The 2021 NFL schedule is now out, and the roster is mostly made.
Buffalo Bills fans have a few months here to hydrate before Week 1 kickoff on Sept. 12. With the celebration that day will be, a collective raucous reunion of fans who were kept away for most of 2020, beginning the hydration process in mid-May seems none too cautious.
All at once, just after 1 p.m. ET on that late-summer Sunday, a year-long party held largely in private will culminate in the start of the new season. At that precise moment, the Bills will no longer be the team whose improbable joyride led them to 15 wins and one game from the Super Bowl.
They’ll be the team charged with backing that up – taking the next step, even.
Time then to put the bragging rights over the New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, and most of the AFC into a box. Once that ball is kicked off, it’s a 0-0 game between two 0-0 teams.
No rush, however. Plenty of warm and sunny days ahead to re-live last year, sure to be even more enjoyable than usual as we see some old friends and family members for the first time since before it began.
Last season was an absolute blast. First place from Day 1. Josh Allen’s ascension into the elite quarterback tier. Surgically proficient Stefon Diggs carving up defenses all year. Blowout wins over rivals, in prime-time, or both. Two playoff wins, their first since the 1990s.
So many great days – even if we were, largely, relegated to watching from home.
This year (if we’re vaccinated, at least) we can watch in person.
Hopefully for fans the Bills will look the same.
Seasons like 2020 – 13-3 and the AFC Championship Game – are not to be taken for granted, and they’re not easily repeatable. Every fan would take the same regular season for them (ok, 14-3, or 13-4, or whatever). Those are about the best records in the league every year.
So, no point in asking you if you’d take a repeat performance. But what would you take?
The Bills are now a team whose success this year will be measured by playoff results. I guess this could have been said about last year too, on the heels of the Wild Card Round loss in Houston to the Texans in 2019. But there’s no debating it this time. Saying a team needs to make the Super Bowl for it to be considered successful? Well, that’s pretty demanding. But in the Bills’ case, it might be true.
Now that the schedule is out, let’s break it down a little and ask ourselves if we’d sign for certain outcomes along the way:
“Would you take" ... 2-1?
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 12 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers - 1 p.m. ET
Week 2: Sunday, September 19 at Miami Dolphins - 1 p.m. ET
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 26 vs. Washington Football Team - 1 p.m. ET
I’m not really high on the Steelers or the Dolphins, although I think the Dolphins organization is better run than Pittsburgh’s. And while Washington has a sexy roster we’re still talking about a Ryan Fitzpatrick-led team that went 7-9 last year, on the road.
2-1 wouldn’t worry me, but I wouldn’t take it now. No.
“Would you take" ... 4-2?
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 3 vs. Houston Texans - 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10 at Kansas City Chiefs - 8:20 p.m. ET
Week 6: Monday, Oct. 18 at Tennessee Titans - 8:15 p.m. ET
Houston at home? If you’re a Super Bowl contender, you don’t even want that game to be close. Then it’s two biggies – at the Chiefs and Tennessee, both night games. I think the Titans will be down from last year too, but with these first six games I’d have to say needing 5-1 to be satisfied feels pretty greedy.
Yes, I would take 4-2.
“Would you take" ... 6-3?
Week 7: BYE WEEK
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 31 vs. Miami Dolphins - 1 p.m. ET
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 7 at Jacksonville Jaguars - 1 p.m. EST
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 14 at New York Jets - 1 p.m. EST
If the Bills actually are 4-2, then it’s tough to say yes to this. At this point, you’d expect them to be favored in all three of these games, maybe handily. But we’re not assuming 4-2, we’re looking at the whole board.
It doesn’t quite feel like a Super Bowl record, 6-3. The kind of team you’d expect to go deep. Possible, yes, but I bet if the Bills are 6-3, we’ll mostly sound concerned.
It’s good, but not great. Great is the goal this year, right? No.
“Would you take" ... 9-4?
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21 vs. Indianapolis Colts - 1 p.m. EST
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 25 at New Orleans Saints - 8:20 p.m. EST
Week 13: Monday, Dec. 6 vs. New England Patriots - 8:15 p.m. EST
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 4:25 p.m. EST
Whew – three playoff teams from 2020, and the Patriots. Any of these would look like good wins, or great.
I’d say 2-2 in these games isn’t bad for any team. If the Bills can get to the Colts game at 7-2 and then split these, 9-4 looks pretty good. They’d probably have the lead in the AFC East with that record, and also some shot at home-field advantage and the bye.
Yes, I would take 9-4.
It’s already more losses than last year, but I can’t see saying no to that record right now.
“Would you take" ... 12-5?
Week 15: Sat. Dec. 18/Sun. Dec. 19 vs. Carolina Panthers - TBD
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 26 at New England Patriots - 1 p.m. EST
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2 vs. Atlanta Falcons - 1 p.m. EST
Week 18: Sunday, Jan. 9 vs. New York Jets - 1 p.m. EST
This group looks like one where you might want to shoot for a sweep. Not settling for 3-1 in this section seems a little greedy, but I think I’d gamble.
Overall though? How does 12-5 sound? To me, it sounds pretty good. If that’s not a division-winning record, then one of the other AFC East foes made a huge jump up. It’s 100% a Wild Card record, at worst.
The problem is, however, that it’s almost as likely not to be a No. 1 seed’s record. Possible, but not likely. That top seed, as we saw last year, has a monumental advantage in the current format. Just one team gets a bye. The 2020 Bills having to play that extra game in the playoffs, then be the road team in the AFC Championship Game, is way tougher. Remember that Patrick Mahomes was hobbled the week before the Championship Game, and the Chiefs’ offensive line was unable to hold on for even more game after beating the Bills.
In a conference so strong – the Chiefs, the Ravens, the Cleveland Browns now, and who knows who else? – I think the Bills have one goal this regular season that matters: the top seed in the AFC playoffs. The division title lies within that.
Anything short and you’re playing an extra game and, at some point at least, hitting the road.
No, I would not take 12-5.
And no, I cannot wait.