Bills reach 'home' stretch of schedule, wondering if fans will show up to support losing team
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – The Buffalo Bills are finally home after spending much of the first 10 weeks of the season playing on the road. And center Eric Wood wonders if anyone will bother showing up unless they start playing better.
"I've said it before, I don't blame them," Wood said, noting that money's tight and winter's coming.
"It's tough on people to put their hard-earned money out there, and we realize that. And to sit in the cold is not fun. So we really need to take care of business these next few games, hopefully get back to .500 here and make these last games interesting where we do make it our advantage."
If they intend to make any type of a run and re-energize their fan base, it has to begin Thursday night, when Buffalo (3-6) hosts AFC East rival Miami (4-5).
It's a game that kicks off a closing stretch in which Buffalo will play five of its final seven at home — including the team's annual "home" game at Toronto, where the Bills will face Seattle on Dec. 16.
How much support the Bills get remains a concern.
The game against Miami is a sellout. But there are questions whether they can sell out their three remaining games at Ralph Wilson Stadium
The team announced this week it still has more than 15,000 tickets unsold for its game against Jacksonville on Dec. 2. And there are still more than 10,000 tickets available for its games against St. Louis on Dec. 9 and season finale against the New York Jets.
The Bills' record will play a factor, as will recent history.
Whether they're winning or losing, the Bills have had difficulty selling out home games in December since Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly was leading the team to four consecutive AFC titles in the early 1990s.
Buffalo sold out only about 55 percent of its games in the 1990s. And the figures haven't been much better since. That was indicative last year, when the Bills final three homes games — all in December — were blacked out on local television because they failed to sell out.
The bitter cold and harsh conditions have been blamed for the poor turnouts.
It's a concern that's led the Bills and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer to question why the NFL would continue scheduling so many games in Buffalo this late in the season.
"It's not been optimal. It's a proven fact that in December in Buffalo, it's difficult to attain sellout status at our facility," Bills CEO Russ Brandon said. "December games are a challenge. But competitively, there's no place we'd rather play meaningful games than at home in front of our fans."
Schumer also has expressed concerns.
"Sometimes NFL schedules help football teams, and sometimes they hurt them," Schumer spokeswoman Meredith Kelly said in an email to The Associated Press. "Hopefully, the home games in December will help the Bills win more games in the second half of the season. But in any case, Senator Schumer would like to minimize the number of blackouts. And he will work with the Bills to do that."
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said it's difficult creating a schedule to satisfy every request made by every team.
"We are aware of the Bills' preferences for limiting late-season home games," McCarthy said. "We know we are not able to make every team happy every year. But we strive to design schedules that are equitable for all 32 teams."
The Bills schedule this season has been what even coach Chan Gailey has described as being "unusual."
Buffalo's played just once at home since September. They've played four of five on the road, a stretch that included consecutive games at San Francisco and Arizona, during which the Bills elected to spend the week in Phoenix rather than travel home.
Coming off a 37-31 loss to New England on Sunday, the Bills ended a string of four straight road games in which they played teams either coming off bye weeks (Patriots and Houston) or had a 10-day break after playing on a Thursday (San Francisco and Arizona).
According to STATS LLC, only the Philadelphia Eagles, with six, and Seattle Seahawks, five, play more games against opponents coming off extended breaks this season.
Safety George Wilson called it "odd" but refused to make any excuses.
"It's easy to sit back and criticize the scheduling after how the first nine games have gone for us," Wilson said. "But if the record was turned the other way around, we'd be feeling pretty good about the position we're in."
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