I think the Buffalo Bills will be one of the most fascinating teams of the 2015 season -- the kind of team that could surprise everyone and win the AFC East but also could go 5-11. No team has had a longer playoff drought than the Bills. For some odd reason, last year's head coach, Doug Marrone, opted out of his contract following a 9-7 season that qualifies as a huge success in Buffalo. That backfired on Marrone as he didn't land another head coaching gig. The Bills probably have upgraded with former Jets coach Rex Ryan. Maybe the only negative of that hiring was that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz then departed due to differing philosophies with Ryan, and the Buffalo defense was one of the NFL's best in 2014. I'm sure it will be again under Ryan and new DC Dennis Thurman, who followed Ryan from New York.
There have been a few teams with great defenses that won the Super Bowl. The 2000 Ravens with Trent Dilfer under center and 2002 Buccaneers with Brad Johnson come to mind. Can the Bills possibly do so with either Matt Cassel or E.J. Manuel under center? I'm skeptical but also eager to see this team in action after beefing up the offense with running back LeSean McCoy and receiver Percy Harvin this offseason.
The Bills were 4-4 on the road last season, 5-3 against the spread and 2-6 "over/under." Their 2015 road schedule ranks as the third-easiest in the NFL with an opponents' combined 2014 winning percentage of .406. Only Carolina's and Atlanta's are easier.
Here's the schedule with very early (opponent) odds.
Sept. 27 -- at Dolphins (-2): This could be a must-win game already for Buffalo as it opens with about the two toughest home games one could ask for: Indianapolis in Week 1 and New England in Week 2. That latter one might get easier if Tom Brady remains suspended. This is Miami's home opener as it goes to Washington and then Jacksonville. Buffalo lost in Miami in Week 11 on a Thursday night in 2014, 22-9. It was the fewest points the Bills scored all year. They had drives of 67 and 85 yards on their first two possessions but had to settle for field goals and didn't do much after. Buffalo won the turnover battle 2-0 but managed only 237 yards. Bills lose this. Key trend: Bills 4-6 ATS in past 10 as road dog in series.
Oct. 11 -- at Titans (+3): Buffalo comes off a home game vs. the Giants, while Tennessee is off its bye week. So advantage Titans. Ryan's defense should have little trouble confusing Tennessee rookie QB Marcus Mariota here. Buffalo has lost five straight in the series, last in 2012. Bills end skid, though. Key trend: Bills 6-4 ATS in past 10 as road favorite.
Oct. 25 -- at Jaguars (+6): This game is in London and will be streamed on Yahoo, a first in NFL history. Buffalo is home to Cincinnati the previous Sunday, while Jacksonville is home to Houston in Week 6. This should be another defensively-dominating performance against a young quarterback for the Bills. But then teams going overseas sometimes play unpredictably. It's also ahead of Buffalo's bye week. First meeting between teams since a 27-20 Bills win in 2013. They win here as well. Key trend: Bills 4-5-1 ATS in past 10 before a bye (any location).
Nov. 12 -- at Jets (+1): Thursday night game. Buffalo off a home game vs. Miami, while New York is home to Jacksonville in Week 9. Ryan's return here and I think the fickle Jets fans might actually be somewhat welcoming. They loved the guy. Buffalo won at the Jets 43-23 in Week 8 last season, its highest-scoring game of the year. Former Bills QB Kyle Orton threw four touchdown passes on just 10 completions -- Sammy Watkins had three catches for 157 yards and a 61-yard score -- and the Buffalo defense forced six turnovers. Bills win this for their coach. Key trend: Bills 6-4 ATS in past 10 at Jets.
Nov. 23 -- at Patriots (-5.5): Monday night game. New England is off a Week 10 matchup at the Giants and might be caught looking ahead to Week 12 in Denver. Buffalo ended a six-game losing streak with a 17-9 win at New England to close last season, but that game meant absolutely nothing to the Patriots, who rested some key guys and played Tom Brady just a portion of the game. It meant something to the Bills as they were able to finish with a winning record for the first time since 2004. They lose this one. Key trend: Bills 5-5 ATS in past 10 as a road dog of at least 5 points in series (lost all 10).
Nov. 29 -- at Chiefs (-2.5): End of a tough three-game road trip for Buffalo and off two rivalry games (plus a short week) so I wonder what's left in the tank here. Kansas City comes off a trip to San Diego in Week 11. The Bills lost 17-13 to the visiting Chiefs in Week 10 last season, blowing a 13-3 fourth-quarter lead. A late Buffalo drive stalled at the Kansas City 15. The Bills sacked Alex Smith six times and held the Chiefs to 278 yards. It really was a game they should have won, but Buffalo kept blowing it in the red zone. Bills lose this. Key trend: Bills 6-4 ATS in past 10 at AFC West.
Dec. 13 -- at Eagles (-3.5): Buffalo is off a Week 13 home game vs. Houston, while Philly is off a game at New England the previous Sunday. Of course,2 these teams made that surprising trade this offseason, with Buffalo getting the former NFL rushing leader McCoy for young linebacker Kiko Alonso, who missed all of last season. I know running backs are diminished these days, but I love that trade for the Bills, and Ryan will run McCoy all day. First meeting between teams since 2011. Bills lose. Key trend: Bills 5-5 ATS in past 10 as a road dog of at least 3.5 points.
Dec. 20 -- at Redskins (+1): Washington comes off a trip to Chicago in Week 14, and this is the Redskins' home finale -- maybe the finale there for Robert Griffin III? Buffalo then closes at home vs. the Cowboys and Jets, so it might overlook this game a bit if the Skins are lousy, which they may well be. I'll still call a Bills win, which would be their seventh straight vs. Washington. Key trend: Bills 3-6-1 ATS in past 10 at NFC teams.
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