With the 2010 season schedule to be released sometime over the next couple of weeks, it's a good time to break from our draft coverage to speculate on who the potential opponents might be in Buffalo's regular season game north of the border. (Determining the pre-season opponent would be infinitely harder, since we don't know what teams the Bills will be facing in those four games.)
In 2006, Rogers Communications paid the Bills $78 million for rights to five regular-season and three pre-season games over five years, essentially leasing the games from Ralph Wilson and the Bills. The Bills in Toronto Series began in 2008, when the Bills kicked off a pre-season game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Since that time, the series has been met with resistance and lukewarm support. It may be more well-received if the Bills had a single win in their three trips up the QEW.
There are two other items of note before we begin our speculation. First, the Bills have no say in determining the opponents in the series, as it's determined by NFL schedule-makers. Secondly, the games must take place after the CFL's Toronto Argonauts season has completed in early November. Both previous games were played in the first week of December.
The last time the Steelers came to Buffalo was the end of the 2004 season, with the Bills needing only a win to clinch a playoff spot against the clinched and resting Pittsburgh starters. Given the amount of time since the Steelers have played in Orchard Park and the previous game at the Rogers Centre as part of the series, it's very unlikely they would be extended a second trip to Toronto.
Two AFC East foes have also played a game at Buffalo's home away from home. In 2009, the Bills "hosted" the Jets in a nationally-televised game (to NFL Network viewers) which the Bills lost in a 19-13 score that wasn't as close as those numbers indicate. In 2008, J.P. Losman provided few stirring moments in relief of an injured Trent Edwards in a 16-3 loss to the Dolphins. Hopefully, the NFL won't return those teams to the Rogers Center.
If you want to create any sort of buzz, the Detroit Lions may not be the way to go. The Lions play a nationally-televised game on Thanksgiving every year, and NFL schedulers may consider that enough exposure for the moribund franchise. Conversely, it may represent one of the few winnable games for the 2010 version of the Bills, and Bills fans have seen the Lions regularly in the pre-season.
The league may be hesitant to place the Chicago game in a different city, because it's rare for 'da Bears to play the Bills. The last time the two teams tangled was a 40-7 blowout in 2006 in Chicago. The last time the Bills hosted the Bears was in 2002 with Gregg Williams as head coach in a game the Bills won.
After taking two straight divisional games from Ralph Wilson Stadium with limited buzz, the New England Patriots would seem to be off the table. Add the fact the Patriots played an international game two years ago in London, England, and it should eliminate them from consideration for the 2010 series.
The remaining two teams have good shots to be featured in this year's installment of the Bills in Toronto Series. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns have not played previous games in the series, nor have played in other international games, nor have special dates on their calendars, and have appeared at Ralph Wilson Stadium recently.
The Jaguars were in Buffalo last in 2006, and the Bills have flown to Florida three times in the last three years. This season will be the fifth straight year the two teams have met. Similarly, the Bills and Browns have clashed in each of the last three seasons, the last two occurring in Buffalo. Neither team is likely to be a big draw in Orchard Park, especially after the 6-3 stinker against Cleveland in 2009.
The 2010 NFL schedule will be released sometime in the first couple weeks of April with last year's being released on the 14th.