For NFL fans across the world, the Buffalo Bills-Cincinnati Bengals game should be extremely satisfying on Sunday.
As we all know, the last time the Bills and Bengals played, the game was cancelled due to Damar Hamlin’s medical emergency. What transpired in the subsequent weeks, the togetherness of the NFL community, was something we rarely see. It was something that only sports can bring out.
In a satisfying twist of fate, the two teams will meet once again to decide who advances to the AFC Championship game, exactly 3 weeks after the original meeting.
The Last Five Meetings
Bills 21, Bengals 17 (2019)
Bengals 20, Bills 16 (2017)
Bills 16, Bengals 12 (2016)
Bengals 34, Bills 21 (2015)
Bengals 27, Bills 24 OT (2013)
The history between these two teams is incredibly close, as the Bills lead the all-time series 17-15. Buffalo and Cincinnati played often last decade but not so much over the past few years. That’ll change moving forward with each team poised to be at the top of their divisions for years to come. (Next season, they will square off in Cincinnati.)
What To Watch For: Buffalo Bills
Emotions – I am going to cover this from both sides, as I believe it’s the biggest mental aspect of this game. We know the traumatic events that led to their previous matchup resulting in a no contest. Considering the Bills’ recent blunders and sloppy play, it makes you wonder if it’s still impacting them on game day. The minute the two teams line up across from each other and the Bills see the orange and black staring back at them, I would expect a rush of emotions to come for the players.
While it is tempting to think that Hamlin will be at the game and possibly come out for the coin toss, I wonder if Sean McDermott would veto that idea for the sake of keeping their emotions in check and not bringing any unwanted thoughts to the surface moments before kickoff. It would be a powerful scene though, one that gives you chills just thinking about. It would be a full circle moment that the entire NFL community would love to see, considering just how much this story has brought the league and its fans together.
Buffalo’s Defensive Line – Nearly every pundit is in agreement this week that the matchup that will determine this game will be the Bills defensive line versus the banged-up Bengals offensive line. The Buffalo Bills heavily invested in their defensive line last offseason, making it a priority to get home with only four linemen.
DEs Von Miller and Shaq Lawson and DTs Jordan Phillips and DaQuan Jones were brought in to add to a young core of pass rushers. If there was a week that losing Von for the season hurts more than others, it is this week. An already-banged up offensive line trying to guard Miller would have been almost comical; I think he could have made some plays to blow the game open.
Without Miller, the Bills must still find a way to impact QB Joe Burrow and force turnovers. Buffalo has to get a return on their investment. Beyond Miller, the team has spent tons of money and draft capital on the front four and they absolutely must show up this weekend.
Bills Turnover Issue – Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills offense is playing with fire. They know it, McDermott knows it, and their opponents know it. A plethora of turnovers nearly led to one of the biggest playoff upsets of all-time last weekend. It has been a focal point this week and everyone on the team understands what’s at stake. If they have another careless game Sunday, they will be packing their lockers instead of packing their suitcases for Atlanta. A turnover-free game is a rarity for this team. They turned the ball over in 14 of their 17 games this year. They have not played a mistake-free game since beating the Jets on December 11.
What To Watch For: Cincinnati Bengals
Emotions – If we look at emotions from the Bengals side of things, there might be more anger than anything else. From their perspective, the team was nothing but compassionate and understanding during the Damar Hamlin situation.
The solution that the league came up with to combat the cancelled game did not please Cincinnati. Since the Bengals were unable to obtain the 1-seed, if they win this weekend, they will most likely have to play in Arrowhead Stadium as opposed to a neutral site next week for the AFC Championship game. Even the location of this week’s game rubbed some the wrong way.
RB Joe Mixon drew some attention this week when he declared that the presale of the Bills/Chiefs AFC Championship Game tickets in Atlanta was “disrespectful.” However, he disregarded the fact that Bengals tickets for the AFC Championship game were also being bought and sold online. The Bengals are coming into this game ticked off; I am interested to see how that emotion translates come game time.
Bengals Weapons – We’ve been wondering all week how much we can take away from the Week 17 matchup. One thing that cannot be ignored was the success that the Bengals had through the air early in the game. WR Ja’Marr Chase, WR Tyler Boyd and TE Hayden Hurst were out there playing catch with their QB, attacking CB Tre White and the Bills secondary. White has been looking better in the two games since, but I would expect the Bengals to test him early once again.
Quick Burrow – The best way for Cincinnati to combat their offensive line issues is to get the ball out quickly. If Burrow can do so, they will have to sacrifice some of the deep shots that they often take. Luckily for the Bills, they have some very fast and physical linebackers; they are not afraid to come up and make a play on short and intermediate balls. If the patched-together offensive line can hold up against the Bills pass rush, the vertical attack could quickly return.
Bills 30, Bengals 24
Initially, I was not picking the Buffalo Bills this weekend. The first 10 minutes of the MNF game scared me into thinking the Bengals would run away with a rematch. But between the Damar Hamlin effect, the Bengals injuries, and the game being played in Orchard Park… the gap has closed for me. I have the Bills coming away on top in this one. Turnovers and the battle up front (on both sides) will tell the story.
One thing is for sure though. Sunday will be an epic day in Buffalo, especially if we get a visit from the guest of honor, #3. Go Bills!
Feature Image: Sam Greene/USA Today Network