<
>

Buffalo Bills' 2021 schedule: No lulls for reigning AFC East champion

play
Which Week 1 NFL matchup is the most intriguing? (1:00)

Marcus Spears and Mike Greenberg look at the Week 1 NFL games we know so far and break down the best matchups. (1:00)

The Buffalo Bills' 2021 schedule was released along with the rest of the NFL slate on Wednesday.

The 2021 NFL season will kick off on Thursday, Sept. 9 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosting the Dallas Cowboys (8:20 p.m. ET). ESPN’s Monday Night Football opener on Sept. 13 will feature the Las Vegas Raiders hosting the Baltimore Ravens (8:15 p.m. ET).

The NFL will change its schedule for the first time in 44 years, expanding to 17 regular-season games. The final regular-season games will be played Jan. 9, 2022. The playoffs begin Jan. 15, 2022 and continue through Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13, 2022 at Los Angeles' SoFi Stadium.

Here's what is in store for the Bills:

Schedule

Sept. 12: vs. Pittsburgh

Sept. 19: at Miami

Sept. 26: vs. Washington

Oct. 3: vs. Houston

Oct. 10: at Kansas City (SNF)

Oct. 18: at Tennessee- (MNF)

Oct. 24: Bye

Oct. 31: vs. Miami

Nov. 7: at Jacksonville

Nov. 14: at New York Jets

Nov. 21: vs. Indianapolis

Nov. 25: at New Orleans (TNF)

Dec. 6: vs. New England (MNF)

Dec. 12: at Tampa Bay

Dec. 18 or 19 (TBD): vs. Carolina

Dec. 26: at New England

Jan. 2: vs. Atlanta

Jan. 9: vs. New York Jets

Strength of schedule: T-23rd, .478

Biggest takeaway

I'm out of breath just looking at this schedule. Buffalo's first seven games of the season include six against teams that either made the playoffs last season or were on the cusp. There are no breaks for the reigning AFC East champions; regardless of what the Bills' strength of schedule suggests, teams such as Atlanta, New England and Carolina are improved on paper from last season and won't be pushovers despite their 2020 records. If the Bills are to make a third straight trip to the playoffs, they will have fully earned their way.

One storyline to watch

The Bills have thrived with a chip on their shoulders over the past two seasons, embracing the underdog role as the football world continues to associate the current Buffalo squad with the drought-era Bills teams. But nobody is overlooking this team in 2021. Watch how Buffalo responds to its transition from underdog to contender as it enters the final stage of its rebuild.

What Vegas thinks

Oddsmakers have the Bills' over/under at 10.5 wins -- hitting the over would give them double-digit wins for the third consecutive season. And it's reasonable that they will do so. There are nine games Buffalo has to win if it wants to consider itself a contender (home and away vs. Jets, Jaguars, Falcons, Panthers, Steelers, Texans, home vs. Patriots and home vs. Dolphins). The Bills have made a habit of winning coin-toss games over the past two seasons, meaning they would only have to pull off two wins in games against the Chiefs, Titans, Patriots, Dolphins, Saints, Colts, Buccaneers and Washington to hit the over.

Bold prediction

Is it still bold to say the Bills will win their second straight AFC East title? Probably not, so let's go bolder. I said they would sweep the division last season and they did so, despite a nail-biter or two. How about this -- Buffalo does so again in 2021. That's right, two years without losing a division game, you heard it here first.