Buffalo Bills schedule analysis: Predictions for each game in 2021
There’s really not a whole lot to complain about regarding the Buffalo Bills 2021 schedule because it has the best of both worlds for fans.
In fact, it's about as perfect a schedule as anyone could have hoped for.
The television networks treated the team like the Super Bowl contender it is expected to be. The Bills will appear at least four times in prime time national broadcast windows, the games coming in a pair of two-week periods.
The first set comes in weeks 5 and 6, a Sunday night game at Kansas City followed by a Monday nighter at Tennessee. Later in the season, the Bills will play Week 12 at New Orleans on Thanksgiving night, and then host the Patriots for a Week 13 Monday nighter.
There is also a 4:25 p.m. game at Tampa Bay in Week 14 which will most likely be broadcast to a large portion of the country, in essence a national TV game.
On the flip side, the Bills have 11 games that will start at 1 p.m. which is a popular time for fans, especially for home games because thousands travel to Orchard Park from Rochester and other areas outside Erie County.
Seven of the nine home games will kickoff at 1. The game against the Panthers in Week 15 is an unknown because the NFL is leaving it open for a Saturday or Sunday, date and time to be determined.
The schedule starts great with three of the first four games at home when the weather is typically at its best, and then finishes with three of four at home which could be a crucial homefield advantage of the Bills are trying to secure the AFC East division title or a wild-card playoff berth.
Here’s my game-by-game analysis, with a way-too-early, exercise-in-futility-guess at whether the Bills should win or lose.
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 12 vs Steelers
This will be a matchup of 2020 division winners, though an easy case can be made that the Bills are a team that is still on the rise and positioned to make a strong defense of their AFC East title, while the Steelers are heading in the other direction, still tied to 39-year-old quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. My guess: Bills (1-0).
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 19 at Dolphins
This is the only AFC East opponent the Bills will face in the first seven weeks. Last year, Buffalo also traveled to Miami for a Week 2 game and delivered a 31-28 victory. This time, they won’t be facing Ryan Fitzpatrick, it’ll be Tua Tagovailoa looking to build on a middling rookie season, but now equipped with some excellent passing game weapons led by rookie first-round pick Jaylen Waddle, free agent signee Will Fuller, and holdovers DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki. My guess: Dolphins (1-1).
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 26 vs Washington
Speaking of Fitzpatrick, odds are that he’ll be leading Washington into Orchard Park playing for his ninth different team. He signed as a free agent in the offseason after Alex Smith retired. More troublesome for the Bills will be Washington’s defense which features one of the best defensive lines in the league led by Chase Young, Montez Swaet, and Da’Ron Payne. My guess: Bills (2-1).
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 3 vs. Texans
Houston has a chance to be the worst team in the league if quarterback DeShaun Watson is not on the roster which, right now, seems like it will be the case. If there’s one game on the schedule that you might want to call a lock for the Bills, it’s this one. In fact, this won't be a guess. Bills (3-1).
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10 at Chiefs
The Chiefs had their way with the Bills twice last season, 26-17 in the Monday night game at Highmark Stadium, and then 38-24 in the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead. Buffalo was outmatched pretty handily in both games, and coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane both publicly stated that they have to raise their game in order to compete with the Chiefs. My guess: Chiefs (3-2).
Week 6: Monday, Oct. 18 at Titans
Another prime time affair in Nashville. Last year, the Bills had to play the Titans on the road on a Tuesday night because of the Titans’ COVID-19 issues and they were spanked 42-16, their worst game of the season. This time, the game is scheduled for a Monday night. If the Bills are going to reverse their fortunes, it starts with containing two-time defending NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry who last year became just the eighth back to surpass 2,000 yards in a season. My guess: Bills (4-2).
Week 7: Bye week
Last year the Bills had to wait until Week 11, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, before getting their week off, and during the break they had to stew after having just loss on that Murray Miracle to Arizona. When they returned to play, they won eight straight games before losing in the AFC title game.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 31 vs Dolphins
As if it’s not already crazy enough when Miami comes to town, this time the Dolphins arrive on Halloween. It will be interesting to see where the Dolphins are in their development, specifically where Tagovailoa is as he tries to prove he is indeed Miami’s franchise quarterback. My guess: Bills (5-2).
