The Buffalo Bills have reached the uneven halfway point of the 2023 NFL season, and with it comes a challenging slate of games against last season’s playoff teams out of both conferences. At the outset of forecasting Week 9’s outcome, the Cincinnati Bengals opened as 1.5-point favorites with DraftKings Sportsbook.
Many are quick to point out that a home team at anything under -4 points technically isn’t favored to win. So while perception frames the portrait of the Bills as technical road favorites in this primetime matchup for Sunday Night Football, the truth is bettors see things closer to “pick’em” status.
Much has transpired since last these two team met, which of course was during last season’s playoffs — a game the Bills looked terrible and found an early exit to the offseason.
For the Bills, goals remain the same — but adversity continues to send out reminders that you need to earn your stripes. To earn them, finally defeating the Joe Burrow-led Bengals would go a long way, providing Buffalo confidence and more over the last half of the season and beyond. The Bills enter Sunday’s showdown at 5-3, and fresh off a promising and highly productive day at the office for offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey’s offense. But there are plenty of blemishes to Buffalo’s game, both on offense and defense — despite what stats tell us. The Bills have struggled to close out games the last three weeks, with the defense literally in their end zone doing whatever necessary to prevent a game-winning play by their opponent. That’s not a great long-term plan. It’s important for Buffalo to find their hunter mentality and eliminate the threat by continuing to put points on the board.
Whereas the Bills found team-wide struggle over the better part of the last month, the Cincinnati Bengals have begun to dig their claws in, finding footing in a three-game win streak during the month of October. The Bengals owned the NFC West, defeating all four teams this season, a division that’s currently 14-17. Victories against the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers are impressive wins, no doubt. But that means, of course, Cincinnati hasn’t won a game against an AFC opponent yet this season. Their performance last weekend in California showed a dominant level of play similar to prior seasons, and now the belief is that the Bengals are back and ready to take control in the AFC. Quarterback Joe Burrow appear to be fully healthy now, having recovered from a calf injury he sustained during the start of training camp. On several occasions, Burrow showcased his legs, something almost fully absent the first seven weeks. For his efforts, Burrow was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against the 49ers — completing 28-of-32 passes for 283 yards and 3 touchdowns. His completion rate (87.2) led all NFL passers last week and is now a career-high for Burrow, while his passer rating of 134.8 led all AFC quarterbacks.
Defensive end Trey Hendrickson was listed on Cincinnati injury report as a “DNP” for Wednesday with a foot/ankle injury, and his status bears watching. Should Hendrickson miss Week 9, it would be a huge loss for the immensely talented, game-changing defender. The same goes for running back Joe Mixon, who was limited on Wednesday with a chest injury. Mixon was a workhorse against the Niners, and could find similar success against the Bills if he’s able to go on Sunday night.
The Buffalo Bills, however, may have something significant to say about that idea. Allen While the Bengals made no moves ahead of the trade deadline, the Bills brought in cornerback Rasul Douglas after working out a deal with the Green Bay Packers. Douglas should immediately upgrade Buffalo’s on-field production at cornerback, bringing a savvy veteran presence to the locker room and a true knack for playing zone cover defense.
With the injury to tight end Dawson Knox, Bills Mafia witnessed the true emergence of rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid during Thursday Night Football. If Ken Dorsey is able to further integrate Kincaid within the offensive scheme, while operating out of 11 personnel, it should open up plenty of opportunities for quarterback Josh Allen to unleash the sort of brilliance we’ve all come to expect out of him each week. Despite the Bills’ success running the football, they are and will remain a passing offense with Allen at QB. Utilizing 11 personnel in Week 8 allowed Allen to better-involve receivers, and helped him develop early rhythm. That all will be necessary against the Bengals.
It’s true the Bills have struggled to close out games against teams that most believed should have had no shot to win late, finding paths to victory while up against great adversity can act as a sounding board for head coach Sean McDermott and the team. It’s going to require a near-perfect effort to win in Ohio, but the Bills have shown the ability to play perfect football against good teams. While Week 9 is a big one for the Buffalo Bills, it’s not the playoffs, and it’s important to remember there’s a long way to go before having a shot at a rematch. The Bills would, of course, love to take another crack at hosting the Bengals in a win-or-go-home playoff game. Sunday night provides them with a key opportunity toward meeting that goal.
Despite many calling the Bengals’ win against the 49ers “season-shifting,” the Bills can just as quickly shift it in reverse for Cincinnati by emerging victorious to close out Sunday football.