The Buffalo Bills' 2009 regular season schedule has been released - and, as usual, everyone's got opinions to share on the team's slate of games for the upcoming season. I'm not the "make a snap judgment" type, so I took a night to sleep on the schedule and chew on some things a bit.
I've reached my conclusion: this is a very, very strange schedule. I'm not sure I like it. More developed thoughts below.
Bills, Jets to meet in Toronto
For the second straight year, the Bills will play host to a division opponent in Toronto when the New York Jets join Buffalo across the border for a Thursday night tilt in early December. Last year, the Bills lost a 16-3 snooze-fest to the Miami Dolphins in the Rogers Centre; I can't imagine Bills fans in Toronto are any more jazzed for this year's game than they were last year.
I cannot fathom why the NFL would have chosen this particular matchup for the Toronto game. I'm not even truly upset that it's a division game or it's the Jets - if you've seen any Bills/Jets games over the past three or so years, you'll realize that they aren't exactly the most exciting affairs. That's what is so baffling to me - the NFL could have chosen to export actual NFL star power by placing the Colts (Manning, Freeney, Sanders) or Saints (Brees, Bush) in this game. Bills fans wouldn't have blinked an eye. Instead, they chose the Jets, led by the venerable Kellen Clemens. This game has so much "boom or bust" potential for the league it's ridiculous - either they'll get a game between two surprising teams fighting for the playoffs, or, far more likely, they'll get a game between two teams fighting for third place in the division. Strange choice by the league here.
The T.O. Effect
Terrell Owens' presence on the roster has had an obvious effect on the schedule. We've known for weeks that the Bills would open the season on Monday Night Football in New England; their second prime time game is the aforementioned Toronto trip with the Jets. Though the Bills won't have any more prime time games unless they're competitive late in the year and a game is flexed, the Bills will see plenty of noticeable action in more attractive time slots early in the year.
After their opening-weekend MNF game, five of the Bills' next six games will be played at 4:00 PM Eastern - a time slot in which the NFL generally places more intriguing matchups to maximize end-of-game viewership heading into the evening hours. The only early game the Bills play through Week 7 is a home tilt with Cleveland - a team that seems destined to be among the league's worst outfits this season. Without Owens on the roster, the Bills would be playing their usual one or two games in the later time slot. The NFL is clearly milking Owens' first few games in Buffalo for as long as they can.
The league threw the Bills a bit of a bone, in my opinion, by holding off on scheduling division games beyond the season opener. RB Marshawn Lynch will miss the first three games of the season, but he'll return just in time for a critical Week 4 trip to Miami - a team that swept the Bills last season. Lynch will miss the opener in New England as well as Week 2 and 3 home games with Tampa Bay and New Orleans.
AFC East slate gets tougher
The Bills do not play AFC East opponents in successive weeks until Week 12 and 13 - so the Bills won't have stretches in which they rapidly lose ground in the division as they did in 2008 (unless they can't beat anyone else, that is). However, Buffalo will travel in its first three divisional matchups, playing in New England in Week 1, in Miami in Week 4, and at the Jets in Week 6. The team closes its division slate with three home games - not really counting, of course, the Toronto game.
Cleveland retribution? - The Bills will play the Cleveland Browns for a third straight season, and for a second straight season at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills are 0-2 against the Browns over the past two years, losing two of the most bizarre football games I've watched - an 8-0 loss in a Cleveland blizzard in 2007, and a 29-27 loss on Monday Night Football last year in which Bills K Rian Lindell missed a game-winning field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter. Perhaps the third time will be the charm for the Bills in what could turn into a mini-rivalry with the Browns.
AFC South - I like the way the Bills' AFC South games shook out. They play three straight AFC South teams in the middle of the season during a four-week stretch, starting with a home game against Houston in Week 8. Following a bye week, the Bills travel to Tennessee and then to Jacksonville the following week. I like getting Tennessee off a bye, and the Bills are 2-1 against Jacksonville over the past three seasons, including a 20-16 victory on the road in Week 2 last season. The final AFC South game is in Week 17, at home against Indianapolis - and if things go as usual for the Colts, we'll be feasting on Jim Sorgi cupcake throws all afternoon.
Young quarterbacks - Folks are quick to discuss how difficult the Bills' schedule will be next season, and it's difficult to disagree - but only based on last season. What many are skipping over is the fact that the Bills will be facing a lot of young quarterbacks next season. Outside of the big, familiar names (Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Chad Pennington and perhaps Manning), the Bills will be facing teams led by either Byron Leftwich, Luke McCown, Josh Johnson or a rookie (Tampa), Brady Quinn (Cleveland), Kellen Clemens or a rookie (Jets), Matt Schaub (Houston), Matt Cassel (Kansas City) and Matt Ryan (Atlanta). Anything can happen with young quarterbacks, folks. The problem, of course, is that the Bills themselves have a young quarterback as well.
I'm not the kind of guy that makes predictions. So I'm not going to do the typical run through the schedule to pick our record. I'll just say that as strange as the slate is, there's a reason they play the games - and if the Bills can play consistently next season, they've got just as good a chance at the playoffs as they did last season. If you've got any other thoughts on the schedule or would like to leave predictions, you're more than welcome to in the comments section.