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 7 at Jaguars
The Bills will get their first look at the revamped Jaguars of Urban Meyer, with No. 1 overall draft pick Trevor Lawrence under center, and No. 25 overall pick Travis Etienne in the backfield. Etienne was a player many draft analysts had pegged for Buffalo, but he was taken five picks before the Bills were on the clock. My guess: Bills (6-2).
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 14 at Jets
One week after seeing Lawrence, the Bills will face the No. 2 overall pick, quarterback Zack Wilson, for the first time. The Bills have won in their last four trips to the Meadowlands, beating the Jets three times and the Giants once. They have a ways to go to match the eight straight they won in the old Giants Stadium between 1987-93. My guess: Bills (7-2).
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21 vs Colts
The second playoff rematch as Indianapolis returns to the scene of its 27-24 loss in the wild-card game last January. This time the Colts come to town with Carson Wentz as their quarterback looking for their first victory in Orchard Park since 2003 (0-4 since then). First-round pick Kwity Paye, an edge rusher who was linked to the Bills in the pre-draft process, may be rounding into form by then, but the defender to watch is linebacker Darius Leonard. My guess: Bills (8-2).
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 25 at Saints
Thanksgiving on Bourbon Street. Well, not for the Bills, but probably a whole bunch of their fans. Without Drew Brees at quarterback for the first time since 2004, it’s tough to predict what the New Orleans offense will look like with either Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill at quarterback. However, we know the defense will be good, a unit that ranked third in the NFL last season in points allowed. My guess: Saints (8-3).
Week 13: Monday, Dec. 6 vs Patriots
It’s highly unusual that the Bills wouldn’t see a division opponent for the first time until December, but here we are. The question will be, who’s going to be the Patriots’ quarterback at this point, Cam Newton or first-round pick Mac Jones? Whoever it is, you know Bill Belichick will be seeking some revenge after the Bills swept him for the first time in his Patriots tenure. My guess: Bills (9-3).
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12 at Buccaneers
The Bills will be facing Tom Brady for the first time since he left New England with his 32-3 record as a starter against Buffalo. Without question, that will be the dominant storyline in the week leading to the game, but the biggest thing to watch in this game will be the Bills’ explosive offense against an outstanding Bucs defense. How Allen plays will probably matter more than how Brady plays. My guess: Bucs (9-4).
Week 15: Dec. 18 or 19 vs Panthers
Remember when Sam Darnold was picked No. 3 overall by the Jets in the 2018 draft, Josh Allen was picked No. 7 by the Bills, and we all thought those two would be battling each other in the AFC East for the next decade-plus? Well, that didn’t work out, but with the NFC South on the Bills’ schedule, and Darnold traded to Carolina, he and Allen get to renew the rivalry that never was. To date, Allen has won three of the five matchups and one of his losses came in the 2019 season finale when he was pulled in the first quarter to protect him from injury prior to the playoffs. My guess: Bills (10-4).
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 26 at Patriots
Might this be the game that decides the AFC East? It’s possible because in all likelihood, the Patriots are going to bounce back from their 7-9 season in 2020 and create problems in the division. Old habits die hard for me when it comes to New England, and unlike some, I think they're going to be good. My guess: Patriots (10-5).
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2 vs Falcons
A dome team coming into Orchard Park the day after New Years’ might be a thing, though it usually isn’t. The key here will be whether the Falcons are in the playoff hunt and how desperately they need to win the game. Matt Ryan is on the back nine of his career, but he has some weapons in Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Hayden Hurst and No. 4 overall pick Kyle Pitts who became the highest drafted tight end in history. My guess: Bills (11-5).
Week 18: Sunday, Jan. 9 vs Jets
Chances are the Bills will have the division title and/or their postseason seed sewed up by this point, and the Jets will be looking ahead to the draft so that they can continue their rebuild. Always a tough game to figure when teams start resting players for the playoffs. I'll base this on the game meaning something to the Bills. My guess: Bills (12-5).
Sal Maiorana can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.