The game of the year is here. In my opinion, the NFL’s two best teams, with two of the best quarterbacks, collide on Monday Night Football with the conference on the line. The AFC is up for grabs, and there’s a three-team race for that spot. The Buffalo Bills can lock down the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs by winning out, and that starts tonight on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals.
It’s a new year, so we can start a new streak with the Bills’ relationship with the weather. After a few horrible weeks against Mother Nature, this game is the closest thing to perfect weather the Bills have seen in January in some time. The temperature will be close to 60 degrees, with winds around six miles per hour. There will be a 90% chance of rain in the form of light showers. This game is perfect football weather to start the year off.
As far as injuries go, both teams are relatively healthy aside from injured reserve designations throughout the year. For the Bills, this is the best the injury report has looked all season, with one potentially large exception: safety Jordan Poyer (knee) is questionable. The Bills are undefeated (11-0) when Poyer is in the lineup, and 1-3 when he doesn’t play. He followed a similar practice schedule last week against the Bears, so my feeling is that he will play. But we will see what the team decides tonight when the inactive list comes out.
Here are my thoughts and things to look for during this game:
- New year, same old me: This starts with quarterback Josh Allen. Allen is a star who seems to shine the brightest when he’s in a primetime slot. So far for his career, Allen has the highest career passer rating in primetime games among quarterbacks with 300 or more pass attempts in the Super Bowl era. He will need to impress again tonight, as the Bengals might not have the best defense in the league, but they consistently do enough to allow Joe Burrow to win it late in games. The question most Bills fans will have is: Will we see the version of Allen that started the season off scorching the Los Angeles Rams and Tennessee Titans? Or will we see the quarterback who takes too many chances and turns the ball over like he did against an inferior defense like the Chicago Bears? Ball protection and decision making will be key in this game. Similarly to when the Bills play the Kansas City Chiefs, every drive will matter in this matchup. Both offenses can score fast, and will likely try their hardest to end every drive in points. No team will want to punt or lose a possession to give the other side a leg up. Last week, weather was the factor for Allen in ways he probably wouldn’t admit. The winds and the negative temperatures don’t make it easy to move the ball with ease, so the team depended on Devin Singletary and the running game. This time around, I think we see Allen finally healthy from the UCL injury that has bothered him since injuring it during the first matchup against the New York Jets. Allen looked very good against the Miami Dolphins just one week prior to the matchup against the Bears, and I am expecting a similar performance.
- Greg Rousseau, Shaq Lawson, and the rest of the defensive line have played well since Von Miller went out on Thanksgiving. Tonight’s game will be the biggest test yet. Getting to the quarterback is the most important factor when trying to beat the Bengals. Over the last seven games, the Bengals have been able to keep Burrow very clean in the pocket, and that has led to them winning all of those games. While the Bills are on an impressive win streak of their own, it can end tonight if they allow Burrow time in the pocket to distribute the ball without pressures and sacks.
- It’s clear the Bengals players can talk that talk, but can they back it up with their walk? Joe Mixon and other Bengals players had strong opinions about the Bills’ defense not being as good as others they’ve faced, and how they are the big dogs in the AFC. While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, it’s rare to see bulletin board material passed out ahead of any game, let alone against one of the top teams in the league. Linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano have helped lead the Bills to one of the league’s elite run defenses this season. Headed into this game, the Bills’ rush defense ranks fourth in the league, as they’ve shut down some of the league’s best running backs this year including the likes of Nick Chubb and Derrick Henry. The Bills also rank seventh in total defensive yards allowed, and second in opponent points per game. I’m not sure what Mixon was trying to accomplish with his statements, other than lighting a fire under a defense that hasn’t needed one to perform all year. But we will see what happens tonight.
This game has all the makings to be one of the most entertaining of the year. Allen and Burrow’s first ever meeting will live up to the hype. Get your popcorn ready and take your Apple Watch off so it doesn’t call the ambulance on your behalf. This one will for sure raise your blood pressure whether you’re a Bills fan or a Bengals fan.
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