The 2016 season ended like the previous 16 for the Buffalo Bills: without a playoff appearance. The team finished with a 7-9 record, its first sub-.500 mark since 2013. As a result, it’s back to the drawing board at head coach with Rex Ryan out and the Bills embarking on their seventh coaching search since the last time they made the playoffs in 1999.
Frustrating as this ever-increasing drought may be, it’s never too early to look at what lies ahead for the Bills on the field. As usual, they have six games (three home, three away) against their fellow AFC East foes. In addition, they face the AFC West, NFC South and a team from the other two AFC divisions in the same spot as the Bills in the final 2016 division standings. Since Buffalo finished third, they’ll be paired up with Indianapolis (AFC South) and Cincinnati (AFC North).
Before discussing the Bills 2017 opponents, it should be noted that these teams might look much different when the season rolls around. Neither free agency nor the NFL Draft has come around yet. Some teams will hit and other will invariably miss. As such, what looks like a win or loss right now might not be as set in stone on gameday.
Previewing the 2017 Buffalo Bills Schedule
Last year’s home game against the Dolphins hearkened the beginning of the end for Rex Ryan. Though the Bills came back from 14 down to force overtime, they eventually lost 34-31 in the extra period. Andrew Franks‘ game-winning field goal came after a 57-yard Jay Ajayi run where Buffalo had just ten men on the field.
Miami suddenly doesn’t look like a pushover after making the playoffs in Adam Gase‘s first year as head coach. If the Bills want to win this one, they’ll have to improve defending the run after getting embarrassed by Ajayi in both 2016 meetings.
New England Patriots
The Pats will come into this game riding a five-game winning streak in Orchard Park. Tom Brady was near-perfect last time he faced the Bills defense on the road. He threw for 315 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in New England’s decisive 41-25 win.
As long as Brady’s playing at a high level, this game’s always going to be one of the toughest on the schedule. Couple that with the potential of new faces at key positions (quarterback included if Tyrod Taylor doesn’t return) and it’s hard to classify a win here as anything other than a massive upset.
New York Jets
The Jets were not a good team in 2016. Yet, somehow, the Bills dropped both games against them. The defense made Ryan Fitzpatrick look elite in Week Two, a 37-31 loss. And in the season finale, they fell 30-10, giving up perhaps the most embarrassing touchdown of the season in the process.
This is as must-win as it gets in 2017. Unless the Jets luck out in the draft or free agency, their quarterback situation will be as bad as any team in the league. Assuming the Bills don’t go into rebuild mode themselves, no less than a W is expected here.
Fresh off their first missed playoffs since 2010, the Broncos face some uncertainty this off-season. Head coach Gary Kubiak retired and it’s unclear whether Trevor Siemian will remain starting quarterback or Paxton Lynch will take the reins. The Broncos don’t quite have the aura they enjoyed after winning Super Bowl 50 and could be vulnerable when they come to New Era Field this year.
My, how the roles have changed in the AFC West. Suddenly, the Oakland Raiders are one of the teams to beat in the division. Assuming Derek Carr returns 100 percent from his broken fibula and the nucleus of this team remains intact, this is about as tough as it’s going to get (home or away) for the Bills in 2017.
New Orleans Saints
The coming matchup between the Saints and Bills marks just the 11th all-time meeting between the two franchises. Buffalo is 1-3 at home in those games, with the last win coming all the way back in 1983. Naturally, the defense will have to find a way to slow down Drew Brees, fresh off the fifth season of his career where he’s thrown for at least 5,000 yards.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay appears to be trending in the right direction under head coach Dirk Koetter and quarterback Jameis Winston. The Bucs had their first winning season since 2010 last year and Winston become the first signal caller in NFL history to throw for over 4,000 yards in his first two years in the league. The soon-to-be third year man out of Florida State already won eight road games as a starter and so the hostile environment in Buffalo probably won’t faze him.
Before the current NFL division format took hold in 2002, these two teams were both in the AFC East and played each other every year dating back to 1970. Since then, they’ve met five times with the Bills winning two including the last one at home in 2015, a 27-14 triumph. An improved Buffalo pass defense that finished 2016 sixth in yards allowed and eighth in sacks could prove a challenge for Andrew Luck.
A recurring theme of the 2016 season was the Bills blowing second half leads. A glaring example was their 28-25 loss to the Dolphins in South Florida when they enjoyed a 17-6 third quarter lead at one point. Miami went 6-2 at home last season and made the playoffs so this inter-division game appears to be one of the tougher road games in 2017.
New England Patriots
The Bills made history last time they played in Gillette Stadium by handing the Pats their first-ever shutout in the history of the facility. But Tom Brady was still serving his “DeflateGate” suspension then. Buffalo has never won a road game against New England when Brady plays all four quarters. And if he has Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, Julian Edelman and a talented supporting cast as pass catching options, watch out.
New York Jets
Other than the Chargers, the Bills foray into MetLife Stadium to face the Jets likely goes down as the easiest road game of 2017. As mentioned above, their quarterback situation is a hot mess. And the defense has regressed across the board. There may not be a bigger embodiment of that fact than Darrelle Revis‘ mediocre play all year. The biggest opportunity for a win away from Buffalo likely comes here.
Kansas City Chiefs
Depending on what time of the year these two teams meet up, the conditions could play a part. A December matchup might bring icy Midwest weather into the equation, much like last year’s game between the Chiefs and Titans which was played in single-digit temperatures. Conditions aside, the Bills are in for a challenge against a KC team that should return a plethora of playmakers on both sides of the ball.
San Diego Chargers
Much like Buffalo, the Chargers will go into 2017 with a new man patrolling the sidelines as head coach. But will this game be played in San Diego? The franchise’s long-term plans are in limbo with the very real possibility the team could move to Los Angeles. Either way, this is one of the Bills best opportunities to beat the Chargers on the road for the first time since December 6, 1981.
The “can’t stop, can only hope to contain” mantra applied to the Falcons offense in 2016 and there’s every indication it will remain the same a year later. That said, the team could be without offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan who’s likely to accept a head coaching gig elsewhere. Nevertheless, Buffalo will have their hands full in Atlanta’s new digs next season.
The post-Super Bowl loss hangover hit the Panthers hard last year as they became the first conference champion since the 2012 Baltimore Ravens to miss the playoffs. Cam Newton endured a down year, throwing the most interceptions (14) since his rookie season. The Bills are undefeated on the road all-time against the Panthers. They could continue that trend should Newton’s decline not be an aberration.
The Bills travel to Cincinnati for the second straight year in 2017. They salvaged slim playoff hopes at Paul Brown Stadium last year with a narrow 16-12 win. The Bengals missed the playoffs for the first time in five seasons in 2016. If that’s a signal this franchise is heading in the wrong direction, it may be an opportunity for the Bills to escape Cincy with a win once more.