2004 Schedule Ramps Up, and Up, and Up!

The schedule making gods were both good and bad to the Bills for the 2004 season although the bad appears to outweigh the good.

First, the good:

New head coach Mike Mularkey along with his staff of seasoned newbies will appreciate the season and home opener against a Jacksonville team that also finished 6-10 last season. They will also appreciate the second game on the road vs. the downhill sliding Oakland Raiders. Both games will provide a nice venue for developing some chemistry on the fly for a Bills team with several new elements to it.

The Bills play Miami in Miami in early December and no other teams where weather should adversely impact the Bills.

Unfortunately for the good, that's about it. The schedule only ramps up from there. As well, the traditional benefits to home field advantage for the Bills are almost entirely mitigated.

Now the bad:

Following the first two games, the Bills run a veritable gauntlet. Not unusual, the AFC East once again arguably figures to be the toughest division in the NFL.

After the first two games followed by a uselessly placed week 3 bye week, the Bills schedule does not provide much of a break throughout the remaining 14 weeks.

In late November and December when the Bills typically have a home field advantage due to the adversarial weather conditions, the team hosts only the Steelers and Browns, two teams with home fields where similar conditions prevail.

Five of the last eight and four of the last six games are on the road.

Immediately following the bye week the Bills play four straight games vs. teams ranked 1st, 8th, 3rd, and 6th in scoring defense last season. This could be problematic for the Bills. These are three divisional teams and Baltimore, teams and types of defenses that Bledsoe has not traditionally had good games against. Two back-to-back "less than stellar" games by Bledsoe may very easily result in a PR problem for the Bills and calls for Bledsoe to be benched.

December games generally sell slowly in Buffalo. Expect Cleveland and Pittsburgh fans to beat Bills fans to the punch for tickets to those two games much as the game vs. the Patriots was in 2002. Demand for tickets is higher in both cities and good seats more of a rarity to be able to purchase than in Buffalo. Brown and Steeler fans will gladly make the three hour trip to Buffalo to see their teams play and will not wait until midseason to purchase their tickets. Unless Bills fans react quickly, the home field advantage for the only two home games after Thanksgiving could be tremendously mitigated. A poor record for the Bills by midseason would likely only exasperate the situation.

Over the past two seasons the Bills have been 9-2 vs. teams that finished their season 6-10 or worse and 1-10 vs. teams that finished their seasons 10-6 or better with the only victory coming against the disarrayed Patriots in week one last season. Regardless of won-loss record at season's end, this is a trend that will have to be altered if the Bills are to be able to lay claim to getting this train back on the right track. Given that, some wins vs. teams such as St. Louis, New England, Miami, Baltimore, and Seattle in those seven games will necessarily be required for the Bills to legitimately be able to claim a substantial improvement from last season.

If this upcoming season is to be a success, then the Bills will necessarily need to start off 2-0 with straight wins over Jacksonville at home followed by a win in Oakland over the issue-laden Raiders. The Bills are better than either team and possess greater talent than either on paper.

Of the 16 games, four that the Bills must win are those vs. Jacksonville, Oakland, Arizona, and an utterly depleted Forty-Niner team. Five games that the Bills will be outmatched in and/or do not matchup well in are both New England games, the Ravens on the road, St. Louis at the Ralph, and Seattle on the road. The seven games that will likely determine the extent to which the Bills will have improved solely from a won-loss standpoint are the four divisional games vs. the Jets and Dolphins, Cleveland and Pittsburgh at home, and the Bengals on the road.

Jacksonville was a 5-11 team moving in the direction of improving.

Oakland was a 4-12 team that likely will remain stable.

New England, regardless of changes, will be formidable and difficult to beat.

The Jets were a 6-10 team that will also have improved with a healthy Pennington.

The Dolphins were 10-6 and have possibly improved slightly.

Baltimore was 10-6 and should remain about the same pending the Lewis' status.

Arizona was awful and should be awful again.

St. Louis was 12-4 and may have slipped slightly.

Seattle was 10-6 and should be about the same.

Cleveland was 5-11 and should be significantly improved largely due to the acquisition of Garcia.

Cincinnati was 8-8 and is a team heading in the right direction.

San Francisco was 7-9 and will be fortunate to achieve that record again following a mass exodus of talent.

Pittsburgh was 6-10 and dependent upon the draft may improve slightly.

E-mail: mweiler.billsreport@cox.net

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