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Here we get a rematch of the Week 17 matchup that never happened. What was previously viewed as a potential playoff matchup has actually come to fruition. Both the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals should have had no issue whomping their Wild Card opponents, as each foe was forced to start their backup quarterback (third-string for Miami).
Yet, each potential Super Bowl contender wound up struggling to knock off their rival. As we know all too well, the Bills only defeated the Dolphins by a field goal despite being the most-favored team in the Super Wild Card Weekend’s history. Things weren’t much better in Cincinnati, where they needed a 98-yard fumble recovery touchdown by a defensive lineman just to defeat the Ravens by seven points.
Needless to say, although these teams were scheduled to play just three weeks ago, the momentum each franchise now has feels much, much different. Heading into the Week 17 matchup, the Bills had won six in a row. The Bengals were also white-hot, winners of seven in a row. Sure, neither team has lost since, but we still haven’t seen a complete game from either organization since the Damar Hamlin incident.
Still, we have two of not just the best teams in the AFC but possibly two of the best teams in football set to go toe-to-toe. There may not be a better matchup in football right now, making the AFC Divisional Round battle a must-watch for any football fan.
Buffalo Bills vs. Bengals game details, where to watch
- Sunday, January 22, 2023
- Start time: 3 PM ET
- TV channel - CBS
- Location - Highmark Stadium, Orchard Park, NY
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Keys to the game
- Bills must out-throw Bengals
This matchup pits two top-ten passing offenses against two top-ten scoring defenses. But if there’s one area where each team is more susceptible to allowing yards, it’s through the air.
The Bills were slightly above-average, ranking 15th in pass yards allowed, while the Bengals ranked 23rd. But Cincinnati tightened up in the red zone, allowing the fourth-fewest passing touchdowns in the regular season. This should be a fascinating duel, as Josh Allen has had his own red zone interception issues this season, tossing a league-high five interceptions within the 10-yard line. We’d love to see the Bills use their aerial attack to get downfield, then pivot to a James Cook/Allen running attack once within the red zone. With their postseason on the line, if we need our superstar QB to lower his shoulder to run over defenders, so be it. This is the playoffs. It’s now or never.
Ultimately, if the Bills can find more sustained success through the air than the Bengals can, we like the Rumbling Herd’s chances to emerge victorious, but there are a couple of other factors to watch closely on game day.
- Forcing Cincinnati turnovers
There are several legitimate reasons to be worried about the Joe Burrow-led Bengals offense. They averaged 26.1 points per game, good for seventh in the NFL. Burrow passed for the second-most touchdowns this season (tied with Josh Allen), showing just how dangerous their passing attack can be.
Yet, they’re also susceptible to giving the ball away. Cincinnati had a turnover rate of 9.7% this past season. It may seem small, but that’s actually the seventh-most-frequent turnover rate in football.
This is wonderful, as the Bills’ defense forced turnovers at the fifth-highest rate in the NFL this past season, showing they’re ready to capitalize on any mistakes the Bengals might make. But we can’t act like the Buffalo offense hasn’t its own issues this season. The Bills have committed the second-most turnovers in the league while also finishing in the same place in fumbles lost. There may not be any room for fumbles or interceptions in what could be a back-and-forth scoring shootout.
In a win-or-go-home scenario, winning the turnover battle could just be the key to victory for both teams on Sunday.
- Pressuring Joe Burrow could make up the difference
Ever since Joe Burrow was drafted No. 1 overall in 2020, the Bengals have done their best to overhaul their offensive line, trying to protect their franchise quarterback. After a knee injury ended Burrow’s rookie season after just ten games, the organization seemed to finally get the hint that building in the trenches is a wise idea for a QB with average but not great mobility.
But now their left tackle, Jonah Williams, has dislocated a kneecap (ouch) and won’t be able to suit up on Sunday. In some ways, this may be a blessing in disguise for the Bengals, as Williams had allowed more sacks than any other tackle in football. But the offensive line as a unit hasn’t exactly held up either, allowing Burrow to be sacked 41 times in 16 games.
If Buffalo’s front seven can consistently get in Burrow’s face, it could be the perfect recipe for slowing the Cincinnati offense down. With a rushing offense that ranked 29th in yards per attempt and total yards, the last thing they want to do is be forced to run the ball. In turn, we better hope Buffalo’s pass rushers are eager to pin their ears back and chase Burrow out of the pocket.
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Buffalo Bills vs. Bengals game prediction
- This season’s record: Buffalo Bills - 13-3, 1st in AFC East
- Cincinnati Bengals: 12-4, 1st in AFC North
In the words of the great Marv Levy, “where else would you rather be than right here, right now?” I can’t think of anywhere else than either at Highmark Stadium or watching the Bills game from your ideal location.
This week that means thousands of Bills Fans are tuning in as the quest to bring home the franchise’s first Super Bowl trophy continues. Just think, the Bills won 13 games this season. Now all they need is three more to complete their goal.
But as we know, the Bengals are a formidable opponent and possibly the best or second-best team the Bills Mafia has taken on all year. This one won’t be easy, and it won’t come without nerves and anxiety kicking in, but we still see the Bills as the better team. Vegas agrees, with the Bills being favored by -5.5 points at home.
We also see a similarly close game, with the Bills scoring slightly more than the Bengals, but enough to move on to the AFC Championship game, likely another rematch with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Game prediction: Bills 35, Bengals 31 - Bills victory
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