*Editor’s note: The Buffalo Bills vs. Cincinnati Bengals game has been suspended after Bills’ player Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field, according to NFL.
The sequel to the AFC Game of the Year is here with the Buffalo Bills (12-3) taking on the Cincinnati Bengals (11-4) this Monday night. The Bills already won the first big showdown in Kansas City in Week 6, but if the team that’s been the favorite for the Super Bowl all year wants to be the No. 1 seed, then they need to win this game too.
Standing in Buffalo’s way, the Bengals have won 7 in a row and 9-of-10 games coming in, making them as hot as anyone in the conference. But these teams have not met since Week 3 of the 2019 season. That was before Josh Allen’s breakout year and the arrival of Joe Burrow in the NFL.
Their first meeting has the potential to be an instant classic. Unlike the growing rivalries between the Chiefs-Bills and Chiefs-Bengals, these 2 teams have no recent history to speak of, so we are just going to dive right into the matchup for each side of the ball.
The Bills are a 1-point road favorite with a total of 49.5 points at many of the best sportsbooks. It sounds like the weather is going to cooperate with temperatures in the low 50s and maybe some light rain. Let that ball rip.
Buffalo Bills vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Monday, January 02, 2023 – 08:30 PM EST at Paycor Stadium
When the Bills Have the Ball
Buffalo has one of the most versatile, elite offenses in the league this year. Only the Chiefs average more yards per drive than the Bills, and only the Chiefs and Eagles average more points per drive.
The Bills are also No. 1 in third down conversion rate (49.7%), an area where the Cincinnati defense is below average, ranked 19th (39.8%).
We know the Bills have one of the game’s best passing connections between Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs. But after an elbow injury against the Jets, Allen has seen the offense transform into more than just a passing fest.
- In the first 8 games, Allen averaged 300.4 passing yards per game and 8.06 yards per pass attempt.
- In the last 7 games, Allen is averaging 232.3 passing yards per game and 6.83 yards per pass attempt.
Highest Rushing Average
Despite this decrease in passing efficiency, the Bills have improved from 27.5 points per game to 28.6 points per game over the last 7 weeks. This is where having a dominant run game (and a uniquely skilled quarterback) helps a lot.
The Bills are the only team to rush for at least 100 yards in all 15 games this season. Allen’s rushing contributions (he has 746 yards and 7 touchdowns) play a huge role in that fact. Going back to last year, the Bills have rushed for 100 yards in 22 straight games, the fourth-longest streak in the NFL since 1990.
Through 8 games, the Bills ranked 13th in rushing, as they preferred to keep the ball in Allen’s hands. But in recent weeks, Devin Singletary has had big games, and rookie James Cook (Dalvin’s brother) is averaging 5.8 yards per carry and had a season-high 99 yards in Chicago last week. The Bills have the third-most rushing yards (1,148) and highest yards per carry (5.5) over the last 7 games.
Buffalo averages 5.3 yards per rush, the highest in the NFL this year. If the Bills can finish the season with that average, they will have the highest yards per carry in NFL history for an offense with over 4,000 passing yards as well.
What Should the Bills Improve?
A very unique and potentially historic offense for a team that has lost 3 games by a combined 8 points. Obviously, the Bills shot themselves in the foot too often (4 turnovers) against the Vikings, and they would have won that one had they just executed a quarterback sneak from their own 1.
But even in the other 2 losses, at the Jets and Dolphins, it was the turnovers and dumb mistakes (bad special teams play too) that did the Bills in. Those were the only 2 games this season where Buffalo scored under 20 points.
The Bills have been held under 27 points 6 times this year, and all but one of those games have been on the road. They will need to choose the right course of action to attack these Bengals, but the good news is they have many different options to choose from.
The Bengals are a solid but not spectacular defense, ranked 11th in yards, 12th in points, and 10th in takeaways per drive this year. But with Buffalo’s offense ranked 30th in turnovers per drive, it could come down to something as simple as winning the turnover battle. We know both teams will move the ball well and score their share of points.
It is worth pointing out that the Bengals have collected their defensive stats in 12 games where the opposing quarterback was a backup, benched, or ranks in the bottom 12 in QBR this season. The 3 best quarterbacks the Bengals have faced were Tua Tagovailoa (left concussed before halftime), Lamar Jackson (beat them 19-17), and Patrick Mahomes (lost 27-24 but he played well).
Jacoby Brissett (Browns) is quite arguably the 4th-best quarterback the Bengals faced this year, and he shredded them in a 32-13 win with a 133.7 passer rating.
Allen and this Buffalo offense will be an intriguing matchup and step up in competition for these Bengals. We have seen Cincinnati allow 17 different 75-yard receivers this year, including some good performances from No. 1 receivers like Tyreek Hill (160 yards), Amari Cooper (131), Mike Evans (83), Jakobi Meyers (83), and CeeDee Lamb (75).
