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5 things to watch for in Bills vs. Bengals | Monday Night Football

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) scrambles from Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap (96) during the Buffalo Bills vs Cincinnati Bengals game on August 26, 2018 at New Era Field. Photo by Craig Melvin
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) scrambles from Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap (96) during the Buffalo Bills vs Cincinnati Bengals game on August 26, 2018 at New Era Field. Photo by Craig Melvin

1 – A lot on the line

This is easily the game with the most on the line in the regular season for the Bills, and it carries some weight for the Bengals as well. A win by Buffalo on Monday Night in Cincinnati would keep the Bills in control of their own destiny for the top seed in the AFC playoffs. If they are fortunate enough to couple a win with a Kansas City loss versus Denver, Buffalo would clinch home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

"That's one of the four goals that coach McDermott sets out for us each and every year," said Josh Allen. "It's make the playoffs, win the division, secure home field by getting the one seed then obviously winning the world championship, the Super Bowl. That's what we're trying to accomplish. Every time we step on the field, we want to win the football game. It's going to come down to execution on Monday night."

Meanwhile the Bengals can clinch the AFC North title with a victory Monday night paired with a Baltimore loss against Pittsburgh. After winning the AFC title and reaching the Super Bowl last season, Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor believes his team will be in the right frame of mind for the game.

"They're used to playing in big games," Taylor told Bengals.com. "They're used to playing in all types of games, and so however this one starts out or in the middle looks like, our guys can pull from their memory banks on what's needed in that situation. So, I've got a lot of confidence that this group is battle-tested and they're ready for this next battle that's in front of us."

Both teams are streaking into the game with Buffalo winners of six in a row and the Bengals winners of seven straight. The Bills are 4-0 in primetime games this season. Cincinnati is 1-2 in primetime.

2 – Two clutch quarterbacks

You could not ask for a bigger matchup of quarterbacks on Monday Night Football knowing Josh Allen and Joe Burrow will be squaring off. Not only are Josh Allen and Joe Burrow's 66 pass TD and 78 offensive touchdowns the most by any two opposing quarterbacks entering the game, but their teams' 23 combined wins are tied for the most entering a Monday Night Football game in NFL history (1997; SF at DEN). It'll also be the first time Allen and Burrow play one another.

"I think that's really what it comes down to is two good teams led by two really good quarterbacks and we just haven't played them, which is probably the unusual part a little bit," said head coach Sean McDermott. "We've played other teams multiple times. We just have not played them other than a few years ago. So they're a good team led by Joe burrow, obviously and you watch him in college, and he has been successful and watching now in the NFL he's been successful, so they got a really strong team."

The two signal callers for the Bills and Bengals have put together ultra-productive seasons thus far. Allen has been a dual threat all season as he's the only player with 4,000-plus passing yards and 400-plus rushing yards this season. Last week was his 25th career game with at least one passing and one rushing touchdown. With one more rushing touchdown he'll move ahead of Kordell Stewart (38) for fourth on the all-time rushing touchdown list for quarterbacks.

Meanwhile, Burrow, the AFC's Week 16 Offensive Player of the Week, is the league's top passer in the fourth quarter, completing better than 71 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions for a passer rating of 117.1.

"The guy is unbelievably clutch when the game is on the line," said Bengals play-by-play broadcaster Dan Hoard in an appearance on the ‘Bills by the Numbers’ podcast. "He consistently delivers. That's what separates the greats is their ability to come through when the game is on the line and that's what Burrow has consistently done. His performance on third down and in the fourth quarter has been tremendous."

Allen and Burrow each rank top three in offensive yards and touchdowns in 2022. Both quarterbacks have 39 offensive touchdowns this season, second only to Patrick Mahomes (41).

Allen stands second in offensive yards with 4,775, with Burrow right behind him at 4,507.

Monday night's game will mark just the seventh head-to-head matchup in Week 14 or later between two players who each rank in the top three in offensive yards and touchdowns that season.

3 – Troublesome trio

The Bengals boast what many consider to be the most talented receiving trio in the game. Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd are all difficult covers for any defense as all three playmakers can step forward and carry the passing game.

Proof of that came when top wideout Ja'Marr Chase missed four games with a hip injury. Higgins and Boyd carried the load through that stretch and is a big reason why Higgins leads Cincinnati with 1,022 receiving yards. The biggest target in the receiving corps, Higgins ranks fourth in the NFL with 16 contested catches this season.

Both Chase and Higgins rank in the top four in receiving yards over the last two seasons among players under the age of 24. Meanwhile, Boyd ranks fourth in the NFL among slot receivers with just over 700 receiving yards (711) and five touchdowns.

