2014 Buffalo Bills Schedule: Game-by-Game Predictions, Info and Analysis

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IApril 24, 2014

2014 Buffalo Bills Schedule: Game-by-Game Predictions, Info and Analysis

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    Michael Conroy

    The Buffalo Bills enter their second year under head coach Doug Marrone and are hoping to better their 6-10 record from 2013. They have the league's 14th most difficult strength of schedule, with their opponents going an even .500 last season.

    This year, things could change. The Bills have lost former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who was the figurehead behind much of their defensive success last year, but they added former Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz in his stead. They have also made several high profile additions to their roster including linebackers Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers. 

    Things could change even more for the Bills in the coming weeks, especially since they hold the ninth overall pick in the 2014 draft. They will have any number of talented players to choose from in that spot, so their outlook could improve.

    Now that the NFL has released their schedule, though, let's take a look at where the Bills stand and what could happen this season.

Week 1: At Bears

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Kickoff time and network: 1:00 p.m. ET, Fox

    The Bears defense is far from the vaunted unit that took the league by storm in 1985. In fact, they ranked third from the bottom of the league in both total and scoring defense, and they were the league's worst defense against the run. They didn't get any better with the loss of both Henry Melton and Julius Peppers.

    On offense, it's a completely different story. There aren't many teams in the NFL that have the firepower in the secondary to cover both wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. The Bills are not one of those teams.

    Although Stephon Gilmore could still emerge into a solid cornerback, both Marshall and Jeffery could have strong performances as long as the Bears' offensive line can keep the Bills' defensive line from breathing down Jay Cutler's neck.

    Look for some early draw runs from running back Matt Forte to slow down the Bills' fierce pass rush, and if the Bears can at least slow down the Bills offense, this one could go in favor of the home team.

    Prediction: Bears 27, Bills 24

Week 2: Vs. Dolphins

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Kickoff time and network: 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS

    Ryan Tannehill has been an average to above average quarterback through his first two years, but he has played piss-poor football against the Bills in his four games thus far. He has completed just 47.9 percent of his passes for 547 yards, six touchdowns, four interceptions and a 64.3 passer rating. If he can finally put together a solid performance against the Bills, his team could emerge with a victory.

    He'll certainly have a much more vanilla look across from him this year with Jim Schwartz as the defensive coordinator than last year when Mike Pettine was calling the defensive signals.

    EJ Manuel was absent for both games against the Dolphins in 2013, which could be perceived as an advantage for either side. Manuel gives the Dolphins a look they've never seen before, and vice versa.

    The key problem for the Bills, however, will be dealing with the Dolphins' defensive line. Olivier Vernon, Dion Jordan and Cameron Wake could take over the game unless the Bills do something at offensive tackle in the draft. 

    Prediction: Dolphins 20, Bills 10

Week 3: Vs. Chargers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Kickoff time and network: 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS

    Quarterback Philip Rivers took some steps back over the years, but he proved he still has some gas left in the tank. He led the league in completion percentage (69.5) and had the highest passer rating of his career since 2008. If they want to knock him off his game, they'll have to do just that: knock him around. 

    The Bills' defensive line was their linchpin for success in 2013, but the Chargers' offensive line was very effective in pass protection and only allowed Rivers to be sacked 30 times.

    This one could turn into a shootout, though, if the Chargers defense looks anything like it did in 2013. San Diego allowed 4.59 yards per rush attempt (27th in the NFL) and 8.04 yards per pass attempt (30th in the NFL), so Buffalo's best bet could be to keep its offense as balanced as possible. 

    The Chargers did a good job of keeping their opponents out of the end zone last year, ranking 11th in scoring defense, but they gave up the 10th-most total yards on defense.

    This is an evenly matched contest on paper, but the team with the more talented quarterback should pull off the win.

    Prediction: Chargers 24, Bills 20

Week 4: At Texans

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    David J. Phillip

    Kickoff time and network: 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS

    The Texans defense was one of the best in the league in 2012, but took some pretty big steps back in 2013 and ranked in the bottom 10 in scoring. Some of that could be attributed to quarterback Matt Schaub's six straight games with an interception returned for a touchdown, but the Texans were abused on the ground last year with the league's 10th-worst run defense.

