The Buffalo Bills 2013 regular season schedule was released Thursday. I'm usually optimistic this time of year and can find eight, nine or 10 games the Bills could win. But this year is different.
The Bills enter the 2013 season with a new coaching staff and a new starting quarterback. The new starter could be Kevin Kolb, Tarvaris Jackson or a rookie -- if the Bills decide to select a quarterback in the NFL draft.
Now that I've had a chance to review the schedule a few times, here's what is good, bad and ugly about the Bills' 2013 schedule.
- More home games early on and fewer home games in December. Last season, the Bills had four home games in December. (One of the home games was in Toronto, meaning they played three home games at Ralph Wilson Stadium.) This made ticket sales difficult and led to blackouts. In recent years, games in December are affected by weather and the team's place in the standings. Having more home games earlier in the season -- they play six of their eight home games before Dec. 1 -- should help boost ticket sales and prevent blackouts.
- Another prime-time game. I don't think it's necessary that every team gets a prime-time game, but it's nice to see the Bills get a nationally televised game once a year. This year, the Bills will travel to Cleveland for a game on Thursday, Oct. 3 against the Browns. The close proximity to Cleveland could mean a decent number of Bills fans make the trip. This game should be fun, whether you choose to drive to Cleveland or watch it on NFL Network.
- Strength of schedule. The Bills were 6-10 last season, so they weren't exactly one of the best teams in the NFL. But the good news is their 2013 opponents had a combined .473 winning percentage in 2012. That means the Bills have a favorable schedule. (But remember: They also have a lot of question marks entering this season.) The Bills will play 10 of their 16 games against teams that finished below .500 in 2012.
- Games against New England (twice), Atlanta and Baltimore. Four games against three of the best teams in the NFL, including the defending Super Bowl champions? The defense will be put to the test in all four games. The season/home opener against New England will test the Bills early in the 2013 season. The game against Baltimore will be another challenge. And with the way Atlanta is looking entering 2013, it could be another blowout north of the border when the Bills and Falcons play on Dec. 1 in Toronto. (Remember: Last year, the Bills lost 50-17 to the Seattle Seahawks in Toronto.)
- Week 12 bye week. The Bills get a late bye week this season. The Bills typically get a bye week during Weeks 6, 7, 8 or 9. But this year, the Bills get a bye during Week 12. I think this is a bad thing. Sure, the Bills get a little extra rest time after they play their Week 5 game (on Thursday) against Cleveland. But Week 12 is a long time to wait for a full week off. In fact, the last time Buffalo had a bye Week 10 or later? 2002.
- Toronto game. I have written before about why I hate the Bills in Toronto series. But here we are. The Bills will play Atlanta on Dec. 1 in Toronto. It's a good team to bring in for the Toronto crowd, but it's also the Bills next-to-last "home" game of the season. I wouldn't mind seeing the Bills in Toronto game move up in the schedule -- October or November, perhaps? -- but the NFL (and the team) seems to like scheduling the Toronto game in December. At least for the next few years, we'll have to deal with the Toronto game. To be honest, I don't see them going away until the team shows on-the-field improvement. Until then, the Toronto games are here to stay.
- Final five games of 2013 season. The five games in December could be stinkers. The aforementioned game against Atlanta in Toronto will start the December slate. After the game against the Falcons, Buffalo plays three straight games against Florida's NFL teams -- Dec. 8 at Tampa Bay, Dec. 15 at Jacksonville and Dec. 22 versus Miami. Finally, the Bills wrap up the 2013 regular season against New England. Two games against two of the NFL's top teams with three games against three sub-.500 teams in between. That looks like a lousy way to end the season.
- Games against AFC North opponents. The Bills will play three straight games against AFC North foes -- Baltimore (Week 4), Cleveland (Week 5) and Cincinnati (Week 6). Buffalo will also play Pittsburgh on Nov. 10. All four of those games will be tough games. The Ravens are coming off their Super Bowl victory. Cincinnati made the playoffs last season. Pittsburgh started the 2012 season 6-3 before fading down the stretch. Cleveland could also be a tough opponent. If I had to put my money on it today, I would say the Bills lose all four games against AFC North teams.
- Kansas City and Jacksonville games. The Chiefs and Jaguars both finished 2-14 last season. They have a lot of question marks -- more than the Bills -- entering the 2013 season. Given what we know about the Bills and what we know about both these teams, the games Bills-Chiefs game on Nov. 3 and the Bills-Jaguars game on Dec. 15 could be the worst games on the schedule. Don't get me wrong. The Bills have a good chance to win both of those games. But they probably won't be a lot of fun to watch.
Here is the Buffalo Bills 2013 regular season schedule:
Week 1 -- vs. New England, 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8 (CBS)
Week 2 -- vs. Carolina, 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 15 (FOX)
Week 3 -- at New York Jets, 4:25 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22 (CBS)
Week 4 -- vs. Baltimore, 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 29 (CBS)
Week 5 -- at Cleveland, 8:25 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3 (NFLN)
Week 6 -- vs. Cincinnati, 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13 (CBS)
Week 7 -- at Miami, 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20 (CBS)
Week 8 -- at New Orleans, 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27 (CBS)
Week 9 -- vs. Kansas City, 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3 (CBS)
Week 10 -- at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10 (CBS)
Week 11 -- vs. New York Jets, 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17 (CBS)
Week 12 -- BYE WEEK
Week 13 -- vs. Atlanta (in Toronto at Rogers Centre), 4:05 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1 (FOX)
Week 14 -- at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8 (CBS)
Week 15 -- at Jacksonville, 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15 (CBS)
Week 16 -- vs. Miami, 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22 (CBS)
Week 17 -- at New England, 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 29 (CBS)
bold - home games
italics - prime-time game.