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Sked is set up for Bills' success

Random thoughts on the Bills' 2012 schedule:

x-The Bills are set up to make a playoff run in 2012, thanks to more beneficial divisional crossovers. They face the NFC West and AFC South. That's not as tough last year's crossovers - which included the rugged NFC East. Obviously, no one can definitively peg schedule difficulty in April. That game in Arizona could become real easy if Larry Fitzgerald sprains his ankle the week before. Or it could become brutally hard if two Bills cornerbacks go down the week before. Nevertheless, divisional crossovers are important in analyzing the schedule. Many media outlets, including this space, predicted that Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the AFC North were virtually guaranteed playoff spots last year becuase of their crossovers vs. the perennially weak NFC West and and the suspect AFC South. Sure enough, both of them, plus Cincinnati, made the playoffs. This year? Cincinnati better get A LOT better if it's going to make the playoffs in 2012, because the Bengals face the NFC East and the AFC West (which has two powers in Denver and San Diego). Bottom line: This is the year for the second-place team in the AFC East to get a wild-card berth.

x-It's always tough to open on the road, but the Bills can't complain because they have opened at home nine times in the last 13 years, since 2000. All things considered, the Jets aren't that bad of a team to open against. It's not an automatic "L." ... On one hand, it's good to open against the Jets because QB Mark Sanchez won't be in a groove as the starting QB (not that he's sure to get in one at any point), and they still will be sorting out the role for Tim Tebow. On the other hand, the Jets may be able to spring some surprises on the Bills in the way they use Tebow.

x-Buffalo better be 2-1 heading into a tough early stretch of three games: home vs. New England, at San Francisco and at Arizona. The two most likely "Ls" on the Bills' schedule are at New England and at San Francisco.

x-Tennessee could be wobbly - and desperate - entering its Week 7 game in Buffalo. The Titans' early schedule is rough: NE, at SD, Detroit, at Houston, at Minnesota and home Pittsburgh on just four days' rest. The Titans are not bad, but they could be 1-5 or 2-4 coming to Buffalo.

x-Both the Bills and the Texans are on a bye the week before their meeting on Nov. 4 in Houston. That's fair.

x-It always seems like New England gets a bye the week before one of its Bills games. Nevertheless, the Bills can't complain. New England has a tougher schedule than the Bills. The Pats' standing-based games against Denver and Baltimore; the Bills' are against Cleveland and Kansas City. Furthermore, the Pats have at least four prime-time games, plus a game in London (vs. St. Louis). The Pats have a bye after the London trip, then host the Bills.

x-New England is going to win 10 games, even if things don't go well for Darth Hoodie's juggernaut. If things go well, the Pats could have home-field advantage again.

x-It's good to have a dome team like St. Louis come to Orchard Park on Dec. 9.

x-From a competitive standoint, Seattle was the ideal team to send to Toronto for a Dec. 9 meeting. If you have to give up some rabid home-field edge, it's best to do it for a non-conference game. For the Toronto fans, hopefully they will get to see a game with some playoff implications.

x-It's always good to visit Miami late in the year. Good weather. And if the Dolphins aren't in the playoff race, the fair-weather South Florida fans will be totally checked out. Odds are the stadium will be two-thirds full.

x-I'm surprised the Bills didn't get a Monday night game. However, Bills CEO Russ Brandon says the networks hate to come to Orchard Park for prime-time games because the stadium isn't wired for high-definition television, and it creates a lot of extra set-up work for them. That's one of the issues that needs to be addressed in the proposed stadium renovation. The NFL Network will have to deal with it for the Thursday night game vs. Miami on Nov. 15.

x-Tebow comes to Orchard Park for the finale on Dec. 30. Bills fans can only hope it plays out like his visit with Denver last Dec. 24.

x-Four home games in the last five on the schedule is great for a playoff race. The push will be on in the front-office to sell out the season - or come as close as possible - before the season begins, in order to ensure sellouts for those December contests.

---Mark Gaughan

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