If the Buffalo Bills are to earn the #1 seed in the conference, they will have done exactly that: earned it. To date, the Bills have proven to be the big dog of the AFC, posting a 8-2 conference record and beating the Chiefs, Ravens, and Titans, who – for most of the year – lead the AFC South. The Bengals now lead the AFC North and the Bills will attempt to upend them and take a enormous step towards a first-round bye two weeks from now.
The Last Five
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, the Bills lead the all-time series 17-15. These two teams played often in the previous decade but not so much over the past few years. That will change going forward with the Bills and Bengals poised to be at the top of their divisions for years to come. The first in what could be a long line of great games between these two teams in the Allen-Burrow era begins Monday Night at Paycor Stadium.
What To Watch For: Buffalo Bills
Get Diggs Going – The Buffalo Bills are on a six-game win steak, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at Diggs’ stats during that span. Over the past six games, Diggs has 29 receptions for 340 yards and 3 touchdowns; an average of 57 yards per game. Over the first nine games of the year, Diggs averaged 109 yards per game. Based on their recent results, it doesn’t seem imperative that they get Stefon going. But, for his confidence and the confidence of the offense heading into the playoffs, it would be a welcome sight to see Allen and Diggs connecting more frequently.
A lack of Diggs in the passing game means a lack of passing in the Bills’ gameplan overall. Again, looking at the past six games, the team has averaged only 207 pass yards per game. During the first nine games of the year, the offense was averaging 294 pass yards per game. The lights will be shining bright this Monday night and one of the best receivers in the game will be eager to get going on the national stage.
Which Allen Will Show Up? – Early in his career, Josh Allen struggled in big games. He admitted that, when the lights got too bright, he forced things and did not play his best. One of the many things that makes Allen so impressive is that he was able to fix that. Allen is one of the best in the game every week, but especially when the games and moments get big. I broke down Allen’s stats, comparing regular 1pm games and all other starts this year:
Three massive games from Allen in the 1pm time slot skews the yards per game average. However, everything else is lopsided towards the non-1pm start times. An incredible turn of events from his first few seasons, and a welcome sign for a team that plays a majority of their games in front of a larger audience.
Another Massive Test – This year has been one huge test after another for this team, and they have passed nearly all of them. The team’s largest test is the next one: defeating the AFC Champs in their own house. People have been preemptively calling this one of the best Monday Night Football games ever, given the records of the two teams playing and what is at stake for both sides. If the Bills win on Monday, Week 18’s game against New England would officially be for the top spot in the conference, barring a KC loss. But it certainly seems like this one on Monday is for all of the marbles.
What To Watch For: Cincinnati Bengals
Run Game Issues – You wouldn’t think so with a back like Joe Mixon leading the charge, but the Bengals run game has underwhelmed lately. Cincinnati has been held to under 100 yards rushing nine times this year. In their last two games, the team has rushed for 53 and 73 yards. Getting the run game going against Buffalo might be a tough ask, with the Bills fresh off a picture-perfect day defending the run against Bears QB Justin Fields. Still, seeing the success Miami recently had against the Bills run defense might tempt Cincinnati to lean into the rushing attack a bit more this week. As we have seen though, Joe Burrow is good enough to carry the team on his shoulders even when the run game is not clicking.
Best Receiving Corps in the League? – It’s tough to think of a better unit than the one that sends out Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and Hayden Hurst every week. Burrow/Chase is in the conversation with Cousins/Jefferson and Allen/Diggs. That is, borderline unstoppable. The Bengals will look to exploit a Bills secondary that, despite being ranked as one of the best in the league, certainly has their moments of uncertainty.
Dane Jackson has been a question mark all season. Christian Benford is eligible to return to the lineup this week. Kaiir Elam’s usage has been a mystery recently. Tre’Davious White is still returning to full strength. Damar Hamlin has been caught on the wrong side of a blown coverage over the past few weeks. All of this leads to what could be a huge night for the Cincinnati passing attack. For the Bengals, it is the strength of their team and, with a quarterback like Burrow, something that is often a matter of when they hit something big rather than if.
Bills 31 Bengals 20. The Buffalo Bills have built up to this moment for some time now, and I think that they make another statement in primetime. With how the Bills have been playing recently, it almost feels like a win this week would be a surprise. But should it be? The Bills have the second-ranked offense in the league in yardage and third-ranked in points. And on defense the team is second in points per game. Both units have been better then Cincinnati’s this season. But yet a Bills win seems like it would be a welcome surprise. Well, not to me… I expect the Bills to win this game and move 60 minutes closer to wrapping up top seed in the conference.
Featured Image: Josh Allen (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh), Joe Burrow (Winslow Townson/Getty Images)