It’s finally here. The game we’ve all been waiting for since play was suspended in Week 17. The Buffalo Bills host the Cincinnati Bengals in Orchard Park, NY in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.
A trip to the AFC championship game is on the line, and both teams feel they have something to prove. The Bengals feel disrespected and slighted by the way the NFL handled the seeding for the playoffs. After play was suspended, they no longer had a chance at the No. 1 seed. The Bills feel overlooked, as most of the nation is predicting a loss at home this week.
The weather at kickoff is expected to be around 35 degrees, with an 80% chance of snow. But don’t get too excited, Bills fans; less than an inch is expected.
As far as injuries go, this is the wrong time of the year to miss key players on either side of the ball. The Bills are relatively healthy, with two players questionable but expected to play (defensive tackles DaQuan Jones and Jordan Phillips). The Bengals ruled out two of their starting offensive linemen (left tackle Jonah Williams and guard Alex Cappa) and have another player from the secondary doubtful (cornerback Tre Flowers).
Here are my thoughts and things to look for during this game:
- For the love of God, can we please protect the football? Last week, Josh Allen was responsible for three turnovers and another fumble that ended up going out of bounds. It’s tough to express too much displeasure with his style of play, because time and time again that style leads to big plays and one of the league’s top-scoring offenses. But it also leads to me having an emotional fit when we allow the Miami Dolphins’ third-string quarterback to keep the game close in the wild card round. For most of his career, Allen has been electric and amazing in the postseason. This week, he will go against an equally talented quarterback in Joe Burrow, and will need to minimize the turnovers to make sure he doesn’t allow more opportunities for the Bengals’ offense to score points. This could be a game that comes down to which team has the ball last. In that scenario, I am overly confident that Allen will deliver if he is the one with the ball to end the game.
- Protection is key. Burrow is going to be without some of his starters on the offensive line. But the Bills have not been able to take advantage of weakened or beat-up offensive lines they’ve faced since Von Miller was lost for the season. If the Bills are unable to get pressure on Burrow, it could be a long day. We hope for communication issues across the line, leading to missed assignments and more success for the Bills’ defense front. The Bills have to improve when it comes to protecting Allen, as well. Last week, the Dolphins were gifted a touchdown after a strip-sack led to points. Both teams have to find a way to keep their quarterbacks healthy and clean if they want to win today.
- Which running game will take pressure off of their quarterback? In a game with two of the top three quarterbacks in the league, the defenses are going to go all out to slow down the passing attack. Bengals running back Joe Mixon made headlines when he was very vocal about how the AFC runs through Cincinnati, and that they are the big dogs in the conference. Both James Cook and Devin Singletary have played a lot better over recent weeks. With Allen being so prone to giving the ball to the other team at times, it might be a good thing to try and control the time of possession with a steady run game.
If there was a game I was nervous about, it’s this one. Not because I’m scared of the Bengals, but because they have just as good of a roster as the Bills do, really good coaching, and a reason to be motivated for this game. But I believe this Bills team is destined for greatness, and this is just one more step to take to get to Glendale.
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