Thanksgiving can proceed as usual, Bills fans.
There is no holiday trip to Detroit scheduled for the Buffalo Bills, who announced their 2014 schedule Wednesday night – albeit it a little early – along with the other 31 teams in the National Football League.
The Bills’ schedule was briefly made available on the team’s official website about 7:30 p.m., ahead of nationally televised schedule-release shows on both ESPN and NFL Network at 8 p.m.
That’s two website snafus in two days for the team, a day after publishing an incomplete story about coach Doug Marrone having cancer. It was revealed hours later by the team that Marrone had a cancerous mole removed during a recent doctor’s visit, a minor procedure that won’t have any impact on him coaching the team.
Marrone will take the Bills to a place they’ve never won, Chicago, for the season opener at 1 p.m. Sept. 7. Buffalo is 0-5 all time in its previous trips to the Windy City.
The home opener comes the next week, at 1 p.m. Sept. 14, against AFC East rival Miami. That’s an early visit for the Dolphins, who had come to Western New York late in the season in six of the past eight years.
The team stays home in Week Three, when the San Diego Chargers and General Manager Tom Telesco, a St. Francis High School graduate, visit Ralph Wilson Stadium at 1 p.m. Sept. 21. Former Bills quarterback Frank Reich enters his first season as the Chargers’ offensive coordinator.
The Bills have four of their first seven games at home, a year after playing three of their first four in Ralph Wilson Stadium. Buffalo plays only one December home game – in Week 15 against the Green Bay Packers (1 p.m. Dec. 14) – a scheduling break for a team that has struggled to sell out home games late in the year because of the weather and the fact the team is typically out of postseason contention at that point, having missed the playoffs 14 years in a row.
The Bills were thought to be one of two candidates to play the Lions on Thanksgiving – the other being Miami – because the game will air on CBS, thus meaning it would include an AFC opponent. But for the first time since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, an AFC team will not play on Thanksgiving.
That’s because the NFL for the first time this year can “cross flex” games between CBS and FOX. In previous years, a game with two NFC teams had to air on FOX and a game with two AFC teams would go to CBS.
In an effort to create more favorable TV matchups, that’s no longer the case. The Lions will host the Bears instead on Thanksgiving, with the Bills and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz making his return to Detroit to face the Lions in Week Five (1 p.m. Oct. 5). Buffalo last played on Thanksgiving in 1994.
The Bills’ only prime-time appearance this season comes in Week 11 (8:25 p.m. Nov. 13) at Miami on NFL Network. The Bills have now gone five straight years without a Sunday Night or Monday Night prime-time game – the last coming in the 2009 season opener at New England.
The league also tweaked its flexible scheduling in regards to Sunday Night Football on NBC. The league can flex up to two games between Weeks 5 and 10 from Sunday afternoon to Sunday night. From Weeks 11 to 17, the flexible scheduling remains the same as in years past, with 12 days notice required to move a game between Weeks 11 and 16, and six days needed before setting the season’s final game of the season in Week 17 on Dec. 28.
Other highlights from Buffalo’s schedule:
• No Toronto trip. The Bills will play all eight home games in Ralph Wilson Stadium for the first time since 2007 after the team and Rogers Communications agreed earlier this year to postpone the series of games in the Rogers Centre.
• Former Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine makes his return as head coach of the Cleveland Browns when they visit in Week 13 (1 p.m. Nov. 30).
• Both Green Bay and Minnesota will play in Buffalo for the first time since 2006, meaning Bills fans will get to see Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (the league MVP in 2011) and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (MVP in 2012) in person for the first time. The Vikings visit in Week Seven (1 p.m. Oct. 19).
• If the Bills make a playoff run in December, they’ll have earned it. They play three of their final four games on the road. They also face three likely Hall of Fame quarterbacks during that stretch: Rodgers, Denver’s Peyton Manning (the Bills visit the Broncos in Week 14, 4:05 p.m. Dec. 7) and New England’s Tom Brady (Bills close the season at the Patriots in Week 17, 1 p.m. Dec. 28). Buffalo hasn’t beaten New England on the road since 2000.
• Buffalo plays Kansas City for the seventh straight season (the Chiefs visit The Ralph in Week 10 (1 p.m. Nov. 9) and visit Oakland for the first time since 2005 (Week 16, 4:25 p.m. Dec. 21). The Bills haven’t won in Oakland since 1966, having played there seven times since.
Buffalo’s 2014 opponents had a combined winning percentage of exactly .500 last season, giving the Bills the 14th most difficult schedule for the upcoming season.
Game 1 • Sept. 7 at Chicago, 1 p.m.
Game 2 • Sept. 14 vs. Miami, 1 p.m.
Game 3 • Sept. 21 vs. San Diego, 1 p.m.
Game 4 • Sept. 28 at Houston, 1 p.m.
Game 5 • Oct. 5 at Detroit, 1 p.m.
Game 6 • Oct. 12 vs. New England, 1 p.m.
Game 7 • Oct. 19 vs. Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Game 8 • Oct. 26 at N.Y. Jets, 1 p.m.
Game 9 • Nov. 9 vs. Kansas City, 1 p.m.
Game 10 • Nov. 13 at Miami, 8:25 p.m.
Game 11 • Nov. 23 vs. N.Y. Jets, 1 p.m.
Game 12 • Nov. 30 vs. Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Game 13 • Dec. 7 at Denver, 4:05 p.m.
Game 14 • Dec. 14 vs. Green Bay, 1 p.m.
Game 15 • Dec. 21 at Oakland, 4:25 p.m.
Game 16 • Dec. 28 at New England, 1 p.m.