Bills second-year QB Trent Edwards (Photo Source)
They say that no schedule in the NFL is an easy schedule. That holds especially true when a given football team is young and inexperienced at key positions - most notably quarterback. Even with an easy schedule, that youth may not be able to capitalize on their opponent advantage.
The 2008 Buffalo Bills, however, are hoping that their young team - led by second-year quarterback Trent Edwards - can do just that in making the post-season for the first time since 1999. In an ultra-talented conference packed with several Super Bowl contenders, these Bills can use any advantage they can muster.
Just how "easy" is Buffalo's schedule? Let's examine...
Meet the Playoff Contenders
It is first necessary to select which teams from the AFC will be the Bills' main competition for the six coveted playoff spots. Unfortunately, due to outstanding depth in the conference, there are ten AFC teams with realistic visions of the playoffs dancing in their brains. Those teams are: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Houston, New England, the Jets, San Diego and our Bills.
Yes - the entire AFC South is included in that list, because all four teams have traits that could land them in the post-season. Ten teams vying for six playoff spots. And, not surprisingly, these teams play each other. A lot.
In the NFC, the teams on the whole are not as impressive, but the overall number of playoff contenders is larger. Eleven teams - Green Bay, Minnesota, New Orleans, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Dallas, Philadelphia, the Giants, Washington, Seattle and Arizona - are considered playoff contenders for this exercise.
SOS based on contender matchups
Which AFC team, then, has the easiest road to the playoffs? The answer to that, of course, involves just how good each of these teams turns out to be - this experiment isn't meant to be an end-all to the playoff discussion. The Bills are going to need to prove a lot on the field in order to make the playoffs, and in the end, the schedule might not make a bit of difference. But on the surface of it - that is, the schedule - the Bills may not have as easy a road to the post-season as many of us believe.
Ranked below: the ten AFC playoff contenders' schedules from easiest to hardest, based on number of games against playoff contenders on their schedule, which we'll adjust for other factors (explained after the jump):
Clearly, there are flaws here. For instance, no one actually believes that the Jets have an easier road to the playoffs than the Patriots simply because the Jets play one less playoff contender - that's absurd. But even flawed, this exercise highlights some important issues that could end up hindering the Bills' chances at the post-season.
Breaking it Down
For example - the AFC South. It's been a shoo-in for quite some time now that the Colts would take the division, leaving Jacksonville and Tennessee (on occasion) to fight for the Wild Card. But this season, all eight of the Colts' road games are against playoff contenders; that contrasts starkly with the Jags and Titans, who play all eight home games against contenders. Think that won't shake things up in the AFC South a little? Think again. The Bills may actually end up competing with Peyton Manning for a wild card slot.
It doesn't help, either, that the Jets and Pats have schedules as easy - if not easier - than the Bills. Buffalo is done if they can't finish second in the AFC East; it's not even a given that that will happen anymore.
In the end, this proves that the Bills do have one of the easiest schedules in the AFC this season - helped out, of course, by the fact that they play the NFC West and play more of their tough games at home (5) than on the road (4). But you can never sleep on the "easy" games in this league; that fact, combined with the scheduling intrigue of the rest of the Bills' AFC competition, makes the road much more difficult than many realize.
Can the Bills make the playoffs? Certainly. They're talented enough to do it; they just need to grow up quickly. But don't make the mistake of thinking that the Bills have a shot simply because their schedule is weak. There are key teams who have easier schedules, and there's sure to be some turmoil and change within the rest of the conference, particularly in the AFC South. This schedule is doable, as are the playoffs. But it's certainly not easy by any stretch of the imagination.