2018 Buffalo Bills game-by-game predictions

By any measure, the Buffalo Bills exceeded expectations last season in Sean McDermott's first year as coach. They finished 9-7 and made the playoffs for the first time since 1999, defying my prediction last April that they would finish 6-10, and my revised prediction last August of 5-11. With a huge question mark at quarterback in 2018, can Buffalo successfully play the role of underdog again?

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, at Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m. ET

For the second time in three seasons, the Bills begin their schedule at M&T Bank Stadium. Tyrod Taylor threw for 111 yards in a loss that day; who will be throwing for Buffalo this time? Record: 0-1

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 1 p.m. ET

In former Bills interim coach Anthony Lynn's first trip back to Buffalo, he cannot count on Nathan Peterman to toss five interceptions, as the then-rookie did in a 54-24 loss to Los Angeles last November. But who can the Bills count on? Record: 0-2

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, at Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m. ET

General manager Brandon Beane did not seriously pursue Kirk Cousins this offseason because he felt Buffalo was further away from contention than the Vikings, for which Cousins might be the "missing piece," according to Beane. Perhaps that will play out at U.S. Bank Stadium. Record: 0-3

Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, at Green Bay Packers, 1 p.m. ET

The last time the Bills visited Lambeau Field, a 34-7 loss in 2010, then-Bills quarterback Trent Edwards raised the white flag by scrambling out of bounds on a fourth-and-11 to end Buffalo's final possession. Maybe the Bills' new quarterback will actually throw the ball, but the result might not be much different. Record: 0-4

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, vs. Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m. ET

Like the Bills, the Titans made the playoffs last season. But like the Bills, they were a far from perfect team. This is a winnable game -- and close to a must-win game if the first four turn out as projected. Record: 1-4

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, at Houston Texans, 1 p.m. ET

The Bills return to where the short-lived EJ Manuel era ended in the hands -- quite literally -- of J.J. Watt. This time, the Bills could have a new first-round quarterback who will be trying to stack up against Deshaun Watson, whom the Bills declined to draft No. 10 last season. Record: 1-5

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, at Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m. ET

(Andrew) Luck will be on the side of the Colts, who will not have to deal with snow this time. But can Indianapolis stop LeSean McCoy in a dome? Record: 2-5

Week 8: Monday, Oct. 29, vs. New England Patriots, 8:15 p.m. ET

The city of Buffalo will more or less shut down in the afternoon for its first Monday Night Football tailgate since 2008. If Buffalo scores its first MNF win at home since 1994, the city will not reopen until Wednesday. But can an unproven quarterback topple Tom Brady? It is hard to ignore history. Record: 2-6

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, vs. Chicago Bears, 1 p.m. ET

This begins the much softer second half of the schedule. If Mitchell Trubisky marches into New Era Field and gets the win, something is wrong. Record: 3-6

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, at New York Jets, 1 p.m. ET

If the Bills and Jets both draft quarterbacks in the first round and are starting them by this game, it could have some sizzle. An AJ McCarron versus Josh McCown battle would probably not. Record: 3-7

Week 11: Bye

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m. ET

The Bills seemed to be a competent passing game away from beating the Jaguars in the playoffs in January, when the offense failed to score a touchdown. But will anything be different this November? Record: 3-8

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m. ET

If the Bills' first 11 games play out as predicted, they will be toast by the time they travel back to Miami. Perhaps they can recapture the magic of last New Year's Eve, but it might not mean much. Record: 4-8

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, vs. New York Jets, 1 p.m. ET

Maybe Christian Hackenberg will finally get his shot to start. Or maybe not. Record: 5-8

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, vs. Detroit Lions, 1 p.m. ET

The last time the Bills played the Lions was Kyle Orton's first start in 2014, a win for Buffalo. No Bills quarterback since Orton has thrown for at least 300 yards in a regulation game, which he did that day. Record: 5-9

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, at New England Patriots, 1 p.m. ET

The Bills have only beaten the Patriots four times in the past 18 seasons, but the teams have split their past four games at Gillette Stadium. If the Patriots are cruising toward the playoffs at this point, it feels very plausible for Buffalo to pull out another win. Record: 6-9

Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, vs. Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m. ET

Nothing completes a season like a seemingly disinterested Dolphins team tripping through a largely meaningless late-season game in Buffalo. Record: 7-9