NFL on CBS analyst Adam Archuleta, who called the Bills' game last week and has called three Bengals games this year was on ‘One Bills Live’ this week and likens Cincinnati's potent passing attack to one he used to play against during his time as an NFL defensive back.

"In my opinion what makes as deadly as anybody is their ability to attack single-high (safety) coverage," Archuleta said. "It reminds me of when I used to prepare for Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison. The chemistry and connection between Burrow and Chase is on a different level. With the way they work the fade route and the back shoulder route. You really couldn't play Peyton Manning in a single-high (safety) defense. You had to play two safeties high and play like four different defenses. Cincinnati is that good. And then with Tee Higgins on the other it's almost like having Reggie Wayne.

"So now you have an offense you can't run single-high (safety) against them, you can't blitz because Burrow gets the ball out and identifies defenses. So you have to play two-high (safeties) and then they have Joe Mixon, who now can operate against light boxes. It reminds me of the Indy offense back in the day."

In fact, Boyd, Chase and Higgins are one of only two trios of receivers on the same team to each rank in the top 25 in receiving yards (JAX – Kirk, Jones, Engram) in the AFC. Part of the reason is all three are accomplished yards-after-the-catch receivers.

Cincinnati ranks fourth in the league in yards after the catch with more than 2,000 this season (2,060).

4 – Rolling in the red zone

While the Bills offense has been humming in the red zone over the past month going 14-17 over that stretch (82.3%), Buffalo's defense has been almost as effective in defending inside their 20-yard line. Leslie Frazier's unit has allowed just three touchdowns in the red zone on their opponent's last 10 red zone possessions (30%).

That recent success has vaulted the Bills defense to the top of the league in red zone defense this season as they're allowing touchdowns at a league-low rate of just over 44 percent (44.4%). NFL on CBS analyst Adam Archuleta in an appearance on ‘One Bills Live’ this week spoke on what makes Buffalo so effective on both sides of the ball.

"What all good teams should have is they're really solidly coached, fundamentally all the way around," Archuleta said. "You really see it on the defensive side and Ken Dorsey is coming into his own on the offensive side. I really admire the way Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier coach the defense.

"They're not schemers. You're not going to have some exotic game plan week in and week out, but they do enough. And they never stray away from their core fundamentals and what they are. So they have a really good feel for how to adjust to different offense in game. They have good personnel, but it's impressive the way they're coached. It's why they're one of the favorites to go all the way."

By no means should Cincinnati's red zone play be dismissed, particularly on offense where they rank higher than Buffalo on the season scoring touchdowns better than two-thirds of the time (66.7%). Their defense is also top 10 in red zone touchdown efficiency (9th).

The Bengals offense is 10 for their last 19 in the red zone over the past month (52.3%) while their defense is 8-for-13 (61.5%).

5 – Pass rush adjustments

The battle at the line of scrimmage will be of particular interest in this matchup. Fortunately, for Buffalo it appears that starting center Mitch Morse will be back in the starting lineup, which is big knowing the handful that highly underrated DT D.J. Reader is for Cincinnati.

"Special player," said Morse of Reader. "A big guy who has great lateral quickness but also explosive, and as a nose tackle, really good football player. And one of those guys that can make plays late in the play by just finishing, using his hands very well. And he's just a big guy, and he uses his size to his advantage."

Cincinnati just lost their right tackle La'el Collins to season-ending ACL injury last week. Bengals head coach, Zac Taylor, would not reveal who they plan to start in Collins' place.

"We have an idea who we want to replace L.C., but I'm not going to reveal that," Taylor said this week.

Hakeem Adeniyi is expected to start for the Bengals. The third-year tackle has made 14 starts in his career, but none since last season.

The matchups of interest obviously include the anticipated right tackle, Adeniyi, with Bills LDE Greg Rousseau, who is second on the team with 7.0 sacks.

The Bengals pass rush off the edges won't be 100 percent. DE Trey Hendrickson is trying to play through a broken wrist while fellow end Sam Hubbard is trending toward making a return from a calf injury this week.

"Hendrickson's broken wrist is a factor," said Hoard. "He's missed just one game. He played well last week against New England. But he's so relentless and I think he'll be able to provide some pressure on Josh Allen. I'm not sure they'll have Sam Hubbard this week. He didn't play last week. We were told it was likely to be multiple weeks before he comes back with the calf injury. They left a sliver of hope that he might be able to play on Monday night, but I would be surprised."

If Hubbard can't play the whole game Cam Sample is expected to fill the void as he did last week at New England.

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