On Wednesday night, 8 p.m. EST, the NFL will unveil schedules for all 32 teams—an activity that has morphed into a national holiday of sorts.
The release allows season-ticket holders like myself (this fall represents my 12th season as a faithful season-ticket holder) a chance to plan out their football schedules for the fall and winter. It also leads to heated debates and overly optimistic projections, as fans of most teams try and come up with ways their team will conquer the schedule and make the playoffs.
Fans can also identify the road games they will travel to in support of a young Buffalo Bills team that is coming off a 6-10 season in year one of the Josh Allen era in Western New York.
Despite taking a step back one season after snapping the franchise’s 17-year playoff drought, there is reason for optimism in Buffalo. The team overhauled the offensive line (SIX new linemen!) and found the anchor of the o-line in center Mitch Morse. They brought in offensive weapons like wide receivers John Brown and Cole Beasley and tight end Tyler Kroft, and added ageless running back Frank Gore. On defense, they shored up the secondary with the additions of Kevin Johnson and E.J. Gaines, and improved the depth of the defensive line with the signing of situational pass rusher Eli Harold and the re-signing of defensive tackle Jordan Phillips. To improve their special-teams play, they brought in All-Pro returner Andre Roberts to shore up the woeful return game.
So what can we expect when the schedule is released? Will the schedule makers reward the Bills with another home prime-time game, or will Buffalo recede into the background and only make a token prime-time appearance on Thursday Night Football?
The Bills will host the New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Washington, Philadelphia Eagles, and Denver Broncos. Buffalo will travel to New England, Miami, the Jets, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, and Tennessee Titans.
Here’s my biased wish list for the 2019 Buffalo Bills schedule:
- Two home games in each month, or preferably three home games in either September or October (with one fewer home game in either November or December to make up for this). There’s nothing like watching a Buffalo Bills home game on a picture-perfect fall day in Western New York—the parking lots filled with rabid Bills fans partying in one of the most intimate and unique tailgating atmospheres in all of sports. Yet too many times the schedule makers will only give Buffalo one home game in September and October while back-loading the schedule with three December home games. I love a snow football game as much as the next fan, but it would be great to have two (or three) home games in September and October to make the most out of the beautiful fall weather we enjoy in Western New York.
- At least one primetime game, and maybe two so the national audience can watch Allen mature and develop into one of the more exciting quarterbacks in the league. A right elbow injury robbed Allen of six games in 2018, but he came back and guided the Bills to a 3-3 record over their final six games, completing 52.8 percent of his passes for 2,074 yards with 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also rushed for 631 yards and eight touchdowns on 89 carries (an average of 7.09 yards per rush). Allen’s 67.9 passer rating and a 52.0 Total QBR were second-best to Baker Mayfield among rookies and 12th-best among rookie quarterbacks since ESPN began tracking the stat in 2006. For years, Buffalo’s lone primetime game would be against the Jets. This year, that wouldn’t be the worst thing, as a budding rivalry between second-year quarterbacks Allen and Sam Darnold would give the Bills/Jets games added intrigue.
- A balanced schedule that doesn’t have the Bills leading the league in number of games against opponents coming off of either their bye week or a Thursday night game, which leads to an unfair rest advantage. From 2002-2014, the Bills played twice as many of these games as the other teams in the league, and it would be great if the new mathematical approach the league is employing for mapping out the schedule would yield a fair and equitable schedule for Buffalo.
- The league is celebrating its 100th anniversary this fall, with longtime rivals the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers kicking off the season Thursday, Sept. 5 at Chicago’s Soldier Field. In line with honoring longtime rivals, it would make sense for the Bills and Broncos to open the season, as both were charter members of the AFL. Buffalo last hosted Denver on Sept. 24, 2017, earning a 26-16 win at steamy New Era Field, and owns a 21-16-1 edge in the all-time series.
- An opportunity for an early-season statement win. The Bills face four teams that made the playoffs last year: a home-and-away with Tom Brady and the reigning Super Bowl champion Patriots, home games with the Ravens and Eagles, and a trip to face Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys. Buffalo would certainly garner attention with a win over any of these playoff teams from 2018—more so if it came at the expense of the Patriots or the Cowboys.
- A Buffalo/Cleveland showdown with something at stake. For too many years, these two teams with passionate fan bases have met with nothing on the line other than pride. With the excitement building in Cleveland after a busy offseason, and with the quiet upgrades Buffalo has made, it would be nice for the Bills/Browns clash to have playoff implications. You have to go back to the 1994 season for the last time both the Bills and Browns made the playoffs. With two exciting second-year quarterbacks in Allen and Mayfield, and two up-and-coming defenses, these franchises could finally be on the rise after years of mediocrity.
- A balanced schedule that doesn’t have Buffalo playing New England twice in the final month. The Patriots treat the first four games of the season as their extended preseason, and it would be nice if Sean McDermott and the Bills could get a crack at Bill Belichick and the Patriots early in the season, when the Patriots are still making adjustments (especially to life after Rob Gronkowski).
- The Bills have ended the last two seasons with four of their final five games against AFC East foes. Usually, those games are against the Patriots and Dolphins. Here’s hoping for a home finale in the snow against the Dolphins, with a Buffalo playoff berth at stake.
Mark your calendars for 8 p.m. EST Wednesday when the league’s schedule is announced!