The Buffalo Bills reached the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season last year thanks to their 9-7 record, but they are looking to take the next step and become a legitimate Super Bowl contender in 2018.
They now know the schedule they will have to deal with in their efforts to do so after it was released Thursday, per NFL.com.
Things will look different in Buffalo after the team traded quarterback Tyrod Taylor to the Cleveland Browns this offseason and signed AJ McCarron to take his place. Here is a look at the opponents McCarron and the rest of the Bills will face in 2018.
Bills' 2018 Schedule
Week 1: at Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 9 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 2: vs. Los Angeles Chargers on Sept. 16 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 3: at Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 23 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 4: at Green Bay Packers on Sept. 30 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 5: vs. Tennessee Titans on Oct. 7 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 6: at Houston Texans on Oct. 14 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 7: at Indianapolis Colts on Oct. 21 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 8: vs. New England Patriots on Oct. 29 at 8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
Week 9: vs. Chicago Bears on Nov. 4 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 10: at New York Jets on Nov. 11 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 11: Bye week
Week 12: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars on Nov. 25 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 13: at Miami Dolphins on Dec. 2 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 14: vs. New York Jets on Dec. 9 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 15: vs. Detroit Lions on Dec. 16 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 16: at New England Patriots on Dec. 23 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 17: vs. Miami Dolphins on Dec. 30 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS
It would have been easy for the Bills to rest on their laurels after finally making the playoffs again and maintain much of their same core, but they made some notable moves after finishing a mere 29th in the league in total offensive yards last year.
Trading Taylor and signing McCarron represented a major shift in direction, and the hope in Buffalo is the Alabama product shines in his first extended opportunity to start at the NFL level. He threw for 854 yards, six touchdowns and just two interceptions in 2015 after Andy Dalton suffered an injury for the Cincinnati Bengals, and Buffalo is looking for him to build on those showings.
Elsewhere, the Bills signed running back Chris Ivory to complement LeSean McCoy and addressed a significant need on the offensive line by adding Russell Bodine and Marshall Newhouse this offseason.
Considering the Bills were an abysmal 27th in the league in run blocking and 31st in pass protection in 2017, per Football Outsiders, those additions were much-needed in the efforts to consistently spring McCoy loose and protect McCarron against the opponents on the 2018 schedule.
The need was magnified when the team placed offensive guard Richie Incognito on the reserved/retired list.
The Bills should also be more formidable on the defensive side against a schedule featuring Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and Andrew Luck since they signed cornerback Vontae Davis to help bolster a secondary that was a disappointing 20th in the league in passing yards allowed last year.
The New England Patriots are the gold standard across the league, and nobody is more familiar with that fact than the Bills and the rest of the AFC East.
New England has won the division nine times in a row and 14 of the last 15 years, and the only chance the Bills have to realistically surprise for an AFC East crown is by at least splitting their two head-to-head showdowns against Brady and Co.
A playoff rematch with the Jacksonville Jaguars and clash with a fellow wild card from last year in the Tennessee Titans also stand out.
If one assumes the Patriots are going to win the division yet again, those matchups against potential wild-card contenders will prove critical for Buffalo's chances at making the postseason again.