Just a few weeks ago, the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals were set to meet in the biggest games of the season. An unfortunate tragedy occurred when Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest on the field and the game was never completed. Fortunately, Hamlin is out of the hospital, having prevented neurological damage, and is hopefully on his way to a full recovery.
Meanwhile, the two teams are ready to give NFL fans the game they didn’t get to see a few weeks ago, when they meet on Sunday afternoon in the AFC divisional round of the NFL playoffs. Just last year, the Bills lost in the divisional round to the Kansas City Chiefs, in one of the best football games in recent memory. Meanwhile, the Bengals beat those same Chiefs in the AFC title game and ultimately represented the conference in the Super Bowl.
Now, the Bills and the Bengals will meet for the right to face the winner of the Chiefs vs. Jaguars in the conference title game next week. What will it be? We’re glad you asked. Before I break down the matchup and give a prediction, here’s a look at how you can view the game.
how to look
Date: Sunday January 22 | Hour: 3 p.m. Eastern time
Location: Highmark Stadium (Orchard Park, New York)
TELEVISION: CBS | Stream: Paramount+ (click here)
Possibilities: Bills -5.5, O/U 49
featured game | Buffalo Bills vs. Cincinnati Bengals
When the Bengals have the ball
Over the past few weeks, Cincinnati’s offensive line has been decimated by injuries. Right tackle La’el Collins is out for the year with a torn ACL. Right guard Alex Cappa suffered an ankle injury in Week 18 and remains out this Sunday. Left tackle Jonah Williams suffered a knee injury last week against the Ravens and will also be out this week. That means the Bengals will start Hakeem Adeniji, Max Scharping and Jackson Carman along with Ted Karras’ rookie guard Cordell Volson.
That’s not a good situation to be in against one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL, even if that front remains without Von Miller. The Bills can field Greg Rousseau, Shaq Lawson, AJ Epenesa, Boogie Basham, Ed Oliver and Tim Settle, and they believe they have at least one, if not both, of DaQuan Jones and Jordan Phillips as well. Buffalo’s rushing rate dropped from 35.3% when Miller was healthy to just 30.3% in his absence, according to TruMedia; but last week against the Dolphins, the Bills increased that rate to 39.2%.
Joe Burrow can neutralize the pressure to some degree by getting the ball out quickly, just as he did for much of the regular season. His average time to throw this season was just 2.55 seconds, tied for second in the NFL behind only Tom Brady. But Burrow also threw downfield far less frequently this season (8.3% of his pass attempts traveled 20 yards in the air) than he did a year ago (11.9% of passes).
Sacrificing explosiveness across the field for quickness and getting the ball into the hands of playmakers worked pretty well for Cincinnati at points this season, especially when Burrow could get the ball into the hands of Ja’Marr Chase, who rarely is knocked down by the first defender. But Buffalo’s defense is designed to challenge opponents to stop it in exactly that way, so the Bills can use their fantastic team speed to fly to the ball and limit yardage after the catch. Chase is better than almost anyone in the league at creating them, while Tee Higgins is one of the best receivers in the NFL, able to win at the receiving point by using his body and wingspan to prevent opposing defensive backs from getting their hands on them. the ball.
Buffalo is usually content to play in the zone and pressure just four defenders, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier make a little change this week after seeing how successful the Ravens were in rushing the Bengals out of their game. simulated and exotic looks behind them. The Bills have the bodies and athleticism to change Burrow’s image after snap, and they can still play their preferred zone look while blending in either Cover-2, Cover-3, man across the board, quarters, or something else. Keeping Burrow from knowing before the snap what he’ll see once he drops back to pass is the best way to make him hesitate and give the quick pass enough time to overwhelm the offensive line.
Burrow can make plays outside of the structure of the offense, and he also has more than enough confidence in Chase, Higgins and Tyler Boyd to make plays with the ball if he gets rid of it quickly before the rush has time to get home. . Those guys can absolutely repay Burrow’s faith, but it’s going to be tough to do so against the Buffalo secondary.
