2017 Buffalo Bills game-by-game predictions

The Buffalo Bills have avoided using the word "rebuilding" to describe their approach under first-year coach Sean McDermott. But are they contenders? That is a tough sell for a team that finished last season with a 7-9 record, fired coach Rex Ryan and lost starters (including cornerback Stephon Gilmore and wide receiver Robert Woods) on each side of the ball this offseason. As McDermott looks to build a foundation for future success, it is more likely than not that his team takes a step backward in 2017.

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 10, vs. New York Jets, 1 p.m. ET

Are the Jets tanking for a top pick in 2018? It sure seems so. The Bills' division rivals looked primed to stumble through another season, and their slide will start at New Era Field. Record: 1-0

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 17, at Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m. ET

The Panthers feel like a better team than their 6-10 record last season indicated. Much of the talk around their offseason is "evolving" the offense to take pressure off Cam Newton as a runner, with the goal of keeping him healthier. Few coaches know Newton better than McDermott, formerly the Panthers' defensive coordinator, but if Newton returns to anything close to his MVP form, he will be hard to stop on the road. Record: 1-1

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 24, vs. Denver Broncos, 1 p.m. ET

These are not the same Broncos that stopped Newton in Super Bowl 50, and they will not have a quarterback that should scare McDermott. In a battle of two first-year coaches -- McDermott and Denver's Vance Joseph -- I'll give the edge to the one coaching on his home turf. Record: 2-1

Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 1, at Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m. ET

Outside of the Bills' annual trip to Gillette Stadium, this easily qualifies as the Bills' toughest road trip of the year. The last time Matt Ryan faced McDermott's defense in Atlanta -- in Week 4 of last season -- he passed for 503 yards and four touchdowns. Record: 2-2

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 8, at Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m. ET

Last November's trip to Cincinnati was a battle of two mediocre teams in which Buffalo did less to lose. This time, I see a healthy A.J. Green being the difference against what could be a shaky Bills secondary. Record: 2-3

Week 6: BYE

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 22, vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m. ET

McDermott's defense rose up against Jameis Winston in last season's finale, with the Panthers holding Winston to a 57 percent completion rate and 71.4 rating. The Buccaneers finished 9-7 last season and seem to be on the rise, but I like McDermott's chances in this one. Record: 3-3

Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 29, vs. Oakland Raiders, 1 p.m. ET

The Raiders have befuddled the Bills in recent meetings, defeating Buffalo in Oakland in both 2014 and 2016. Now the Raiders make the cross-country trip east, and I see Derek Carr and Amari Cooper being too much for McDermott's retooling defense to handle. Record: 3-4

Week 9: Thursday, Nov. 2, at New York Jets, 8:25 p.m. ET

Did I mention the Jets are going to be bad? The team with the inside track to the No. 1 pick in 2018 should be a pushover if the Bills do not beat themselves. I would say the entire country will be watching this one on television, but I would probably be very wrong. Record: 4-4

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 12, vs. New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m. ET

Another high-octane offense comes to New Era Field, and until I see actual results from McDermott's defense, it's hard to pick against Drew Brees in this one. He had his best game last season -- 465 passing yards and four touchdowns -- against McDermott and the Panthers. Record: 4-5

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 19, at Los Angeles Chargers, 4:05 p.m. ET

Former Bills interim coach Anthony Lynn gets a chance to beat his old team, and I like his chances. Lynn has an established quarterback in Philip Rivers and will catch the Bills later in the season on a West Coast trip. Record: 4-6

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 26, at Kansas City Chiefs, 1 p.m. ET

The last time the Bills went to Kansas City, in 2015, Sammy Watkins had 158 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the first half. Then "the weather, the clouds" got the best of him and his teammates. This time, McDermott's mentor Andy Reid will get the best of his former pupil. Record: 4-7

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 3, vs. New England Patriots, 1 p.m. ET

The Patriots? Who are they? After avoiding New England through the first three months of the season, winter in Buffalo will begin with Tom Brady's 16th career trip to New Era Field. He's lost there only twice, in 2003 and 2011. Record: 4-8

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 10, vs. Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m. ET

The Colts might eventually get back on track under new general manager Chris Ballard, but I don't see it happening as soon as 2017. This has the makings of a late-season snooze fest. Record: 5-8

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 17, vs. Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m. ET

This will be the Dolphins' sixth time in the past seven years the Dolphins have traveled to Buffalo in November or December. Unlike last Christmas Eve, when Rex Ryan's crew forgot to put an 11th defensive player on the field for a critical overtime play, the Bills will have their stuff straight. Record: 6-8

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 24, at New England Patriots, 1 p.m. ET

In 15 years, the Bills have yet to win at Gillette Stadium when Tom Brady plays a full game. Perhaps the Patriots will have locked up their playoff spot by this point and have taken their foot off the gas, but chances are AFC seeding will be in play. Record: 6-9

Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 31, at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m. ET

Adam Gase seems to have turned the ship (yacht?) around in Miami, and I can easily see this game sealing another Dolphins appearance in the playoffs. The Bills will enjoy a New Year's Eve trip to South Florida but not much more. Record: 6-10