The Buffalo Bills (12-3) continue their regular season journey at home against the Cincinnati Bengals (11-4) in Week 17.
Once the battle arrives, there will be a few particular things to keep in mind.
Here are seven things to watch for during Monday’s Bills-Bengals matchup:
No. 1 in the AFC
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Both the Bills and Bengals bested the Chiefs in their regular season matchups this year, meaning the top teams in the conference left for them to face before the postseason are… Each other.
Considering the Bengals run to the Super Bowl last year, they could be the team-to-beat and one of the biggest remaining hurdles for Josh Allen and company. Cincy could also be a squad they see in the playoffs, this year and in the future.
While the Bills will likely still need to win out in this week’s matchup and next week’s season finale at home against the Patriots, the conference’s top seed is on the line Monday Night in Cincinnati.
That’s a lot of pressure packed into one 60-minute game for both teams. These sides have experience playing in the spotlight, but there’s always a chance a team crumbles under those circumstances.
Lead the way
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Buffalo’s shown they can come back to win games this year, and while they may do so again first half points could have second half ramifications in this matchup. Scoring early and often to build a lead would set the team up well in a second half that could be competitive.
The Bengals spread offense relies primarily on on its passing game, so limiting and containing that air attack and making them run the ball may be key for the Buffalo defense in the long game Monday night.
This contest is one that could similarly be impacted by time of possession as well, giving the Bills defense and special teams opportunities to be difference-makers in that regard. After all, the less Joe Burrow and the Bengals offense is on the field and less they have good field position, the less of an opportunity there will be for them to score points.
In the end, the more Buffalo does or does not lead the way and manage the game on both sides of the ball could ultimately determine its outcome.
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Burrow and his receivers had some communication and route miss-cues last week against New England, and it resulted in two interceptions. One of which that went back for a score. The Bills secondary will need to be ready to capitalize should similar opportunities present themselves.
On the flip side, the Bills need to protect the ball and protect QB Josh Allen from the likes of his former Wyoming teammate, middle linebacker Logan Wilson who’s logged 2.5 sacks and 41 tackles in the Bengals last several outings, and seven tackles in their last six contests.
A turnover by either team could present favorable field position or a scoring opportunity for their opponent, so it will be important for Buffalo to keep the ball secured.
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The big story here is the weak spot on the offensive line as OT La’el Collins was lost to injury for the remainder of the season. Hakeem will be the next man up at right tackle. While he played well when in position, he was also inconsistent in his landmark settings during pass protection against New England which allowed pass rushers to win against him. Buffalo could attack the pocket from that side. Adeniji is also not as good as Collins in run blocking, which could be a factor if Buffalo is successful in making the Bengals rely more on their ground game.
K Evan McPherson missed two extra points, then missed a field goal in the fourth quarter. Whether it was the cold weather or not, it could present a pressure opportunity for the Bills special teams defense to keep what could prove in the end to be meaningful points off the board.
Cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt got beat for a touchdown during the Patriots fourth quarter resurgence last week while the Bengals defense gave up 18 total unanswered points to New England in the second half of their matchup. Given the Bills trend this season of coming back and winning games in the second half, the Bengals nearly allowing such a comeback to the Patriots could bode well if Buffalo finds themselves in a similar position.
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Per Buffalo Bills PR, head coach Sean McDermott is 10-5 in Primetime games in his tenure with the club, and in his six career Monday night games quarterback Josh Allen has thrown 18 touchdown passes with two interceptions and a 113.9 QB rating.
Playing playoff-caliber football will matter. Containing the Bengals pass game on defense, and keeping the run game momentum going from last week with Devin Singletary and James Cook while finding open men whether in check downs to move the chains or for big gains to advance drives on offense could be a winning combination for the Bills.
Allen has performed at a high level in each of the last two regular season matchups against the Chiefs. Something to watch for will be whether we see ‘Primetime Allen’ against the Bengals as well.