    We don't yet know who will be the quarterback of the 2014 Texans, but we do know they will have plenty of weapons at their disposal between running back Arian Foster and wide receivers Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins. That wasn't enough for Schaub last year, though, but perhaps a fresh face can reignite the Texans offense.

    Whoever it is, however, will have to put up with the Bills' pesky pass-rushers. If the front four gets going, the Texans could find it difficult to find rhythm on offense.

    Prediction: Bills 29, Texans 27

Week 5: At Lions

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    Rick Osentoski

    Kickoff time and network: 1:00 p.m. ET, Fox

    Led by quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson, the Detroit Lions offense was a one-dimensional passing juggernaut for years. If the Bills front four can get going, they could have success slowing down that duo. The Lions do, however, have a more multi-dimensional offense than years past now that they have running back Reggie Bush in the fold. 

    It just so happens that the Bills' biggest weakness (the interior offensive line) plays right into the Lions' greatest strength (their defensive tackles, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley). The Bills have tried to set up the pass by running the ball, but they may find it tough to do so with Suh and Fairley coming full-bore up the middle. 

    On paper, the Lions have the tools to pull off the win, but this one could be closer than we anticipate. 

    Prediction: Lions 24, Bills 23

Week 6: Vs. Patriots

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Kickoff time and network: 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS

    Tom Brady once made a living off torching the Bills defense twice a year. For a stretch of 18 games in 10 years from 2003-2012, Brady completed 65 percent of his throws for 4,615 yards, 45 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and a 104 passer rating. In two games in 2013, Brady completed only 56.6 percent of his throws for 410 yards (205 per game), three touchdowns, two interceptions and a 73.9 passer rating.

    Will Brady go back to his dominant ways in 2014 with another year to work with receivers like Aaron Dobson, Danny Amendola and Kenbrell Thompkins? Now that Jim Schwartz is the defensive coordinator, will the Bills defense still be able to confuse Brady as much as it did in 2013 when Mike Pettine was calling the shots? 

    Those questions could ultimately determine the outcome of this game. One key matchup to watch, in that regard, will be the Bills' bevy of slot cornerbacks against the Patriots' numerous slot receivers. The Bills will not let Brady eat them alive by throwing over the middle, but if Brady can hit the other receivers, the Patriots offense should be able to stay on schedule.

    Prediction: Patriots 24, Bills 17

Week 7: Vs. Vikings

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Kickoff time and network: 1:00 p.m. ET, Fox

    The Bills were one of the league's worst defenses at stopping the run in 2013, which does not bode well for them against the Minnesota Vikings and running back Adrian Peterson. Not only do the Vikings feature one of the league's best offensive lines that can open up massive holes for its all-star running back, but Peterson is still a big-play threat nearly every time he touches the ball.

    If the Bills can find a way to shut down the run, they'll put the ball in the hands of their quarterback—either Matt Cassel or Christian Ponder. The Vikings have enough weapons in the passing game between Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kyle Rudolph and Jerome Simpson, but their quarterbacks could have a hard time getting them the ball if they are under fire by the Bills' defensive line.

    On defense, the Vikings are vulnerable across the board. Their defensive line is not as fierce as it once was with Everson Griffen and Jared Allen on the edges and Kevin and Pat Williams in the middle, but they were formidable against the run last year. Their secondary has never been considered a strength, and their defense allowed a passer rating of 98.6 to opposing passers. 

    If EJ Manuel can out-duel either Cassel or Ponder, the Bills should be able to pick up the win.

    Prediction: Bills 20, Vikings 16

Week 8: At Jets

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    Ron Antonelli/Getty Images

    Kickoff time and network: 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS

    The Bills and Jets have both found quarterbacks that they hope are the face of the franchise for years to come. Geno Smith was a second-round pick for the Jets and had an up-and-down rookie campaign in 2013. The Jets felt it necessary to add an insurance policy in quarterback Michael Vick, so the yearly duels between Smith and EJ Manuel could be put on hold.  

    Manuel got a double dose of Rex Ryan's defense last year and fared much better the second time around (20-of-28, 245 yards, 2 TD, 120.9 passer rating) than he did the first time (19-of-42, 243 yards, 1 TD, 71.8 passer rating). The Bills will probably go with their three- and four-receiver sets in order to stretch the Jets defense out and try to expose and exploit their lack of depth at cornerback.