Given their offensive line woes, it seems highly unlikely the Bengals will be able to control this game on the field. Their running game wasn’t too successful even when the line was completely healthy, and Buffalo sports one of the best run defenses in the NFL. The Bengals are much better off putting the game on Burrow’s shoulders and trusting him to beat the Bills with the combination of his brain, trigger-happy and exemplary weapons on the perimeter.
When the Bills have the ball
The last time these two teams met, we only saw Buffalo’s offense in one series. Because of this, much of what we wrote in the matchup preview for that game still applies:
The Bills and Bengals haven’t met since Josh Allen became, well, this version of Josh Allen. The last time these two teams played was in 2019, when Allen was still at the start of his second NFL season. That lack of familiarity is why I’m excited to see what kind of custom game plan Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo comes up with to handle the unique challenge Allen poses for a defense.
We’ve seen him do a great job against Patrick Mahomes, the only other quarterback in Allen’s stratosphere as a multidimensional playmaker, so it will be fascinating to see if the way Anarumo attacks Allen is similar to the way he it has done. things worked out against Mahomes, and if not, how the game plan itself will differ. Buffalo’s and Kansas City’s offenses aren’t really that similar despite being built around similarly gifted quarterbacks, but it wouldn’t be surprising at all if Anarumo borrowed at least a few facets of Kansas City’s game plan. for this matchup.
Meaning, putting as many defenders in coverage as possible and only running three or four seems like a solid way to counter what Buffalo likes to do. It could mess up the Bills’ deep crossing routes, and layering up the midfield with multiple defenders could help take advantage of Allen’s recent inaccuracy in positioning players to intercept deflected balls. It would also allow the Bengals to dedicate multiple coverage defenders to Stefon Diggs and force Allen to beat them with his secondary and tertiary targets. Especially given the injuries and youth in the secondary, it seems like a pretty good strategy.
The Bills got some good games out of auxiliary targets last week against the Dolphins, with Gabe Davis catching six passes for 113 yards and a touchdown, Dawson Knox catching three for 20 and a touchdown, and Cole Beasley and Khalil Shakir combining for five receptions to 86 yards and another score. Diggs had seven catches for 114 yards, but was extremely calm after the first quarter. I have a feeling if the Bengals can force the Bills to win exactly like they did last week, with Diggs quiet for most of the game and the other guys doing most of the damage the rest of the way, they’ll be pretty happy. with themselves. The question is whether they can execute that plan given their relative weakness at cornerback. Eli Apple and Cam Taylor-Britt (and Dax Hill, who took three penalties last week) can be beaten, and if Allen gets Diggs, or even Davis, to go one-on-one with either of them, he should be expected to take his shooting.
If and when he does, the Bengals absolutely have to take advantage of taking turnovers on shots where he’s inaccurate or too aggressive. Allen has been all too willing to force things during the latter part of this season, and we saw last week how his tendency to do so can keep any opponent in the game with Buffalo longer than expected. (And the Bengals aren’t just any opponent, given the quality of his offense.)
The key there is to force the pressure, but also contain him so he doesn’t dash down the field to run the ball. It’s a tough balance to maintain, but Buffalo’s lackluster offensive line makes it possible, especially given that Cincinnati has a strong passing-passing duo in Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard. If the Bengals can pressure the right side of the Bills’ line and force Allen to move left instead of right (he’s much better at shooting when he moves to his strong side), that’s all the better for them. .
The Bills tend to save the Allen-designed runs for the bigger games, and it’s possible we could see a big dose of them here so they can turn the math around early on. Cincinnati is extremely It’s hard to run when DJ Reader is on the field, so while the Bills have been more effective with Devin Singletary and James Cook of late, it might be a good idea to pitch something different to the Bengals in hopes of finding a little more success. than might be possible on the ground.
Prediction: Bills 26, Bengals 23