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Buffalo Bills facing improved competition from AFC East rivals

The next beast for the Bills to slay? The AFC East

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

When the NFL released its 2022 regular-season schedule back in May, the Buffalo Bills were handed one of the most difficult six-game stretches to open a season—on paper—that the team has ever had. That six-game stretch included:

  • A season-opening Thursday road contest against the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams
  • A home-opening Monday Night Football matchup against the top seed in the 2021 AFC playoffs, the Tennessee Titans
  • An early season road game against an improved Miami Dolphins team; Miami Gardens is almost always an issue from a weather standpoint before November
  • A road contest against a perennial playoff contender, the Baltimore Ravens, featuring an MVP candidate at quarterback in Lamar Jackson
  • A home date with Mike Tomlin’s Pittsburgh Steelers who, despite being in transition, have never finished below .500 on his watch
  • A road trip to Arrowhead Stadium to play the rivals that bounced them from the last two postseasons, the Kansas City Chiefs

Buffalo hits its bye week having run that gamut, and they’re situated about as well as anyone could have reasonably hoped for: they’re 5-1, alone atop the AFC standings and leading the league with a plus-95 point differential, 39 more points than the next-highest team in that column, the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles.

Their lone defeat in that stretch, however—that pesky loss to Miami in the sweltering heat—sets up the next gamut that the Bills will have to run in order to maintain their current positioning and ensure that the road to Super Bowl LVII goes through Orchard Park, NY. They’ll need to win the AFC East, and perhaps do so convincingly.

The Bills currently lead their division, but they’ll face an improved trio of teams five more times throughout their final 11 games. As it stands after Week 6, every team in the division is .500 or better; it’s just the second time since Sean McDermott took over as Bills head coach in 2017 that it’s happened. The first was in 2017, when the Bills’ 4-2 start was matched by both Miami and the New England Patriots, and the New York Jets were 3-3.

This season, New York is off to a 4-2 start and winners of three straight, and feature one of the better collections of young talent in the league. Miami is 3-3, but were 3-0 before injuries to all three of their quarterbacks—Tua Tagovailoa, Teddy Bridgewater, and Skylar Thompson—derailed their promising start. Tagovailoa is expected to return to the lineup for Miami’s next game. And New England, 3-3 and winners of two straight, is currently third in the AFC with a plus-28 point differential, trailing only Buffalo and Kansas City.

Buffalo’s recent run of success in the McDermott-Beane era has been fueled, in very large part, by the team’s success in divisional contests. In their first three seasons under McDermott, two of which ended in playoff berths, the Bills had a losing record in the division—8-10 overall, with no better than a 3-3 split in any season. They were 2-4 in 2018, the season they turned the page to then-rookie Josh Allen at quarterback. In 2020 and 2021, however, after Tom Brady departed the division for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Bills were a combined 11-1 in intra-division contests, the lone loss at home last season to the Patriots in the infamous Wind Bowl.

Thus far this season, the Bills are 0-1 in the AFC East. That ties them with New England for the worst division record at the moment; the Dolphins are 2-1 with wins over Buffalo and the Patriots, while the Jets are 1-0, having beaten a Tua-less Miami outfit in Week 5. The Bills are still widely expected to win this division, but the race to the top seems like it’s going to be far more difficult than it has been over the past two seasons.

Buffalo’s remaining AFC East games are as follows:

  • Week 9, 11/6/22, at the Jets
  • Week 13, 12/1/22, at the Patriots (on Thursday Night Football)
  • Week 14, 12/11/22, hosting the Jets
  • Week 15, date TBD (12/17/22 or 12/18/22), hosting the Dolphins
  • Week 18, date TBD (1/7/23 or 1/8/23), hosting the Patriots

That back-loaded divisional schedule won’t be on the team’s minds for a little while. The Bills have plenty of big games to get through first, starting with their Week 8 home date with the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football following their well-earned bye week. But that run of four divisional games in the final six-game stretch of the season will be the meat-and-potatoes portion of the season: if the Bills can chew through it with a winning record, they’ll stand a good chance of ending up where they want to be—and ending up with a third straight division title in the process.