    The Jets do not have an exhaustive group of pass-catchers. For Smith, it's all about throwing on rhythm or downfield. The Bills will have to find ways to limit Smith's effectiveness downfield and take away the short throws. If the Bills' defensive line can fluster Smith (or Vick) in at least one contest, they should be able to get a win.

    Prediction: Bills 24, Jets 20

Week 9: Bye

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    Steven Senne

    The Bills enter the bye week on a two-game winning streak, but with a 3-5 record. They have a lot of work to do if they want to get back in the playoffs.

    That tough work begins against a team that made the playoffs in 2013, despite nearly losing to the Bills last season.

Vs. Chiefs

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Kickoff time and network: 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS

    The Kansas City Chiefs were the surprise of the 2013 season and earned a playoff bid just one year after finishing with the worst record in the league. One of their 11 wins in 2013 came at the expense of the Bills, who were (surprise, surprise) without EJ Manuel in the contest. Jeff Tuel started for them at quarterback.

    The Chiefs are bringing back most of their starting unit on defense, but this year's version of the Chiefs offense will look much different. Where they lost three starting offensive linemen (tackle Branden Albert, guards Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz) and their slot receiver Dexter McCluster.  With all the changes on the offensive line, the Bills defense is probably licking their chops at the thought of teeing off on quarterback Alex Smith.

    The Chiefs' strength, however, is on defense. Their weakness is still in the secondary, where the inconsistent Sean Smith and the inexperienced Marcus Cooper can be exposed. 

    Slowing down that fierce front seven, however, is a different story entirely. Between Justin Houston (61 pressures, 11 sacks) and Tamba Hali (77 pressures, 11 sacks), the Chiefs have a pair of pass-rushing outside linebackers who can really put the pinch on quarterbacks. 

    One problem: The Chiefs' strength is the running game, which also happens to be the Bills' weakness. Unless the Bills can find a way to slow down running back Jamaal Charles, they could find themselves on the wrong end of this one.

    Prediction: Chiefs 21, Bills 17

Week 11: At Dolphins

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    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Kickoff time and network: 8:25 p.m. ET, NFL Network (Thursday Night Football)

    By this point, the Bills are hopeful that EJ Manuel will have at least one game's worth of experience. He may have an easier time finding favorable matchups in the passing game with some experience playing against the Dolphins defense. Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods are not a dominant duo, but they are talented enough to make defenses respect their presence.

    As mentioned previously, the Bills have been one of Ryan Tannehill's worst matchups. Last year, the Bills defense harassed Tannehill to the tune of nine sacks in two games. They logged two key sacks at the end of the first meeting that allowed the Bills to score the final six points of the game to win it.

    They logged a season-high seven sacks on Tannehill in Week 16 and shut the Dolphins out in the process.

    The scheme is changing for the Bills defense, but the personnel is not changing too dramatically. The Bills should be able to get the better of Tannehill at least once in 2014. 

    Prediction: Bills 24, Dolphins 13

Week 12: Vs. Jets

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    Ron Antonelli/Getty Images

    Kickoff time and network: 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS

    Geno Smith is not the kind of quarterback who can take over a game on his own, so the Jets know they have to give him steady production in the running game if the offense is going to stay effective. The Bills' new-look linebacking corps will have to contain the running game—both in the form of the Jets' backs and Smith's ability to scramble. 

    That philosophy works both ways. In 2013, the Bills tried to establish the run and keep opponents honest on defense, but they may have to alter their game plan unless they want to run straight into the teeth of the Jets' stout defensive line.

    Last year, the Jets defense held running back C.J. Spiller to 24 yards on 26 touches in their two games against each other. 

    The two teams are evenly matched up. The Bills split their series with the Jets last season, and it looks like more of the same is in store for 2014.

    Prediction: Jets 30, Bills 23

Week 13: Vs. Browns

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Kickoff time and network: 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS

    This game will be notable for the first on-field meeting between new Browns head coach Mike Pettine and his former team, the Bills. Will Pettine have the upper hand because of his inside knowledge of the Bills offense, or will Bills head coach Doug Marrone hold the advantage with his knowledge of Pettine's defensive tendencies?

