Bills top wide out Stevie Johnson had a performance to forget on...
BuffalOkie Mondays: A Glance at the Buffalo Bills 2013 Schedule
Throughout the season I’ll be bringing in-depth previews of the Buffalo Bills’ week-by-week matchups, but since it’s June and we’re still a month away from Training Camp, I thought I’d just take a brief glance at the schedule and tell you exactly what will happen in every game. (Or I’ll just look at some main storylines and take a few shots in the dark on what I think could transpire).
Before I get started, though, let me give you a bit of background on the whole “BuffalOkie” thing. I was born and raised in Muskogee, Oklahoma, I am a proud alumnus of Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and now I live in Oklahoma City. 27 years on this earth, and I’ve never made my permanent residence outside the friendly confines of the Cowboy State (yeah, I’m not calling it by its real name). When I was in talks with the guys at BuddyNixon.com about starting this column, they asked me a question that I’ve answered roughly 50,000 times in my life: How is a born-and-raised Oklahoma guy a diehard Bills fan? I’d be lying to say I don’t occasionally ask myself the same question.
The short answer is this: I was raised wearing Oklahoma State orange. At some point when I was 7 or 8 years old, I was informed that a certain stud running back for the Bills happened to play his college ball at OSU. I jumped on the wagon that day and I haven’t wavered since.
Now that that is out of the way, let’s take a look at the games.
Week 1: vs. New England
When I first glanced at the schedule my first thought was:
Awesome! Buffalo gets to roll out its new regime, new coaching staff, new quarterback, new offense and new defense in Ralph Wilson Stadium against the evil empire of the AFC East. What could be better?
Then I thought…
Oh no. Buffalo has to roll out its new regime, new coaching staff, new quarterback, new offense and new defense in Ralph Wilson Stadium against the evil empire of the AFC East. What could be worse?
The truth is that this game is an absolute wild card. While Bills fans will be focused on getting answers to all their questions surrounding their shiny new product in 2013, the Pats will enter week 1 with several question marks of their own. In fact, the Bills should actually be in better shape at WR and TE than New England in week 1. That seems hard to believe, but when you consider that Tom Brady may be trying to make hay with Danny Amendola, Donald Jones and Michael Hoomanawanul, it’s not so hard to believe. I’ll take my chances with Stevie, Robert Woods and Scott Chandler, thank you very much.
Still, New England is still led by #12 and we don’t need to bring up the painful head-to-head numbers of the last decade to know that the Bills have a steep mountain to climb in week 1.
SIDE NOTE: As a Bills fan, I’ve become a pro at coping with tough losses, but last year’s six-point loss at New England on TJ Graham’s route-running debacle was one of the worst gut punches I’ve received in a long time.
Week 2: vs. Carolina
If we’re being realistic, the Bills should enter their week 2 matchup with the Panthers 0-1, and that is ok. Fans can come back to Ralph Wilson Stadium in week 2 with high hopes of picking up their first win of the Doug Marrone era. Obviously, we don’t know who will be under center for Buffalo, but if it is EJ Manuel, the Cam Newton vs. Manuel matchup will be an entertaining subplot for sure.
One thing we could find out in week 2 is if the Bills’ recent struggles against dual-threat quarterbacks will continue in 2013. It’s no secret that Newton won’t hesitate to get outside the pocket and use his legs, and if he saw any tape of the Bills 2012 defense, he’ll know that wouldn’t be the worst idea (somewhere Dave Wannstedt is still having nightmares about Russell Wilson). We know new Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine loves to send the house, but will that approach leave the defense vulnerable on the edges? If so, dates with Ryan Tannehill, Alex Smith, Ben Roethlisberger and Josh Freeman could provide a fair amount of frustration for fans.
That said, Newton took a major step backwards in 2012 and he took his team along with him. There is no reason for me to believe that the Bills can’t come out and pick up the win in week 2.
Week 3: at New York Jets
Before we get all excited about the many exciting storylines surrounding this matchup, let’s remember one thing: none of them matter until the Bills prove they are ready to win on the road. And while the Jets’ circus has officially reached laughable levels, Buffalo’s recent road play has been equally comical (5-19 in road games over the last three seasons).
Now, if Marrone and Co. show they are ready to reverse those trends in 2013, this game could be an excellent early statement game for the Bills. These two teams appear to be trending in opposite directions, and the Bills could go into the Meadowlands and make it known that they are ready to pass the Jets in the AFC East pecking order.
Week 4: vs. Baltimore
Yes, the Bills will be welcoming the defending Superbowl champs into RWS in week 4, but the Ravens will look wildly different (particularly on defense) than they did in New Orleans earlier this year. While Flacco and Co. should get theirs against a Bills defense that will still be evolving within Pettine’s new system, it remains to be seen if Baltimore’s newfangled defense will be able to gel this early in the season. Buffalo should like the fact that they see the Ravens early while they’re still working out some kinks, but I’m not expecting a win here.
Week 5: at Cleveland (Thursday night)
In December of 2007, the Bills went into Cleveland Browns Stadium in week 15, and believe it or not, the game had playoff implications. I was in Columbus, Ohio, visiting some family friends so my buddy Kyle and I decided to head north to the game. We sat three hours in a blizzard to see the Bills lose 8-0 in a game in which the most memorable play was Bills punter Brian Moorman kicking the ball out of the back of the end zone for a self-inflicted safety after a botched snap, and I vowed to never step foot in the city of Cleveland ever again.
The point of this story is that after that experience, I will never ever feel good about games in Cleveland. Road games on short rest can be dangerous (ask Pittsburgh about their Thursday evening tilt at Tennessee last season), but this is a game that the Bills should win.
