Sunday Divisional Liveblog: Bengals, Bills meet again

Sunday Divisional Liveblog: Bengals, Bills meet again

Division NFL – It took 19 1/2 weeks, but we finally cut the chaff on the 2022 NFL season. The last six teams standing are the top six teams in DVOA: all killers, no fillers. With all due respect to the Jaguars and Giants, the NFL season has come down to the best of the best. That doesn’t always happen! Intruders happen all the time! It’s kind of refreshing that the best of the best is here.

That being said, we can’t have six teams going to conference championships; that’s not how numbers work. We have two more games to go today to get to the final four and, at least on paper, they should be more competitive than the games on Saturday. No more #1 seeds taking on the underdog; we’ve got four of the top Super Bowl contenders facing off today with trips to the conference championships on the line.

We will not lie; there will be a strange atmosphere when the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals lock down just three weeks after Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field; there’s no getting over it without remembering what happened that Monday night. Losing a matchup of this caliber was way down on the list of things to worry about, but is It’s nice that we get to see two of the top three teams in the conference decide things on the field. As for which field it should actually be in? Well, we’ll get to that in a moment. There aren’t that many strange feelings about watching the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys face off in a record-tying ninth playoff game, a matchup that has been so long-awaited that… Wow, looks like time’s up. This. We’ll get back to that very soon, too.

And we’ll be covering today’s matchups live in a special playoff edition of the Football Outsiders live blog! Since we’re live, you can also join the discussion! Join the conversation either in the comments section of this article, or on Twitter by tagging @FBOutsiders either @BryKnoor on our new Discord server, where some of your favorite writers will be hanging out and reacting live.

Here we go!

Early game preview: Bengals at Bills

The Bengals have one legitimate grievance and one illegitimate grievance as they travel to Buffalo as the road team in this game.

The NFL covered contingencies for a Chiefs-Bills AFC championship, and covered contingencies for a Bengals-Ravens wild card game. However, they did not give the Bengals any contingencies for this matchup, and their placement actually hinged on the outcome of the canceled Bengals-Bills game. If the Bengals had won that game, it would have been the two seeds, not the Bills. This game would be in Cincinnati, not Buffalo. And the NFL just shrugged it off and is letting this happen as it is. It would be one thing if they did that for everyone, but the fact that the NFL broke the rules for two circumstances but not Three it’s a bit awkward, at best. The Bengals are being penalized for doing the right thing and not forcing Buffalo to play or conceding the Week 17 matchup. No strongly penalized, yes; Home field advantage is not what it used to be. But at least they can claim some righteous resentment for having to go to New York.

They can’t complain that the NFL is already selling out tickets in Atlanta for the Bills-Chiefs game, no matter what Joe Mixon thinks. They were pre-sale tickets to Arrowhead for the Chiefs-Bengals, and tickets in Cincinnati for the Bengals-Jaguars. That’s just a logistics thing.

In our stats preview, Cale Clinton asks the $64,000 question: Will Josh Allen avoid mistakes against Cincinnati? As he points out, Allen is one of the best quarterbacks in all of football…but he’s also prone to the occasional awkward, heartbreaking mistake; He clutches interceptions in the red zone that kill the Bills. Allen is simultaneously the number one reason Buffalo can win … and the number one reason Buffalo can lose. Either way, get ready for offensive fireworks. But public opinion seems to lean toward the Bills, with the line dropping to Buffalo -6 before game time.

Late Game Preview: Cowboys at 49ers

Well that’s more like! The Cowboys we saw against the Buccaneers were the team we expected to see; the one that can go toe-to-toe with every other team in the league and is a true Super Bowl threat. We just haven’t seen that team week to week, as flat outings against the Packers, Giants, Texans, Jaguars and Commanders during the second half of the season had Dallas fans worried about their chances against the best teams in the league. But against Tampa, Dallas controlled the game from start to finish. Dak Prescott seemed almost untouchable, avoiding the interceptions that have been a millstone around his neck since he returned from injury, and led Dallas to the fourth-best passing day of the season by DVOA. They seemed capable of beating anyone.

However, to move on, they have to beat the team that had the third–the best passing day of the entire season by DVOA last week, when Brock Purdy and the 49ers turned a close halftime game into a blowout victory over the Seahawks. Say what you want about Purdy’s results versus his quality of play; the 49ers have barely missed a beat despite being without their third quarterback of the season. San Francisco is riding an 11-game winning streak and has looked more or less unstoppable through the second half of the season.

If the Cowboys play up to their potential, they can absolutely win this game, even as four-point underdogs. As our stats preview points out, Dallas is equipped to attack both the 49ers’ weakness in covering deep passes and Purdy’s penchant for escaping pressure. We’ll have to see if that Dallas team is the one that actually shows up this afternoon, or if San Francisco will pull off a dozen straight wins and get their ticket to Philadelphia.

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