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Buffalo Bills vs Cincinnati Bengals: Monday Night Football Week 17 preview, picks, more

Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills take on the Miami Dolphins
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) and tackle Spencer Brown (79) exhale before a successful two-point attempt in the second half of an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears in Chicago, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals battle for the top seed in the AFC playoffs when they clash on Monday Night Football. 

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Buffalo Bills (12-3) at Cincinnati Bengals (11-4)

Game Details:

  • Location: Paycor Field in Cincinnati, OH
  • Time: Monday, January 2nd at 8:15 p.m. ET
  • Channel: NBC

Betting Stats:

  • MONEYLINE: BUF ML (-115), CIN ML (-105)
  • SPREAD: BUF -1
  • OVER/UNDER: 49.5

 

Five Keys to the Game:

Who wins the battle of the MVP also-rans?

Despite both Josh Allen and Joe Burrow putting together impressive seasons, it seems like both men will fall short in the MVP race to Patrick Mahomes. That is, unless one of them can pull off something spectacular on Monday night. 

Heading into Monday night’s game, Josh Allen has completed 63.4% of his passes for 4,029 passing yards and 32 passing TDs with 13 INTs while adding 746 rushing yards, and seven rushing TDs. He has accounted for 79.1% of Buffalo’s total yards and 83% of Buffalo’s total touchdowns.

Meanwhile, Burrow has completed 69% of his passes for 4,260 passing yards with 34 passing TDs and 12 INTs while adding 247 rushing yards, and five rushing TDs. He has accounted for 81.8% of Cincinnati’s total yards and 83% of Cincinnati’s total yards. 

It’s pretty clear from the stats that both signal-callers are the driving force behind their team’s respective success, so either defense being able to slow one of them down becomes the most crucial question of the game. 

For Buffalo, it means trying to find ways to get pressure on Burrow, who has the second-quickest release time in the NFL behind only Tom Brady. His quick throws mean the Bills’ defensive ends (without Von Miller) will need to win their one-on-one battles immediately in order to impact his throws. The Bengals did lose their right tackle La’el Collins to the injured reserve this week, so that could open up for Gregory Rousseau to get in the backfield and use his long arms to disrupt Burrow’s initial reads. 

Cincinnati will also be looking to attack a Buffalo offensive line that has played poorly for much of the season. The Bills will get center Mitch Morse back, which is a big boost but the Bengals have been good all season at switching schemes and pressure strategies mid-game, so Allen and the offensive line will need to adapt in order to come out on top. 

 

Will the Bills shift their offensive line?

The return of Mitch Morse also opens up the question of what Buffalo will do with its offensive line. With Morse out, Ryan Bates served as the team’s center while Greg Van Roten slid into the starting lineup at right guard. The simplest solution is to move Bates back to guard with Morse back in the lineup, but is that the right move?

Ike Boettger returned from the injured reserve last week but played only six snaps as he continues to get back into game shape. With another full week of practice under his belt, it’s possible that the Bills could feel comfortable getting the guard back into the lineup. Considering Rodger Saffold has had a tough year at left guard and has been an outright liability at times in recent weeks, could we see Buffalo make a change or start to split up snaps?

Finding the right offensive line combination will be crucial come playoff time. 

 

Can Buffalo get Diggs involved?

It’s been a quiet couple of weeks for Stefon Diggs. Despite coming into Monday night with 101 catches for 1,325 yards and touchdowns, the stud wide receiver simply hasn’t been a factor recently. 

He had no targets in the first half against the Bears and finished with two catches in the game. Now, Buffalo didn’t need him to beat Chicago, but they will certainly need him to beat Cincinnati and Josh Allen has openly talked about getting his best friend more involved

There should be an opportunity on Monday night since the Bengals have struggled on the outside after their top cornerback, Chidobe Awuzie, was lost for the season in October. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin each had 83 yards two weeks ago. Donovan Peoples-Jones had 114 yards the week before that, but the Bengals have been fortunate recently to be playing teams like the Patriots, Titans, Chiefs, and Steelers, who don’t have elite WR1s that can make them pay on the outside. 

Diggs has the ability to be a thorn in Cincinnati’s side. It’s just up to Buffalo to make sure that he is. 

 

Can the Bills fix their CB2 situation enough to handle the Bengals’ WRs?

On the other side of the ball, Buffalo’s secondary will certainly have its hands full with Cincinnati’s elite trio of wide receivers. The two biggest factors in determining how they handle the challenge will be what they do with Tre’Davious White and who plays opposite him most often. 

White has been gaining more consistency since coming back from his ACL injury, and Buffalo has been open to moving him around the formation to take on the opponent’s best receiver. He traveled with Jaylen Waddle against the Dolphins and Garrett Wilson against the Jets, so it’s possible he travels with Ja’Marr Chase on Monday night. 

However, Buffalo used White on Waddle so that they could bracket Tyreek Hill with the rest of the secondary. They could choose to bracket Chase in the same way and use White on Tee Higgins, but the presence of Tyler Boyd would complicate that strategy as well. That’s why it’s crucial that the Bills get a good performance out of their secondary cornerback. 

Despite being outplayed by rookie Kaiir Elam against the Dolphins, Dane Jackson still played more snaps last week against the Bears, taking 59% to Elam’s 48%. It’s time for that to change. Jackson has been beaten too often in pass coverage this season, exhibiting an inability to get his head turned around in time to make a play on the ball. Elam has shown a better ability to make a play on the ball and is the more physical corner. Both of those are necessary against these Bengals wide receivers. 

Even with his inexperience, Elam has the traits necessary to help the Bills win this matchup, but the team needs to trust him to do so. 

 

Is there a Joe Brady impact?

One underrated benefit for Buffalo could be their own quarterbacks’ coach, Joe Brady. Brady is in his first season with Buffalo after being fired from Carolina following two poor seasons as offensive coordinator. However, before his time in Carolina, Brady was the passing game coordinator for an LSU Tigers offense led by Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase. 

Burrow made huge strides in Brady’s passing offense, throwing for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns just a year after throwing for 2,894 yards and 16 touchdowns. While some of that was simply Burrow’s natural development and Cincinnati clearly runs a different scheme, Brady’s firsthand knowledge of how Burrow processes coverages and goes through his progressions could help the Buffalo defense to confuse his former player. 

Even if it just makes an impact for a drive or two, that could be the difference in a game that features two high-powered offenses. 

 

Player Props:

If you’re looking to get in on the fun with this game with some player props, Ethan took you through some of his favorites for the game, so check that out here

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For more Bills coverage, like this Monday Night Football preview, visit amNY Sports

Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals take on the Buffalo Bills
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow winds up to pass while warming up prior to an NFL football game between the Bengals and the New England Patriots, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)