It can be another good night for Allen and Diggs if the Bills choose to attack it that way.
When the Bengals Have the Ball
After a slow 0-2 start to the year, the Bengals are back on track as a top-5 offense. They are also great on third down (No. 4) and in the red zone (No. 6), but the Bills are tough there as no defense allows fewer points per red zone trip.
But unlike the Bills, the Bengals usually do not have the luxury of a strong running game. Outside of Joe Mixon’s 5-touchdown explosion against Carolina when the Bengals rushed for 241 yards, this has been one of the worst rushing attacks this season. The Bengals enter Week 17 ranked No. 26 in rushing yards and No. 28 in yards per carry (3.9). While the Bills have 15 games with 100 rushing yards, the Bengals have reached that mark 6 times.
This offense is going to go as Joe Burrow and his receivers go, though keeping everyone together on the field for the full game has been a struggle this year. But the receivers are healthy now, and Burrow is 1 touchdown away from throwing his 35th of the season to top last year’s total. He has also taken 12 fewer sacks this year despite throwing 44 more passes.
But the big plays have not been there quite as much as they were in 2021, so this offense has had to adapt. Ever since that ugly 32-13 loss to Cleveland where Burrow took 5 sacks, he has only been sacked 10 times during the 7-game winning streak. Never more than 2 sacks in any game.
What to Expect From Their Opponent?
Taking huge sacks against defenses with elite edge rushers was how Burrow got into trouble earlier this season in losses to the Steelers (T.J. Watt), Cowboys (Micah Parsons), and Browns (Myles Garrett). Fortunately for Burrow, the Bills lost their future Hall of Fame pass rusher, Von Miller, to a torn ACL on Thanksgiving.
The Bills specifically brought in Miller to get over the hump in these big matchups. Von was huge in the win over the Chiefs, but he won’t be there this week. The Bills have held 3 of their last 4 opponents to under 14 points, but that doesn’t sound so impressive when those opponents were the Patriots (Mac Jones), Jets (Mike White), and Bears (Justin Fields). When the Bills hosted Miami, Tua Tagovailoa led the Dolphins to 29 points in a tough game.
Even Jared Goff had the Lions with 25 points and nearly an upset win back on Thanksgiving with a good Detroit offense around him. This was the problem for the Bills last year. They could pad the defensive stats against the bad quarterbacks, but when they played Tampa Bay (Tom Brady) later in the year and the Chiefs (Mahomes) in the playoffs, they were shredded for well over 300 yards and 30 points both times.
At least corner Tre’Davious White is back to take on one of these great Bengals wideouts each snap, but he is not playing up to his past level so far after returning from his own torn ACL suffered last Thanksgiving. According to Pro Football Reference, White is allowing 7.7 yards per target compared to 5.1 last year.
The Bengals have great weapons with Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd but limiting Ja’Marr Chase is still the main concern. The Cowboys and Ravens were able to hold him under 55 yards in wins earlier this season.
With White missing most of the season and not showing the elite play in his return, and a bad injury to safety Micah Hyde in Week 2, the Bills have arguably been more vulnerable to top receivers than the Bengals have in 2022. Buffalo has allowed eight 100-yard receivers, including huge games from Justin Jefferson (193), Cooper Kupp (128), Amon-Ra St. Brown (122), and Jaylen Waddle has twice gone over 100 on them.
Chase has also been quite the “homer” in his career with the Bengals. In 14 home games, he averages 107.2 receiving yards per game compared to 65.3 yards in 14 road games. The same can be said of Burrow’s numbers at home.
The Bengals have won 14 straight games when scoring more than 20 points. They’ll have to hit that mark at the bare minimum again in this one to win the game.
Bills vs. Bengals: Prediction and Picks
We are starting to get a good sense of what will happen when the Bills and Bengals meet the Chiefs in a big game. But this is new territory with Bills vs. Bengals, and we may quickly see a rematch in the playoffs next month.
If this is anything like those Kansas City games, then it is going to come down to the 4th quarter, maybe over time, and it will be a one-score game. It should also be high scoring enough to hit the Over, as both teams are very capable of scoring at least 24 each. No ties here.
We were 13 seconds away from this being last year’s AFC Championship Game. That loss has been the driving force behind Buffalo’s season, and the Bills have remained the betting favorite since the preseason. It would feel wrong to bet against them now with the No. 1 seed within reach here.
The quarterbacks will put on a show, but I am taking the team with the better run game and defense, and quite arguably the better coaching staff as well. Following the NFL odds, take the Bills to cover in another new AFC classic for your NFL picks.
For Buffalo residents looking to bet on this game, you can check out our top New York betting sites.
Score Prediction: Bills 27 - Bengals 24
NFL Pick: Bills -1 (-110) at Bovada
NFL Pick: Over 49.5 (-110) at Bovada
*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.