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Bills roundtable: Prime time, what's the opener, most anticipated game and more

Bills roundtable: Prime time, what's the opener, most anticipated game and more

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After two losses to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 6 and the AFC championship game, how will the Buffalo Bills and quarterback Josh Allen stack up against the Chiefs in 2021?

The NFL schedule will be released Wednesday at 8 p.m. on the NFL Network, the next step as anticipation builds for a Bills season filled with high expectations. It also will mark the unveiling of a 17-game regular season for the first time. The NFL has played a 16-game season since 1978.

The Bills will host the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and the Washington Football Team. The Bills travel to play the Dolphins, Patriots and Jets, along with both of last season's Super Bowl teams  the champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the runner-up Kansas City Chiefs  as well as the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans and New Orleans Saints.

In advance of the schedule release, News sports writers Vic Carucci, Jay Skurski, Mark Gaughan and Jason Wolf weigh in on a variety of topics:

How many prime-time games will the Bills get?

Vic: Five or more. The Bills undoubtedly are must-see TV in the eyes of the NFL and the networks, and the 17-game schedule makes my prediction even more realistic. Josh Allen and that ultra-explosive offense are precisely what the suits in New York want for those prime-time slots. I'm thinking at least two Sunday nights, two Monday nights and a Thursday night.

Jay: I’d set the over/under at 4.5. The schedule expanding to 17 games makes it tempting to take the over, but I’ll go with four. Two Sunday nights, a Thursday night and a Monday night. Flexible scheduling could easily see that bumped to five, because the Bills are a ratings draw.

Mark: Five. Buffalo had four last year. Under the 16-game schedule, three teams were allowed to play six prime-time games. Figure Tampa Bay and Kansas City to be the two most in-demand teams. Dallas, given its market and fan base, gets five games. I like the Rams and Niners for five games, too, given their market size and quality.

Jason: The Bills had four prime-time games scheduled at the start of the 2020 season and ended up playing five, counting the Covid-19-delayed game against the Titans that was played on a Tuesday night. They shouldn’t receive any fewer in 2021. Two Monday night games, two Sunday night games and a Thursday night game seem like a reasonable national spotlight for Josh Allen and the high-flying Bills offense.

Which game will be the season opener?

Vic: I love the speculation of the Bills being the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' opponent for that Sept. 9 Thursday night opener. Everything about the Bucs centers around Tom Brady. What better storyline can there be than seeing whether the vastly improved Bills and Josh Allen are ready to slay their former AFC East dragon?

Jay: It’s tempting to say it will be the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – which rumors have suggested, as well – but I still think the Saints with quarterback Jameis Winston returning to Tampa Bay will get that game. With that being the case, I’ll go with what seems like the usual opener – against the Jets.

Mark: The Bills have opened with an AFC East game three of the last four years. Last year, nine of 16 openers were divisional games, a higher-than-usual number due to pandemic uncertainty. I prefer to see teams not play the more important division games the first week. I like a Bills-Tampa Bay matchup.

Jason: The Bills have started each of the last five seasons with games against either the Ravens or Jets, and I don’t see Baltimore on this year’s schedule, so if the pattern continues, a trip to North Jersey it is. That’s not bad. It’s a chance to get an early victory on the road against a division rival under their belt, and Jerry Hughes gets to welcome rookie quarterback Zach Wilson to the NFL.

Which game are you most looking forward to? 

Vic: If the Bills are, in fact, the season-opening opponent of the Buccaneers, then that's the game I most want to see. The hype would be off the charts. Otherwise, I'll go with the next-most-obvious choice: The Chiefs. It should be a decent indicator of how much or little the gap has closed since the Bills' loss in the AFC championship game.

Jay: Kansas City. Not just because it means a trip to Joe’s for the best barbecue ever, either. The Bills need to see how they stack up against the AFC’s best. It was clear in the AFC championship game that the Bills are not on Kansas City’s level just yet. It remains to be seen how much this offseason closed the gap, if at all.

Mark: Bills at Dolphins. The first meeting, especially, will be a “holy war” game for Miami because the Bills knocked the Dolphins out of the playoffs in Week 17 last year – to the tune of 56-26. A Bills at Miami season opener would be the NFL handing the Dolphins raw meat.

Jason: The Buccaneers, whenever it's scheduled. They're the defending Super Bowl champions and Buffalo getting what may be a final crack at Tom Brady makes for a great story. Of course, it’s less important than the game against the Chiefs, which could determine the site of the AFC championship game. But if we're picking just one game, I’m looking forward to Tampa. The Bills ought to get two cracks against Kansas City, anyway, assuming a rematch in the playoffs.

The Bills opened at 10.5 wins on the early over/under totals. Are you under or over at this point?

Vic: Over. That was a developing team, with an offense just hitting its stride, that established itself as a serious Super Bowl contender last year. It's easy to imagine – with more growth and greater chemistry developed within the offense and expected defensive improvement – that the Bills will win at least a dozen or more games.

Jay: Over, fairly easily. With 17 chances, the Bills should be able to match last season’s win total of 13. General Manager Brandon Beane accomplished his goal of keeping nearly all of last year’s team together, and injected some youth into the pass rush in the first two rounds of the draft. The AFC East should still belong to Buffalo.

Mark: Without being overly optimistic, over. Let’s say it’s 4-2 in the AFC East. Let’s count 3-1 vs. the AFC South (split with the Colts and Titans) and a conservative 2-2 vs. the NFC South. That’s nine. Then they beat Pittsburgh and Washington and lose at Kansas City. I’m down on Pittsburgh this year. That’s 11.

Jason: Over. The Bills have nine games at home, and ought to win at least seven. Even if they go 4-4 on the road, that’s an 11-6 record.

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Sports Reporter/Columnist

This is my 5th decade of NFL coverage. I'm a co-host on SiriusXM NFL Radio & a Pro Football HOF selector. I've authored 10 books about football (including multiple NY Times best-sellers). I'm a past president of the Pro Football Writers of America.

News Sports Reporter

I started at The Buffalo News in 2009, and have previously been honored as one of the top 10 beat writers in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors for my coverage of the Bills. I live in Amherst with my wife, Melissa, and son, Elliott.

Bills/NFL writer

Mark Gaughan is in his 37th year at The Buffalo News. He is past president of the Pro Football Writers of America and served as a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for 12 years.

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