Success in the National Football League presents a scheduling paradox.
The good news is that the best teams get the greatest national TV exposure. The bad, for coaches who are notoriously “routine-oriented” – preferably playing every game on Sunday afternoon at 1 o’clock – there’s the schedule disruption created by games being televised country-wide.
That includes Thursday and Monday nights, Thanksgiving Day, Saturdays and late afternoon Sunday slots.
And, coming off a season in which they reached the AFC Championship Game, the Bills will tie a franchise record for national television appearances in the 2021-22 season with five such games and the possibility of a sixth.
IN THE NFL schedule released last night, Buffalo has two Monday night games, one Sunday night, a Thursday (Thanksgiving evening) and a late Sunday afternoon game. Those nationally-televised five could become six, depending upon whether the meeting with Carolina at Highmark Stadium is scheduled for Saturday or Sunday afternoon, Dec. 18 or 19.
The Monday nighters are compelling, Oct. 18 at Tennessee, and home against New England on Dec. 6. A week after the Pats’ game, the Bills travel to Tampa Bay for a 4:25 p.m. CBS national game against the Super Bowl champion Bucs.
The Monday nighter versus the Titans is preceded Oct. 10 with a Sunday night game against the Chiefs at Kansas City in a rematch of last season’s AFC title game.
The game Thanksgiving night is at New Orleans against the Saints.
This will be the second straight season when the Bills have had five nationally-televised games, though last year was circumstantial. There were three Monday night and one Saturday afternoon game scheduled but, due to the Titans’ problems with coronavirus, the meeting in Nashville became a Tuesday night date.
HEADING into the coming season, the Bills have the 23rd easiest schedule based on 2020 records while last year they had the fifth-toughest. However, the collapse of the Tom Bradyless Patriots and San Francisco’s season-wrecking injuries, softened that schedule dramatically, producing three wins. Hence, the 13-3 AFC East title campaign.
This coming year looms more intimidating than it might appear.
To start, it’s unlikely Buffalo will duplicate 2020’s first-ever division sweep – 6-0 – as New England, Miami and the Jets seem improved after free agency and the draft.
Then, too, the Bills face both Super Bowl teams – Buccaneers and Chiefs – and a third 2020 playoff team, Tennessee, all on the road in nationally-televised games.
Meeting Kansas City and Tennessee in back-to-back weeks, away from home, is a heavy lift. Plus, the Pats at Highmark and at Tampa Bay in a span of six days will be a test.
The good news is, there are no three-game road trips and only two times are there consecutive games away from home.
THIS, OF COURSE, is the first NFL season with a 17-game schedule and all AFC teams have a ninth home game. For Buffalo, that’s Washington on Sept. 26.
And the Bills opener is compelling, hosting the Steelers, Sept. 12, at 1 p.m. Those two rust belt franchises have already met 27 times since the merger in 1970 and this is the third straight year they will square-off. Pittsburgh leads the series, 16-11, but Buffalo has won the last two.
The Bills will be through with the Dolphins early, traveling to Miami Sept. 19 and hosting them Halloween afternoon.
And, as has happened the last five years, the Bills visit New England in late December, this season Dec. 26.
Finally, for the first time ever, Buffalo will play two regular-season games in the new year, both in Orchard Park, Jan. 2 versus the Falcons and then the second meeting with the Jets (the first is Nov. 14 at the Meadowlands) in the finale Jan. 9.
And, for you gambling types, the odds are already out on the NFL season openers and the Bills are favored by six points over Pittsburgh and the over/under on Buffalo wins this season is 10.5.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)