Week 6: vs. Cincinnati
Remember when the Bills went into Cincinnati in 2010 and overcame a 21-point second-quarter deficit to beat the Bengals? You may remember it for Stevie’s widely publicized “Why so serious?” TD celebration (a Joker-inspired response to then-Bengals teammates Chad Ochocinco and Terrel Owens calling themselves Batman and Robin). Well unfortunately, it isn’t 2010 and THOSE Bengals won’t be rolling into Buffalo. Batman and Robin are gone, and the guy who was throwing to them, Carson Palmer, is an afterthought in Cincy thanks to the recent work of the Andy Dalton-AJ Green connection. Stephon Gilmore has shown plenty of signs that he has the tools to someday be a top-level defensive back in this league, and I’m sure he’ll welcome the challenge of lining up against a top-tier NFL receiver in Green.
The Bengals have not only established themselves as a good team in the last couple of years, they have also been great on the road, going 11-5 in regular season games away from Paul Brown Stadium in the last two seasons. And while Dalton and Green have led the way on offense, their defense became a cornerstone of this team in 2012. This will be another tough game against a very tough AFC North foe.
Week 7: at Miami
While there is still much to be seen before we start predicting wins and losses for the 2013 season, there are some things about which you can be quite confident. One of those is that the Dolphins appear to once again be the true mystery team of the AFC East. Tannehill has new weapons, and the defense, which was sneaky good in 2012, filled a few holes. But until we see how those new pieces work together, it is hard to say where exactly the Fins will end up in 2013.
These two teams appear ready to begin renewing the fierce rivalry they once had. I’m hoping 2013’s contests start to have that feel.
Week 8: at New Orleans
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. First-year Bills head coach Doug Marrone actually worked under Sean Payton in New Orleans and will definitely bring some Saints-style elements in his bag of tricks. There, I said it now so maybe we can avoid beating this dead horse later.
Week 9: vs. Kansas City
Anybody starting to feel like Buffalo and Kansas City are stuck in the middle of a never-ending home-and-home-and-home-and-home agreement? Here’s why this game doesn’t sit well with me: the last two years the Bills have played the Chiefs early in the season and provided fans in Buffalo with PLENTY of reasons to get excited. Heck, the 2011 tilt in Kansas City played a major role in the front office’s decision to give the Amish Rifle one of the more ridiculous contracts in recent league history.
Bitterness aside, the Bills have a good chance to make it three in a row and six out the last seven against the Chiefs.
Week 10: at Pittsburgh
The fact that the Steelers finished third in the AFC North last year tells you all you need to know about the current state of that division. The truth is that if I had to pick the three toughest games on the Bills’ schedule, this one would definitely make the list. The Steelers will be coming off back-to-back road games and they will be amped and ready to get back to Heinz Field.
I would consider Pittsburgh the anti-Dolphins, because you know exactly what you’re going to get from them: relentless defense and Roethlisberger creating absolute chaos with one part enormous arm and two parts unexplainable escapability. Simply put, the Bills will have their work cut out for them in week 10.
Now, there is always a decent chance that Roethlisberger will be battling the injury bug this late in the season, so Bills fans can go ahead and start hoping for that now.
Week 11: vs. New York Jets
Ah, NOW we can talk about all the awesome storylines surrounding the Bills-Jets matchups. Let’s see, I’ll take….Mike Pettine taking on his scorned former boss, Rex Ryan. With this game being sandwiched between a tough road test at Pittsburgh and the bye week, I’d recommend the Bills come out and take care of business against a Jets team that will surely be in shambles by week 11.
Week 12: Bye
Week 13: vs. Atlanta
How great is this going to be? Bills host a big-time opponent with star power all over the field on a cold December day in Buf…wait, what’s that? It’s being played in Canada? Nevermind.
Week 14: at Tampa Bay
If you’re simply looking for a fantastic player vs. player matchup on the Bills schedule, look no further than week 14 against the Bucs when two of the premier young backs in the league showcase their talents on the same field. We’re all aware of what CJ Spiller is capable of, and even casual NFL fans are aware of the absurd numbers that the Bucs’ Doug Martin put up in his rookie campaign a year ago. This game also features two teams that seem to be trending in the same direction. The Bucs, despite a few speedbumps (i.e. Raheem Morris), have, for the most part, trended upward since handing the reigns to the young athletic Josh Freeman in 2009. The Bills are obviously looking to follow a similar pattern with Manuel.
Week 15: at Jacksonville
Simply put, the Bills have one game on their schedule that falls in the “This would be a terrible loss” category, and this is it. I considered putting the Cleveland game in this category, but as I alluded to earlier, road night games on short rest just aren’t fun.
Week 16: vs. Miami
If I were going to name one semi-realistic goal for the Bills 2013 season, it would be to have something to play for when the Dolphins come calling on December 22. Just close your eyes and imagine this: Christmas week in Buffalo, snow falling, capacity crowd at the Ralph in a frenzy as the Bills play a MEANINGFUL game against a division rival. Go ahead…I’ll give you a moment.
Week 17: at New England
UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE YEAR COMING: I hate the 2013 regular season being bookended by games with New England. I’m not saying the Patriots games are automatic losses, but I’m not speaking out of turn to say that we’re just set up to begin and end the season with tough days at the office. In my opinion, the Bills could be a fringe playoff team in 2013 if certain things (like the QB position) fall into place. But ending the game in Foxboro in late December won’t be a whole lot of fun if there is still a Wild Card spot up for grabs.
Oh, who am I kidding? If you could guarantee me that the Bills will have something to play for in week 17 of the regular season, I’d take that in a New York minute.