    The chess match will be interesting to watch.

    Much like last season, there is still much uncertainty around the Browns' quarterback situation. It could be Brian Hoyer starting, or the Browns could draft a quarterback to be their starter. Either way, that quarterback will not have a bevy of weapons on offense.

    Josh Gordon is emerging into a top-tier wide receiver, and Jordan Cameron has flashed the potential to be a solid tight end, but the Browns still have questions at the other spots.

    Their defense has become a strength, and they could reach even greater heights with Pettine leading the charge. However, their lack of talent on offense could be their downfall against the Bills.

    Prediction: Bills 30, Browns 17

Week 14: At Broncos

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    Charlie Riedel

    Kickoff time and network: 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS

    Peyton Manning feasts on a vanilla defensive scheme like the one Jim Schwartz runs, where the vast majority of the pressure is coming from the front four. Giving Manning the information before the snap is a recipe for disaster for any defense, so the Bills will have to mix it up. Hopefully they can tap into some of the exotic defenses run by Mike Pettine in 2013. 

    On the off chance the Bills are able to slow down Peyton and the Broncos, their offense will then have to contend with the Broncos defense, which has vastly improved with the additions of cornerback Aqib Talib, defensive end DeMarcus Ware and safety T.J. Ward. Even if the Bills are able to run the ball successfully against the Broncos' stout front seven, they may not be able to score enough points to keep up.

    Prediction: Broncos 38, Bills 27

Week 15: Vs. Packers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Kickoff time and network: 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS

    The Bills and the rest of the AFC East face off with the NFC North this season, which means the inter-conference schedule does not feature a single team that earned more than eight wins in 2013. Make no mistake; those teams are all talented in their own right, with the Green Bay Packers featuring the best quarterback of the bunch in Aaron Rodgers.

    That being said, Rodgers' weapons have been dwindling in the passing game, and the former NFL MVP is now down to just two true threats at wide receiver in Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson after two others (Greg Jennings and James Jones) departed as free agents over the past 14 months.

    The Packers defense, however, has been a weak link for years and has ranked in the bottom 10 in total defense and in the bottom half of the league in scoring defense in two of the past three years. The Packers' offensive line remains one of the weaker aspects of their game. Rodgers could be in trouble if he is asked to carry the burden. However, it's hard to pick against the better quarterback in a shootout.

    Prediction: Packers 31, Bills 27

Week 16: At Raiders

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Kickoff time and network: 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS

    By adding defensive linemen Justin Tuck, Lamarr Houston and Antonio Smith, the Raiders are building their defense through the trenches. They're hoping their defense takes dramatic steps forward off the heels of another year ranking in the bottom 10 scoring defenses in the league, their ninth such season in the past 11 years.

    The additions of running back Maurice Jones-Drew, wide receiver James Jones and quarterback Matt Schaub were made in hopes that the Raiders could finally be pulled from the doldrums of the league's worst-ranked units. The Raiders still do not have a solid offensive line, and the Bills should look to attack that group early and often. 

    The Bills should run draw plays at the Raiders' defensive line to slow them down at the start. If EJ Manuel can find his groove against the Raiders' lackluster secondary, the Bills should be able to pick up the win.

    Prediction: Bills 26, Raiders 20

Week 17: At Patriots

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    Steven Senne

    Kickoff time and network: 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS

    This offseason has seen some interesting moves from the Bills, but several of those moves could be traced directly back to the Patriots—not just for bringing in former Patriots defensive line coach Pepper Johnson and former Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes, but also for adding yet another versatile slot cornerback in Corey Graham. The Bills seem determined to load up on slot cornerbacks who can take away Tom Brady's favorite weapons in the passing game.

    One problem: The Patriots have been one of the best game-plan teams in the league, switching up their style based on their opponent. With such an emphasis on stopping the pass, the Bills have lightened up against the run and ranked fifth from the bottom of the league in rushing yards allowed while yielding the 10th-highest per-carry average in the NFL.

    The Bills have not won at Gillette Stadium since the building was erected in 2002, and the 2014 season does not look like the year for them to pull off the upset.

    Prediction: Patriots 28, Bills 20