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Bills scored a big break from schedule-maker

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Posted: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 10:07 am

Did the Bills’ marketing department actually set up this year’s schedule?

Buffalo’s opponents were locked in after the final day of the 2012 season, but this coming campaign couldn’t have played out much better for owner Ralph Wilson’s squad if the dates had been manipulated.

Even the bookend meetings with the Patriots — the home opener Sept. 8 at “The Ralph” and the season finale at Foxborough — aren’t awful for the Bills.

Granted, Buffalo has lost 18 of the last 19 to the Pats and 23 of the past 25, but dropping the opener — note to Doug Marrone, Marv Levy is the only one of the franchise’s previous 16 head coaches to win his first  game as Bills’ boss — leaves a lot of recovery time.

And a lot of factors impact how the regular-season’s last game is played, including its importance, position in the standings and the coaching approach.

Meanwhile, Buffalo’s slate has four of the first six games at home — Pats, Panthers, Ravens, Bengals — interrupted by games against the Jets at the Meadowlands and a Thursday nighter at Cleveland.

And surely there are cock-eyed optimist Bills’ fans who see that opening schedule as an invitation to a 3-3 or 4-2 start.

AS USUAL, Buffalo, for the fourth straight campaign, doesn’t have a Sunday night or Monday night game — a reflection of no playoff appearances since 1999 and only one winning year in the past 13 — its lone required prime-time appearance that game against the Browns.

That said, the schedule-maker was extremely kind to the Bills over the final quarter of the season. For three of the previous four seasons, Buffalo has had a trio of December games at “The Ralph,” a prescription for non-sellouts due to the combination of poor record-induced apathy and winter weather.

This December, there are trips to Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and New England plus the Toronto meeting with Atlanta.

Best of all, the lone December game in Orchard Park is against Miami, a warm-weather team that historically hates visiting Buffalo at that time of year.

Six of the Bills’ seven true home games will be played by Nov. 17, a godsend to the Bills’ marketing and ticket sales department.

AND, ONCE AGAIN, Buffalo enjoys a relatively soft schedule ... though not quite as much as last season.

A year ago, the Bills faced a slate that ranked third easiest based on the previous season’s records. This year it’s seventh based on the same criteria. Of course, all that got them in 2012 was a 6-10 record.

Still, four of those teams — Kansas City, Cleveland, Miami and the Jets — were beaten by Buffalo last season. And there are only five games against teams that made the 2012 playoffs (New England twice, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Atlanta).

Interestingly, the Bills are playing Kansas City for the sixth straight year and Jacksonville for the ninth time in 11 seasons.

Meanwhile, the only slight criticism Bills’ fans might offer about this season’s schedule is the choice of the Toronto game. Many would have preferred the opponent to be Carolina, rather than Atlanta on Dec. 1. But at least it’s an NFC opponent rather than an AFC East foe, as it was when the Dolphins opened the series back in 2008, the first year of the initial agreement.

(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at cpollock@oleantimesherald.com)

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