The Cincinnati Bengals host what is effectively a playoff game on “Monday Night Football” with the Buffalo Bills in town.
Those Bills and Bengals combine for the most wins of any MNF matchup in recent history in a game described as one of the best MNF matchups ever.
Cincinnati sits third in AFC seeding entering the game, with Buffalo first. The Bengals have won seven in a row to get to this point, the Bills six in a row.
Besides the obvious, the game boasts two elite defenses, superb casts of weapons and MVP favorites under center. It’s a game-of-the-year candidate, plus much swinging in the playoff balance, so here’s a look at key players and storylines to know.
(AP Photo/John McCoy)
The Bengals were mum about who will actually start at right tackle, the candidates being Hakeem Adeniji and Isaiah Prince. The latter was seen getting first-team reps during practice and is more similar to La’el Collins, the man getting replaced. But Adeniji has been more available this year and is back at a natural position now. Either way, the starter’s performance and how the offense changes — if at all — to help him could change the game.
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
The Bengals project to get two big returns this week — tight end Hayden Hurst and defensive end Sam Hubbard. That’s huge on multiple levels. Hurst was quietly a big part of the offense. The whole scheme potentially changing now while needing to mask a problem at right tackle makes his return all the more important. And Hubbard’s presence is a must-have, especially while Trey Hendrickson plays through his broken wrist — and against an MVP-caliber quarterback.
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Speaking of MVP-caliber quarterbacks, this game has two. Joe Burrow has continued to show off cerebral play with his ability to manipulate defenses. After struggling against Cover 2 (while underweight from a burst appendix) early this year, he’s now the NFL’s best quarterback against the coverage. He’s also ripping off key runs when necessary.
But Josh Allen is right there on the MVP march too. He’s thrown for 4,000-plus yards and 32 scores and nearly leads the Bills in rushing with 746 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s a nightmare to contain and yet another good test for Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo.
Bills secondary vs. Bengals WRs
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Bengals wideouts, besides Tyler Boyd playing through that dislocated finger, have a tall task in front of them on Monday. The Bills have allowed 250-plus passing yards just five times this season. If Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Boyd can shoot past that number, it probably signifies a shootout where the Bengals set the tone. If not, that’s a big part of the reason the Bills are 12-3 — the defense just doesn’t give up a lot of anything despite opponents passing all the time in an effort to keep up with Josh Allen.
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Who gets the ball last? Allen or Burrow? If you’re making a shortlist of quarterbacks to want with the game on the line, these guys are in the top three. Are the struggles from Evan McPherson really nothing to worry about? Assuming the game is close (oddsmakers can’t get the line past a one-point swing and it’s the most combined wins of any MNF matchup ever), who makes the key play with the game on the line on primetime in what will feel like a playoff matchup? It’s a serious chance at momentum going into a tough-looking AFC playoff bracket.