ORCHARD PARK – This is a big game, folks, this AFC showdown between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football.
You can make the case that it’s the biggest game in the NFL this season when you consider the records of the teams, the hot streaks they’re on, and the stakes that are in play.
Not that you could really tell at One Bills Drive, though, as the Bills have tried their best to stick to their time-honored, Sean McDermott-drilled mantra of not getting wrapped up in all of the hoopla and just taking it – altogether now – “One game at a time.”
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“I get there’s a lot of implications for that,” quarterback Josh Allen said regarding the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff bracket that is on the line. “That’s in the back of our mind, but we’re taking it one game at a time, trying to control what we can control.”
Center Mitch Morse also talked about “controlling the controllables” and while reeling off a couple other cliches, but he also admitted to understanding that this game is a little different than any other the Bills have played this season.
“Well, I would be lying to you if we didn’t see what possible implications this game can play,” he said. “Does that change anything for us, how we do things around here? No. But it kind of heightens your senses.”
It is widely recognized that the top three teams in the AFC are, in no particular order, the Bills, Chiefs and Bengals. What’s interesting is that the Bills have proven they can beat the Chiefs as they’ve won two of the last three meetings, and the Bengals have done the same, winning three straight over Kansas City in calendar year 2022 alone.
What we don’t know is how the Bills and Bengals match up because these teams haven’t played since 2019, and that day, Allen wasn’t the Allen of today, and rookie Bengals QB Joe Burrow didn’t even play due to an injury.
“We’ve beaten everybody, we know we can play against everybody, and we’ve done it in the biggest moments,” Burrow said Thursday. “We’ve played everyone in the last two years, but we haven’t played the Bills yet, so that will be a fun challenge.”
Oh, it should be fun, no doubt about that.
Here’s my preview of the game:
Buffalo Bills on offense: Build on run game success
One thing the Bengals do as well as any team in the league is they really mix things up on defense and give offenses plenty to consider. For instance, the Bills play primarily in their nickel defense with some variations off that, but the Bengals do a little of everything and it will really put the onus on offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey to call the right plays, and then on Allen to make the necessary adjustments once he brings the Bills to the line and the Bengals start shifting.
“I would say most teams are multiple these days,” McDermott said, “but what they do is very creative and they affect protections with some of the looks they give you.”
The Bengals have used five-man fronts, they’ve used three-man fronts where they dropped eight in coverage (that worked very well against Patrick Mahomes), they’ve used spies on running QBs like Lamar Jackson, and they’ve
We all want to see Allen and Burrow get into a passing shootout, but the Bills should try to get RBs Devin Singletary and James Cook going the way they did last week. Now, they won’t have the level of success they had against a porous Bears defense because the Bengals are very good against the run, seventh-best in the league.
They’re stout up front with massive DTs D.J. Reader and B.J. Hill, plus DEs Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard (who is expected to play), and LBs Logan Wilson and Germane Pratt are fast, athletic players who flow to the ball and tackle extremely well. But taking some of the burden off Allen would be wise, and if they can put together grind-it-out, time-consuming drives, it would limit Burrow’s time on the field.
When he throws, Allen will face a defense whose outside CBs aren’t great, Eli Apple and rookie Cam Taylor-Britt, but the Bengals have a stellar nickel CB in Mike Hilton (who is also adept at blitzing) and an outstanding safety duo in Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell. That group has been responsible for the Bengals leading the NFL in lowest completion percentage allowed (60.2%).
The key for Allen will be to take advantage of the outside matchups – Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis working against Apple and Taylor-Britt – and staying patient and not putting up turnover-worthy passes (he leads the league with 29) because this team will make him pay for those mistakes.
Buffalo Bills on defense: This is an elite passing unit
The Bills have stared down Mahomes, Jackson, Tua Tagovailoa, Aaron Rodgers, and Matthew Stafford and beaten them all. But they haven’t come across a more complete offense this season like the Bengals with an elite QB like Burrow surrounded by the level of talent he has in WRs Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, TE Hayden Hurst, and RB Joe Mixon. Not even the Chiefs can trot out weapons like that.
“They’ve got guys that can make plays all over the field so we just got to make sure we’re in the right position when a ball gets thrown down the field or intermediate and then come up and tackle,” said Bills CB Dane Jackson.
