The 2014 NFL schedule is out and the Buffalo Bills will face an NFC opponent in their season opener, a familiar foe in their home opener and will close out the season with two games on the road.
Prior to the start of the regular season, the Bills will play five preseason games. The Bills will face the New York Giants on Sunday, Aug. 3 in the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio.
Along with the Giants, the Bills will play two road preseason games — at Carolina on Aug. 8 and at Pittsburgh on Aug. 16 — before returning to western New York for two home preseason games against Tampa Bay on Aug. 23 and Detroit on Aug. 28.
But it's not the preseason slate Bills fans were waiting months to see. The 2014 schedule is loaded with interesting matchups and games against good teams outside of the AFC East.
Here are 10 things you should know about the Bills' 2014 schedule:
(1) No Toronto games. While the Bills are still reviewing the future of the team's Toronto series, one thing is for certain: There won't be a Bills "home" game in Toronto this season. The Bills will play all eight of their home games at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, which is fine with just about every Bills fan in western New York and, yes, even southern Ontario.
The Bills in Toronto series was a flop. The team played a regular season game at the Rogers Centre every year from 2008 through 2013. In the six contests played north of the border, the Bills only had one victory — a 23-0 win over Washington in 2011.
Attendance was steady for the first four years of the series, with more than 50,000 in attendance for each game. But attendance dropped in 2012 and again in 2013, when only 38,969 attended the Bills' 34-31 overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
If the Bills decide to continue the Toronto series, it will be a dumb decision. But at least there won't be a game in Toronto this season.
(2) A week 9 bye should make the team happy. Last year, the week 12 bye was criticized by the Bills. Having a bye so late in the season seems to be a waste.
This season, the Bills will have week 9 off. It's a much better arrangement and it balances out the Bills schedule. Perhaps it was the NFL's way of throwing a bone to the Bills after last season's horrendous schedule. Or perhaps it was just the luck of the draw for the Bills. Either way, a week 9 bye is better than a week 12 bye.
(3) Balanced schedule. Before the week 9 bye, the Bills will play four home games and four away games. After the bye, they will play four home games and four road games.
With that setup, there's not a lot for the Bills to complain about this season. They have a balanced schedule with a nice stretch of four home games in six weeks after the bye. It's a fair arrangement, and one that could benefit the Bills.
(4) Games against NFC North teams tough, but winnable. Playing the Chicago Bears in the season opener (in Chicago) is a tough draw, but it's a game the Bills can win.
The Bills also play at Detroit on Oct. 5, against the Minnesota Vikings at home on Oct. 19 and host the Green Bay Packers on Dec. 14.
The X factor: Jim Schwartz. Schwartz, the Bills' new defensive coordinator, coached the Lions last season. He is familiar with all of the NFC North teams and how to prepare for them. That should help the Bills in the four contests.
(5) Finish the 2014 season on the road. The Bills will play the final two games of the season on the road. And both games are on different coasts.
The Bills play week 16 at Oakland before returning east to face the New England Patriots in the regular season finale. That's probably the most brutal part of the Bills 2014 slate. They have to play a road game on the west coast, return home, then travel to the Boston area for the final game of the season against the Patriots.
It's not pleasant, but the Bills should be competitive in both games.
(6) Marquee opponents. Any time the Bills play the San Diego Chargers, it reminds older fans of the great AFL days. The Bills host the Chargers on Sept. 21 — the team's second home game of the season.
The Bills will also host the Kansas City Chiefs, a playoff team in 2013, on Nov. 9. On Dec. 7, the Bills travel to Denver to play the defending AFC champion Broncos.
Of course, the Bills also play the Patriots twice. But that's a lock every year, since they are division opponents.
(7) The complete home schedule. You could probably put it all together now, but here's the entire 2014 home schedule: Sept. 14 vs. Miami; Sept. 21 vs. San Diego; Oct. 12 vs. New England; Oct. 19 vs. Minnesota; Nov. 9 vs. Kansas City; Nov. 23 vs. New York Jets; Nov. 30 vs. Cleveland; and Dec. 14 vs. Green Bay.
(8) The complete away schedule. The Bills will play these teams on the road this season: Sept. 7 at Chicago; Sept. 28 at Houston; Oct. 5 at Detroit; Oct. 26 at New York Jets; Nov. 13 at Miami (Thursday night game); Dec. 7 at Denver; Dec. 21 at Oakland; and Dec. 28 at New England.
(9) One prime-time game. The Bills will play one night game this season and, yes, it will be a Thursday night game. It's too bad they couldn't get a Sunday night or Monday night game this season.
The Bills' only night game this season will be against the Miami Dolphins on Nov. 13. The game will be played in Miami.
It's the second time in three years the Bills and Dolphins will play on a Thursday night in November. The Bills hosted the Dolphins for a Thursday night game in 2012.
(10) To sum up the schedule, it's "favorable." The Bills have some tough teams on the schedule, but there are plenty of good matchups for the team this year. The games against AFC East foes are always a coin flip. Don't count the Bills out against New England, and they could certainly beat (or even sweep) Miami and New York.
The games against Denver and the NFC North will be tough, but not impossible. They should be able to pick up two or three wins there.
The games against Cleveland, Houston and Oakland are appealing. On paper, the Bills could win all three. But as we know from last year in Cleveland, anything could happen.
At the very least, the Bills have a chance to finish with a winning record — something they haven't done in 10 years. But if they finish with 10 or 11 wins, that should put them in the playoffs. And that's the goal they will be shooting for this season.
The offense has plenty of weapons and the defense is coming off a great season. With some improvements on offense and changes on defense, the Bills could snap their long playoff drought in 2014.