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An early prediction for the Buffalo Bills’ 2017 record

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The Bills’ 2017 season should look a lot like the last few years.

The Buffalo Bills 2017 schedule was released this week. Now that we can slot opponents, check on bye week, look at rest, and all the other factors that go into a week-to-week grinding schedule, let’s predict what the team’s record is ultimately going to be.

Week 1: vs. New York Jets

The Jets are in full-on tank mode at this point, likely preparing a move for either Lamar Jackson or Sam Darnold at the top of the draft in 2018. The Jets did sweep the Bills last year, once early in the year thanks to a defensive meltdown and once in the Week 17 game that played out like it was the preseason. I’m willing to bet that things will be different this year.

Bills win
Bills record: 1-0

Week 2: at Carolina Panthers

For a multitude of reasons, Sean McDermott’s return to Carolina after six years as their defensive coordinator won’t be nearly as much of an event as the Rex Ryan Jets games were. The same goes for all of the former Panthers who will be returning to their old digs for the first time, such as fullback Mike Tolbert, receiver Philly Brown, and cornerback Leonard Johnson. The Panthers had a lot of issues stopping teams through the air last year, but should be better this year (and even if they’re not, the Bills are hardly in a position to exploit it).

Panthers win
Bills record: 1-1

Week 3: vs. Denver Broncos

It was clear from the end of last year that the Broncos are a ways away from returning to contender status, despite the talent on defense and at wide receiver. It remains to be seen whether last year’s top pick, Paxton Lynch, can wrestle the starting quarterback job away from incumbent Trevor Siemian, but either passer is going to struggle moving the ball through the air, while the Bills’ run game should be able to carve out some yards against the Broncos, who lost defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to the Rams this past offseason,

Bills win
Bills record: 2-1

Week 4: at Atlanta Falcons

I think this game could be closer than you might expect against the defending NFC champs in their new stadium. The Falcons’ defense struggled in most areas last year, and McDermott has played against them twice a year for the last six seasons (albeit not very well last year, at all). However, the Falcons’ offense is just too explosive. Julio Jones won’t have a 300-yard game, but he’ll be a deciding factor.

Falcons win
Bills record: 2-2

Week 5: at Cincinnati Bengals

The Bills and Bengals played last season, with the Bills eking out a 16-12 win in part thanks to an early injury to Bengals star receiver A.J. Green. While that was something of a fluke, it’s worth noting that LeSean McCoy and Robert Woods were injured in that game, so the playing field was pretty level. Even though Woods is gone, Shady can do enough to give the Bills a W on the road.

Bills win
Bills record: 3-2

Week 6: Bye Week

Week 7: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This will be the third matchup against one of McDermott’s old NFC South foes. The Jameis Winston-to-Mike Evans combo should light up the NFL for years to come, but outside of those two the Bucs are really lacking in weapons on either side of the field. That said, they were good enough last year to stay in the playoff race until late December after a five-game winning streak. I feel like this is a game where Tyrod Taylor is going to need to win with his arm. I’ll give it to him.

Bills win
Bills record: 4-2

Week 8: vs. Oakland Raiders

The Raiders were serious Super Bowl contenders last season until they lost Derek Carr to an injury in Week 16. With Carr at the helm, the Raiders more or less put an end to the Bills season with a monster second half in Week 13 last year. This game shouldn’t feature a meltdown quite like that one did (I hope), but the Raiders are the superior team and should be able to win. This is an East Coast game for the West Coast Raiders, but they’ll be coming off a Thursday Night Football game and should have plenty of time to rest and adjust.

Raiders win
Bills record: 4-3

Week 9: at New York Jets

The Bills and Jets will square off on Thursday for the third straight season, with this game coming in New York after last season’s loss in Buffalo. As I said earlier, the Jets aren’t going to win many games this season. This one should reflect that.

Bills win
Bills record: 5-3

Week 10: vs. New Orleans Saints

When we consider the great pantheon of quarterbacks in the modern era, Drew Brees tends to get overshadowed by Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. He may not quite have the mastery of the quarterback position that those two have, but in his 11 seasons in New Orleans he’s never thrown for less than 4,388 yards. That said, he is 38, and the Saints just traded away one of his top targets in Brandin Cooks. Their running game is solid (if inconsistent), but their defense is still a wreck. I’d give it some thought if they were playing in the Superdome, but...they’re not.

Bills win
Bills record: 6-3

Week 11: at Los Angeles Chargers

Speaking of aging quarterbacks, Philip Rivers is 35 but still going relatively strong. The Chargers might have put together one of the best 5-11 seasons in history last year, which I mean in the nicest way possible. Even if Keenan Allen goes down again, and Antonio Gates continues to regress at the end of his career, the Chargers should still be much better this season with a healthy Melvin Gordon and last year’s top defensive rookie in Joey Bosa. They do have a new head coach (old Bills offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn) and an extremely unique stadium situation, but the talent is there to pull this one out.

Chargers win
Bills record: 6-4

Week 12: at Kansas City Chiefs

McDermott will bring the Bills into Kansas City to face his mentor, Andy Reid. In doing so, he’ll be facing the AFC’s number two seed from last season, as Alex Smith continues to defy expectations by keeping the Chiefs afloat with the help of a defense that led the NFL by forcing 33 turnovers last season. Their running game carries a host of questions, with longtime starter Jamaal Charles off to free agency after a couple of injury-plagued seasons. Spencer Ware put together a solid season, but Smith led the team with five rushing touchdowns. If they can find a good running back in the draft (which shouldn’t be hard), they could push for that second seed again. Even with their propensity to avoid turnovers, I have a hard time seeing the Bills pick up a win at Arrowhead this year.

Chiefs win
Bills record: 6-5

Week 13: vs. New England Patriots

The Bills have a very odd set-up this year, with four divisional contests in the final five games, with home-and-homes against the Pats and Dolphins. McDermott last coached against Bill Belichick in 2013, when McDermott’s Panthers more or less neutralized Tom Brady (296 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception) while Cam Newton threw for three scores, including the winner to Ted Ginn in the final minute of a 24-20 victory. He’ll be able to replicate that eventually, but probably not this year.

Patriots win
Bills record: 6-6

Week 14: vs. Indianapolis Colts

The Colts have one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Andrew Luck, but they have little else going their way. The defense should be able to keep T.Y. Hilton under wraps, and the offense should have no trouble moving the ball against a defense that ranked 30th in rushing yards per attempt allowed.

Bills win
Bills record: 7-6

Week 15: vs. Miami Dolphins

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Bills can handle the Dolphins’ passing game, and the offense can move the ball both on the ground and in the air. The real question is whether or not the defense can deal with Jay Ajayi, who last year became the first running back since O.J. Simpson in 1973 to run for 200 yards twice against one team in one season. For one game, at least, they should be able to make it work.

Bills win
Bills record: 8-6

Week 16: at New England Patriots

It’s not easy to project what’s going to happen in the upcoming season, given that the only data to work with comes from last season, prior to free agency and the draft (not to mention coaching changes). It’s entirely possible that the league has flipped upside down by this point, and the Bills are entirely capable of hanging with Tom Brady’s Patriots in Foxborough. I’m going to assume that won’t happen.

Patriots win
Bills record: 8-7

Week 17: at Miami Dolphins

The outcome of this game is largely going to depend on the playoff race. If the Bills pulled out a few games I expect them to lose, they can absolutely win this one. At 8-7, though, I’d expect they’ll use this game to see what they have in whichever young quarterback is sitting behind Tyrod at this point. My money’s on Cardale Jones.

Dolphins win
Bills record: 8-8

What’s your prediction, Bills fans?