Jackson and fellow CBs Tre’Davious White, Kaiir Elam and Taron Johnson have to be at their collective best in this game, not only in coverage but in reading their route indicators faster than normal. That’s because only Tom Brady has gotten rid of the ball faster than Burrow this year, a lightning-quick 2.48 seconds per dropback. He operates a precision, rhythm passing attack and, similar to Miami’s Tagovailoa, he gets it to his targets quickly and lets them run after the catch.
Last week against Justin Fields of the Bears, the Buffalo pass rushers backed off and made sure they kept him in the pocket to eliminate his running ability. In this game, the Bills could employ a similar strategy, not to stop Burrow from scrambling but in an effort to bat down quick passes at the line and tighten his throwing windows.
And forget about blitzing him. Teams have blitzed Burrow on just 19.7% of his dropbacks and he has made them pay with 11 TDs, a 63.6% completion rate, and a passer rating of 110.8.
Bills vs. Bengals: News and notes
▶ This is the Bills sixth prime-time game of the season, and they have won the first five, both of which are team records. And if you count the game at Kansas City which was shown to almost the entire nation, this is the eighth time the Bills are in an exclusive TV window (Thanksgiving was the other).
▶ The last time these teams met on Monday Night Football was in 1991 at Rich Stadium when Jim Kelly threw three first-half interceptions but rebounded to lead a 35-16 Bills victory.
▶ Since the start of 2021, Allen and Burrow are tied for the second-most touchdowns produced (68) behind only Patrick Mahomes (74).
▶ The Bengals have averaged 29.2 points per game during their seven-game winning streak while the Bills have averaged 28.3 points during their six-game win streak.
▶ Cincinnati is the only team this season with three WRs who have recorded 700 or more receiving yards and Chase, Higgins and Boyd are the only threesome to have each had at least 130 yards in a game.
▶ Cincinnati’s defense had a 16-game streak of not allowing an opposing passer to top 300 yards snapped in Week 14 by Tom Brady, though 67 of that came on a meaningless final drive with the game long decided.
▶ The Bills have to start getting Diggs back in the mix. In the first nine games he averaged 11 targets and 109.4 yards. In the last six, the numbers have plummeted to 7.5 targets and 56.6 yards.
Sal’s prediction: Buffalo Bills 30, Cincinnati Bengals 28
I’m picking the Bills a couple days ahead of time, but I could easily flip-flop the day of the game because that’s how tight this matchup is. I waffled back and forth on this initial pick, and I decided to lean the Bills’ way because they’ve passed almost every major test this season.
It would be a shame if, after all the work they’ve done in winning 12 out of 15 games against one of the toughest schedules in the league, to have lost three games by a combined eight points, and to have been in control of their destiny almost the entire way, that they would let it all slip away in this game. That’s how damaging a loss could be as it would make their road to the Super Bowl much more difficult.
2022 Buffalo Bills schedule
Thursday, Sept. 8 at Rams, W 31-10
Monday, Sept. 19 vs. Titans, W 41-7
Sunday, Sept. 25 at Dolphins, L 19-21
Sunday, Oct. 2 at Ravens, W 23-20
Sunday, Oct. 9 vs. Steelers, W 38-3
Sunday, Oct. 16 at Chiefs, W 24-20
Sunday, Oct. 23 Bye week
Sunday, Oct. 30 vs. Packers, 8:20 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 6 at Jets, L 17-20
Sunday, Nov. 13 vs. Vikings, L 30-33
Sunday, Nov. 20 vs. Browns, W 31-23
Thur. 11/24 at Lions, W 28-25
Thur. 12/1 at Patriots, W 24-10
Sun. 12/11 vs Jets, W 20-12
Sat. 12/17, vs. Dolphins, W 32-29
Sat. 12/24 at Bears, W 35-13
Mon. 1/2 at Bengals, 8:30 p.m.
Sun. 1/8 vs. Patriots, TBD
Sal Maiorana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.To subscribe to Sal’s new twice-a-week newsletter, Bills Blast, please follow this link: https://profile.democratandchronicle.com/newsletters/bills-blast
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Buffalo Bills vs Cincinnati Bengals: Predictions, Keys to game