The Bills are on to the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. They're blessed with another home game but will face a team that's tough to stop on offense.
Here are 6 things to watch for ahead of Sunday afternoon's Bills-Bengals game.
1. A whole lotta respect in this one
The last time these two played each other in Week 17, the game did not finish because of safety Damar Hamlin's collapse. Bills players and coaching staff decided Hamlin's health was far more important than the game and opted to not restart the contest. Bengals players and staff showed compassion by standing behind the Bills in support of their decision.
Now coming back together for a playoff game, knowing Hamlin's out of the hospital and recovering, the two teams have gained respect for each other because of what they went through.
"I think what we learned about the NFL through all of this, as well as our world, is that life and human life is more important. It takes precedent," Bills head coach Sean McDermott said. "You want to keep your eyes on the big picture at all times and have proper perspective on things. I think that's important. As I've said before, Zac (Taylor) and his staff, the players, they're captains, and were all first-class in the way that they handled it and supported us through it. We will forever be grateful for that."
2. Josh vs. Joe
Bills quarterback Josh Allen and Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow will be a sight to see on Sunday afternoon. They quarterback prolific offenses that have put up top 10 numbers throughout the season. With big-time weapons by their side, the Bills finished the season ranking second averaging 28.4 points per game and the Bengals finished seventh averaging 26 points per game.
Both quarterbacks also threw for 35 passing touchdowns in the regular season. Allen had 42 total touchdowns (2nd) and averaged 267.7 passing yards per game (6th), while Burrow had 40 total touchdowns (3rd) and averaged 279.7 passing yards per game (2nd).
The two posted impressive numbers during the regular season but they also shine under the bright lights of the playoffs. Allen is one of two players in NFL history to have at least 300 passing yards and three passing touchdowns in three straight playoff games. In seven career playoff games, Allen has 19 total touchdowns and a 104.6 passer rating, which is the third highest in NFL history (minimum 150 attempts). Burrow's four playoff wins are the most by a Bengals quarterback in franchise history. In five career playoff games, Burrow has seven total touchdowns and a 97.7 passer rating.
The two have also matured quite a bit since their first playoff game. Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey thinks Allen has done a tremendous job of learning through experience and keeping his confidence high.
"You gotta constantly play confident because you could be one of 30 and have an opportunity at two-minute drive to go win a game and you better be at your best," Dorsey said. "And I think that's a great thing that Josh has is that ability to still, no matter what's happening in the course of the game, be at his best when we need him in critical situations."
From watching film, Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier has noticed Burrow's growth in taking the check down.
"He's willing, if you take something away, to check it down and keep the sticks moving, which makes it hard on the defense because those completions are not what we want," Frazier said. "We want incompletions. We want to create negative plays, but he's willing to take a four- or five-yard gain and not always just trying to get the explosive."
3. More opportunities for Bills D with a banged up Bengals OL?
The Bengals went into the Wild Card game with a banged up offensive line and left the game with even more injuries at that position. They were without right guard Alex Cappa who's dealing with an ankle injury and have been without right tackle La'el Collins for a few weeks because he tore his ACL and MCL in Week 16. During last week's game against the Ravens, left tackle Jonah Williams suffered a dislocated kneecap.
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor told media on Monday that Williams will be week-to-week and at this point, "it's hard to tell" if he will be available for Sunday.
With the chance that the Bengals could be without starting offensive linemen like the Dolphins were last week, it could present another opportunity for the Bills defensive line. Against Miami, the Bills defense was able to affect quarterback Skylar Thompson by posting 11 quarterback hits and four sacks.
"They all did a terrific job for us in that ball game and made that quarterback uncomfortable," Frazier said of his defensive line's performance. "They had him (Skylar Thompson) running around and were able to get some hits on him. I think we had like 11 hits on the quarterback and maybe four sacks. So really impressed with what they did."
4. Which WRs will shine the brightest?
Josh Allen and Joe Burrow play at the level they do thanks to some of the playmakers they have on their side. Allen's got Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis, while Burrow has Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. All four wide receivers are hard to stop and each team will use that to their advantage on Sunday.
Diggs finished the season with over 100 receptions and 1,429 receiving yards, which was the fourth most in the NFL. Davis has six receiving touchdowns in the playoffs, which is tied for second-most in Bills playoff history. Since 2020, Diggs ranks fifth (492) and Davis ranks seventh (440) in receiving yards in the playoffs.
"I think it's huge for an offense anytime you have multiple weapons, and you have multiple guys that you can attack with and the defense has to account for," Dorsey said. "Obviously Stef is one of the best players in the National Football League and an important part of our offense, but I think it helps Stef out a lot when other guys can step up and really make plays around him to alleviate some of that focus as well. So, we are definitely trying to always make sure we're staying balanced on how we're attacking teams and putting our guys in the best possible position to have success."
Chase and Higgins each finished the regular season with more than 1,000 receiving yards and combined for 16 receiving touchdowns. Since 2020, Chase ranks sixth (452) and Higgins ranks eighth (346) in receiving yards in the playoffs.
"All those guys are playmakers," Frazier said of the Bengals weapons. "They do a great job of moving the football and scoring points. We're going to have our hands full for sure on defense, and we're going to look at our tape of the few plays we got and look at their most recent games as well and see what we can learn and try to come up with a good plan."
5. Win-streak Kings
The Bills are riding an eight-game win streak, while the Bengals are riding a nine-game win streak. They own two of the longest win streaks next to the 49ers who have won the last 11 games.
Since the Bills streak started in Week 11, they're averaging 29.3 points per game, which is the third best in the league. They also scored on 70.8% of their red zone trips over that span (4th in the NFL).
Since Cincinnati's streak started in Week 9, the Bengals have also averaged 29 points per game, which is the third best in the NFL. Over that span, the Bengals also averaged a point differential of 9.25 points per game (2nd).
While the Bills are riding high, they go into the second round of the playoffs feeling good about the experience they have in divisional round games.
"We've been here before," McDermott said. "We've got good experience in the divisional round. We're grateful for that. And again, this is the next step. So, it's the next game on our radar. And we've got to prepare for it."
6. Learning from Wild Card mistakes
Win or loss there's things every team takes away from each game they play in. The Bills and the Bengals walked away with wins last week and will have things to learn from as they were both in tight games. Buffalo beat Miami by just three points, while the Bengals beat the Ravens by one score thanks to a defensive touchdown.
The Bills lost the turnover battle to the Dolphins but Buffalo's defense thankfully forced two turnovers that turned into points. When looking back at the tape, McDermott doesn't want to just point to one area to learn from.
"You're always trying to adjust whether it's defensively, offensively or special teams, and I'm counting on our offensive staff," McDermott said. "It's never just one player or one play. It's usually a combination of things. So we got to do a better job overall of making sure it doesn't happen going forward."