Two small markets teams, two successful head coaches, two star-studded quarterbacks, and two talent-filled rosters.
One big stage set in Buffalo, NY for what has the makings to be one of the biggest games of the year — the AFC Divisional Round showdown between the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals.
"I think this is going to be an absolute show," NFL.com columnist Adam Schein said. "You think about the quarterbacks, you think about Allen-Burrow. The incredible stars are going to be on display all over the field including the wide receiver position. You think about the anticipation for the matchup in Week 17. I really think this is going to be the most special ballgame this weekend on the best weekend in all sports."
Back in 2017, a Bengals victory over the Baltimore Ravens snapped the Bills' 17-year playoff drought. Now, the Bills are looking to have success of their own over the Bengals to keep their journey to the Super Bowl rolling. So, Sunday's crucial playoff game is nothing short of a highly-anticipated matchup with storylines written all over it.
These are the first two teams to meet in Super Bowl Era to have an 8+ win streak (Bengals 9, Bills 8) before the Conference Championships and QB Joe Burrow is 2-0 on the road in his playoff career while QB Josh Allen is 4-0 at home during the playoffs. Among the eight divisional teams left in the postseason, the oldest active roster by average age belongs to the Bills, while Cincy is the youngest.
"This was a really anticipated matchup for a long time," dedicated member of Bills Mafia, Brother Bill said. "Last time, obviously, because of terrible circumstances, we didn't really get to see it. And now it's on an even bigger stage in our backyard, so really an almost movie-type scenario."
Last weekend's AFC Wild Card game between the Bills and the Dolphins peaked with more than 40 million viewers, which turned out to be the most-watched Sunday AFC Wild Card game in nine years. But now that the stakes are even higher, those numbers could skyrocket this upcoming Sunday when the eyes and ears of all of Bills Mafia are locked into CBS.
"I think the world is going to be tapped into this game," former Bills WR Stevie Johnson said.
Whether Bills Mafia will be listening to the voices of CBS in the comfort of their living room or enjoying the ambiance of Highmark Stadium, the city of Buffalo is buzzing with excitement to root for their beloved team for possibly the last time at home this season.
"We've built up to this. I think this is the team that is here to make that big jump that we've all been waiting for and deserve," Brother Bill said. "There are so many emotions that go into being a lifelong Bills fan with family members that have passed it on to you. I think we're cheering for not just us, but all those people who encompass Bills Mafia that we've known and have helped us learn to love the Bills."
"It's happening in Buffalo in front of what I consider the best fan base in all of pro sports in America, bar none," former Bills TE Lee Smith added. "As far as America is concerned, it doesn't get better than the Buffalo Bills. There are four remaining football games in the NFL and one of them is in the backyard over at Highmark Stadium."
And Bills players love playing ball in front of their enthusiastic fans given the distinct home-field advantage they receive doing so. The energy and noise levels, which don't go unnoticed by the players, are through the roof the minute doors open to Highmark Stadium, and they only amplify when the Bills line up for the opening kickoff.
"When that energy is there and we got 60-70,000 people screaming at the top of their lungs, it's about as loud as I've ever heard," TE Dawson Knox said. "I played in some big stadiums even in college, but there's something special about Orchard Park."
As someone who grew up a Bills fan and tries to make it to as many home games as he can, Buffalo Sabres forward Alex Tuch knows how much this team means to the city. As part of the Buffalo sports family, Tuch shared that the camaraderie the Bills and Sabres share encourages both teams to support each other as much as possible.
"Bills Mafia shows up," Buffalo Sabres center Alex Tuch said. "That's just the expectations, the excitement, the commitment, and just the overall confidence in the team that the city of Buffalo has, and the fans have."
Another storyline that you can't leave out when talking about this game is the heightened emotions surrounding it. Those emotions will be running high for both teams, everybody in attendance, and all those tuned into the broadcast after one of the most emotional moments in pro sports happened the last time these two teams met just 20 days ago.
"I can't imagine a more emotional time for any fan base, city, or franchise across America. And then boom, you get to play a home game in a big AFC showdown to go to the AFC Championship game," Lee Smith said.
Even though they are opponents on Sunday, the Bills and Bengals came together less than three weeks ago in support of Damar Hamlin. The positive updates from the past few weeks, along with seeing Hamlin is exactly what both teams needed to cope with the situation, especially now that they're seeing each other again.
With that in mind, NFL's analytics expert Cynthia Frelund views this game as a celebration of Hamlin.
"We're in this situation because of an unfortunate thing, but we get to celebrate the acts of some really amazing people who allowed Damar to have a lot of extra days, breaths, and heartbeats," Frelund said.
But dealing with adversity has been a common theme that's driven the Bills forward to reach this point of the season.
"There's so much this team has been through, just absolutely a ton," Frelund said. "Somehow, this Bills team through everything, they are like brothers, they're having fun, they're enjoying the wins, celebrating each other, lifting each other up when they're not doing well like things of that nature. It's very special to see the type of camaraderie and connectedness and brotherhood that you see from them."
From Hamlin's scary incident, to witnessing the aftermath of a Buffalo blizzard, Allen believes dealing with challenges together as a team has made the Bills that much stronger and prepared for what's next.
"We've been in some really weird situations this year, that not a lot of teams, maybe, have ever gone through," Allen said. "So, just being able to have that under our belt, understand those emotions in those situations, and just try to use it to our benefit."
But at the conclusion of Sunday's battle, one team will have its winning streak snapped, while the other advances to the AFC Championship game and can potentially go on to the Super Bowl. As soon as the opening kickoff commences, it's going to be an uphill battle for both teams.
"It's not like playing Patrick Mahomes or playing Jacksonville would be easy," Frelund said. "Then, you got one more after that against whoever the NFC champion is, so it's not an easy road for either team. But you kind of want to believe that in the end, the good guys win, and this is kind of what that would feel like."
The Bills and their fans have been buckled in for the 2022 season since last season came to an end. This is the moment they've been patiently waiting for - a shot at redemption.
"It's something to prove," Johnson said. "Both teams are good, but this one is win or go home. They were where we wanted to be last year, so we have something to prove to be the best."
"There's no team in the league I'd rather root for the Buffalo Bills. I'll tell you that," Smith added.