Henry, who led the NFL in rushing last year. Tannehill never played particularly well against the Bills when he was with Miami, but he seemed to discover something last year with the Titans. Prediction: Loss.

Week 6: vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 8:20 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15

Analysis: The defending Super Bowl champions visit New Era Field for the first time since 2014. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce will provide the Bills’ defense its toughest matchup of the year. Assuming he makes the 53-man roster, this game would also be a homecoming for Buffalo native Demone Harris, the Chiefs’ defensive end. If the Bills are serious about showing they are more than just playoff contenders, a win here would do it. Prediction: Loss.

Week 7: at New York Jets, 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25

Analysis: In addition to upgrading the offensive line, the Jets also gave Darnold some new weapons in the passing game, signing receiver Breshad Perriman in free agency and drafting Baylor's Denzel Mims in the second round. The Darnold-Allen rivalry has the potential to be really fun in its third season. Prediction: Loss. 

Week 8: vs. New England, 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 1

Analysis: Rejoice, Bills fans. Tom Brady is in Tampa Bay, and will no longer haunt you. The first game against the Patriots in the post-Brady era will have a weird feeling to it. With the Bills on a three-game losing streak in this projection, it's also a must-win. As of now, it looks like Brady will be replaced by Jarrett Stidham, a fourth-round draft pick from 2019 who impressed during the preseason last year. Talk about impossible shoes to fill. It’s not just Brady who is gone, either. The Patriots’ defense, which was No. 1 in the NFL last season, lost linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins in free agency, along with defensive tackle Danny Shelton. Prediction: Win.

Week 9: vs. Seattle, 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8

Analysis: Reaction to the Seahawks' draft has been mixed. Both first-round pick Jordyn Brooks, a linebacker from Texas Tech, and second-round pick Darrell Taylor, a defensive end from Tennessee, were thought to be reaches. The Seahawks also have yet to re-sign defensive end Jadeveon Clowney after trading for him with Houston prior to the start of the 2019 season. Nevertheless, quarterback Russell Wilson and coach Pete Carroll have consistently kept the Seahawks competitive. Prediction: Loss. 

Week 10: at Arizona, 4:05 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 15

Analysis: Allen and Co. will go against former teammate Jordan Phillips, who signed a big contract with Arizona in free agency. The Cardinals made of the biggest moves of the offseason, acquiring wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins for the Houston Texans. That gives quarterback Kyler Murray a true No. 1 target. Arizona used its first-round pick on Clemson defender Isaiah Simmons. The last time the Bills visited the Cardinals was in the 2012 season, a 19-16 overtime victory. Prediction: Win.

Week 11: Bye

Week 12: vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 29

Analysis: Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco, the Hamburg native and St. Francis High School graduate, made a big change at quarterback. Philip Rivers is gone, but will it be Tyrod Taylor or rookie Justin Herbert under center for the Chargers? Former Bills interim head coach Anthony Lynn will be the one making that decision. Telesco used the No. 6 overall pick on Herbert, the strong-armed Oregon quarterback. He also traded back into the first round to select Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray. Prediction: Win.

Week 13: at San Francisco, 8:15 p.m. Monday, Dec. 7

Analysis: The defending NFC champions faced a salary-cap crunch, which led to them trading defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts and electing not to re-sign wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. General Manager John Lynch used the draft to find their replacements, using first-round picks on South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw and Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk. The 49ers’ defensive line, led by Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead, will be a big test for the Bills’ offensive line and quarterback Josh Allen. Buffalo and San Francisco have never played against each other before on Monday Night Football. Prediction: Loss.

Week 14: vs. Pittsburgh, 8:20 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 13

Analysis: A rematch of last year's Sunday Night game won by the Bills, except this time it's in Buffalo a week earlier on the schedule. The biggest change for Pittsburgh heading into the 2020 season is at quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger will be back after missing most of 2019 with an elbow injury. That led to the Steelers starting the uninspired duo of Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges, the latter of whom the Bills abused in their win. The Steelers got Roethlisberger some help in the draft with the addition of Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool in the second round. Prediction: Win.

Week 15: at Denver, TBD, Dec. 19 or 20

Analysis: The Broncos are committed to building around second-year quarterback Drew Lock. To that end, they used first- and second-round draft picks on wide receivers – Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Penn State’s K.J. Hamler, respectively. The team also signed running back Melvin Gordon and offensive lineman Graham Glasgow in free agency. Defensively, the team made a pair of trades to bring in former Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye and former Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey. There is a possibility this game could be played on a Saturday. If that happens, it would be the second year in a row the Bills played on a Saturday, following a Week 16 game against New England in 2019. There is potential for a letdown here after back-to-back national TV appearances and another one on tap the following week. Prediction: Loss.

Week 16: at New England Patriots, 8:15 p.m. Monday, Dec. 28

Analysis: This will be where the Bills have to dig deep. They have four games in 21 days with more than 8,100 miles of air travel. It's become a traditional late-season trip to New England, playing in Foxborough in December for the fourth straight year. The Patriots were never able to replace retired tight end Rob Gronkowski last year. Gronkowski came out of retirement this offseason, with New England trading him to Tampa Bay to be reunited with Brady. The Patriots drafted a pair of tight ends in the third round – UCLA’s Devin Asiasi and Virginia Tech’s Dalton Keene – to try and replace Gronkowski. They also drafted small-school safety Kyle Dugger in the second round, a player some had speculated the Bills had interest in. Prediction: Win.

Week 17: vs. Miami, 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 3

Analysis: Bundle up, Fins. Will the Bills see Tua in this game? It’s expected that Ryan Fitzpatrick will start the season as Miami’s starter, but it’s questionable whether Fitz will hang onto the job all year. If the Dolphins are out of the playoff picture by this point, it would make sense to give Tagovailoa some playing time. The Bills and Dolphins will have played each other in the regular-season finale three times in the past four seasons. Buffalo has won three straight home games against Miami, with two of those games being played in the December cold. Prediction: Win.

Final record: 10-6. The momentum from a 4-0 start quickly disappears and the Bills are in trouble when they drop to 5-4 on the season. A critical road win in Arizona sends the team into the bye week on a high note, and the Bills close with two big AFC East victories to once again punch their ticket to the postseason. Book it.

Kim Pegula on NFL schedule release, Covid testing, games without fans

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