This could be one of the most viewed Monday Night Football games in NFL history. It’s already a match of teams with a combined 23 wins, which is an MNF record going back to the 80’s.
The Bills, despite playing on the road, are a 1 point favorite at Cincinnati even though the Bengals have won 7 straight. The Bills have won 6 in a row, with both teams winning some close ones. The winner of this one is a giant step closer to reaching Super Bowl 57 February 12th in Glendale Arizona.
Vegas still has the Bills as the bettor’s choice to win it all at +350, with the Eagles and Chiefs next at +450. Put $100 on the Bills and get $350 if they win.
We can’t overstate the importance of this game for both teams.
The 12-3 Bills currently have a tenuous hold on the AFC’s top seed, with the 11-4 Bengals in position to knock the Bills down to the 3 seed with a win, as the 12-3 Chiefs are 12 point home favorites over the woeful Denver Broncos Sunday.
Finally the weather shouldn’t be a factor.
The forecast right now shows temps in the low 60’s in Cincy Monday with no rain or heavy winds expected. That’s exactly what any red blooded NFL fan wants to see as Josh Allen and Joe Burrow face off for the first time.
Some good news on the injury front, as Pro Bowl center Mitch Morse has cleared concussion protocol and practiced Thursday. Rookie cornerback Christian Benford is also back after missing a month with an oblique injury. Basically that’s a lower rib cage problem that takes time to heal, but his return gives the Bills some depth and options.
Stefon Diggs missed Thursday’s practice with an illness, not Covid, and the Bills think he’ll be fine by Monday. Geez. Don’t even think…
While defense and special teams could easily decide this game, it’s the offensive matchup between Allen and Burrow that has everybody interested.
Looking through all kinds of formulas rating quarterbacks is interesting, but still riddled with more questions. The QBR is an ESPN formula that has Patrick Mahomes at 78.7, Allen at 70.5 and Burrow at 61.3. Funny thing though. Both Allen and Burrow have beaten Mahomes and the Chiefs this season.
All these numbers crunched boil down to this: Burrow is considered to be more accurate than Allen, but Allen has a much stronger arm and is a far more dangerous runner.
Much like a year ago, one of the criticisms of the Bills offense is the lack of a strong running game, although that is changing as rookie James Cook gets more comfortable. He and Devin Singletary combined for over 200 yards rushing against the Bears last week, but the Bears run D is woeful compared to the Bengals front 7.
The Bills aren’t gonna stack up 250 yards rushing against the Bengals, but offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey will mix the runs in there in order to make Allen’s play action more effective. It does make a difference.
Conversely, the Bengals don’t have the run game the Bills have, because Allen plays for the Bills and Burrow doesn’t use his legs nearly as much. Burrow loves going downfield to Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins among others, so up front Bills D-linemen like Greg Rousseau, Ed Oliver and Shaq Lawson must generate some pressure.
While Bills cornerback Tre White is getting closer to where he was before the torn ACL, I’d expect Burrow to test him early and often.
Here’s how I see this game a bit differently than most local and especially national NFL media and fans.
Numbers don’t lie, but they do if you leave some of them out.
Allen’s running ability and competitive drive are underestimated. He’s always been at his best on the big stage, going back to that 2019 Thanksgiving game at Dallas.
In 6 playoff games, 3 home wins and 3 road losses, Allen has a passer rating of 106.6 with 14 TD’s and 1 interception. One.
He also averages over 60 yards and 7 yards per carry, with many of those yards in crucial third down or goal line situations.
Allen’s legs will be the difference in this game. The stats may not even reflect how important a couple scrambles or designed rpo’s are, but just a few drive extending first downs here and there will make an enormous difference.
While we all hold our breath when Allen takes off, this is who he is when the chips are down, and this is one of those times.
A win means a first round bye and possibly two home games and a trip to Arizona. A loss? It could mean facing both Mahomes and Burrow on the road. Not undoable but not the outcome desired.
Allen is uniquely unafraid of risking failure, and the risk/reward usually falls in his favor, although not always.
It works this time.
Bills 27, Bengals 24
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