The Buffalo Bills will battle the Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday in a should-have-been-rematch Divisional Round playoff matchup. Damar Hamlin won’t be able to play this go around, but hopefully, he will be able to be at the game, and I can’t wait to hear the Mafia in the stadium lose their minds to cheer for him. That emotional high will probably carry throughout what is shaping up as one of the games of the year.
Last week would not qualify as a game-of-the-year candidate, but it was a playoff victory, and those will not be taken for granted in this neck of the woods. The reactions many folks had seemed as if they’d forgotten the 17 years we roamed in the wilderness. The way a lot of Bills’ fans reacted to this playoff victory would make you think they lost all of their bets…
Wait. All three props lost last week. What a mess. The game script was completely off of how that game played out, and we got nowhere. We had one other 0-3 week this season, and that was another unpredictable game where the Bills struggled against the Jets. Just like the Bills, though, we’re resilient. After that stumble in Wk 9, Three Props went 6-3 the next three weeks, and that’s the plan now too. Get back up. Get the ‘bardi and party. Let’s get that analysis money.
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First Things First
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This game could go in so many directions. Both teams are capable of a shootout. Both teams are capable of a defensive strangling. Each team has mismatches to exploit. Each team has dealt with injuries, and this is the key point for this game. The two offensive linemen Cincinnati has lost to injury for this week – RG Alex Cappa and LT Jonah Williams – create a void the Bengals have not had to deal with this season.
Other than RT La’el Collins, who went down in Wk 16, all 5 of Cincy’s starting OL played virtually the entire season. They have not had to learn to deal with change on the OL to the degree they will this week. The Bills’ front 7 has to make this a decisive factor. Simulated pressures, creeper pressures, stunts, etc need to be as big a part of the defensive game plan as it has been all season if not more. They have to force this rebuilt line into urgent communication and take advantage of the mistakes. “Who Dey” is too good a team to not accentuate this leverage point.
Another leverage point is the Bills’ relative strength on 3rd downs. The Bills’ propensity for “big game hunting” has been overly analyzed this week, but there are a few reasons to believe the Bills will focus on more sustained drives. The first is to not give Joe Burrow and the Bengals’ formidable offense more chances, the second is Cincy is less likely to give up those shot plays than most of the Bills’ recent opponents, and the third is the Bills have a significant advantage on third downs, particularly where they can activate Josh Allen on 3rd down rushes. Successful, if not explosive, plays that lead to 3rd & manageable situations will let the Bills continue drives, keep the defense fresh, and limit Burrow’s possessions. Allen will take his shots – you can’t take the junkyard out of the dog – but reliably moving the sticks and controlling the ball feeds into a game plan that highlights their advantages.
|DVOA||3rd/4th Down Rush||3rd & Short||All 3rd Down|
|BUF OFF||32.1% (1)||19.3% (8)||33.8% (2)|
|CIN DEF||29.9% (31)||11.3% (25)||3.9% (19)|
From Football Outsiders
Wrote the following for the never was Wk 17 contest, but it still holds true:
For all of the offensive firepower in this game, be prepared for Q3 to grind down. Bengals’ DC Lou Anarumo has put himself into head coach conversations with his schematic changes in second halves. Anarumo got national attention for those adjustments during Cincinnati’s playoff run last year – particularly slowing down Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in AFC Championship Game – and his success in manipulating his plan within the game has continued into 2022. Cincinnati’s defense is ranked 8th in second-half DVOA at -8.7%, but they are even better than that in Q3 alone: their Q3 DVOA ranks second at -18.4% (Football Outsiders). They showed rare sloppiness in Week 16, where the Patriots almost erased a 22-point deficit, but that’s the exception that proves the rule. The Bengals and Anarumo are even better if the game is late and close (H2 or OT and within 8 points), where they rank 4th in defensive DVOA at -21.2%.
Adding to that slowdown, the Bills are no slouch in the second half. Where CIN was 8th in H2 D DVOA, the Bills are 6th with -15.1%. And late and close, where the Bengals were 4th? Your Fighting Fraziers are 2nd at -24.7%. Also, it is way beyond time that Leslie Frazier gets more head coaching buzz.
It was tempting to include the H2 under as a prop here – it’s currently at 24.5 – but the concern is how good each QB is in late-game situations. The under could be hitting for 28 minutes of the second half and then get blown out of the water as Burrow and Allen go mano y mano, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the respective defenses took over the second half. For live bettors, if the game has had fireworks in the first half and the second half total is driven up over 28.5 or higher, that’s probably a good number to get the under, but caveat emptor.
The game script for this matchup calls for a more controlled, close, defensive battle than many are predicting. The initial offensive scripts may create early fireworks, but these teams have reached this point in the season because their defenses are outstanding as well.
For a thorough breakdown, check out Uber Hansen’s Game Matchups Preview.
As always, remember to check the inactives before game time.
Friday injury report pic.twitter.com/YXEC7fCRp7
— Buffalo Bills PR (@BuffaloBillsPR) January 20, 2023
Final injury report of the week. Bengals rule out Jonah Williams and Alex Cappa. Tre Flowers officially doubtful. pic.twitter.com/ZCT3bQDmox
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) January 20, 2023
From the National Weather Service: A slight chance of snow showers between 8am and noon, then rain and snow showers. High near 36. South wind 7 to 10 mph. The chance of precipitation is 80%. New precipitation amounts of less than a tenth of an inch possible.
Sunday, January 22 at 3pm
Temperature: 37 °F Dewpoint: 29 °F Wind Chill: 33 °F Surface Wind: S 6mph
Sky Cover (%): 99% Precipitation Potential (%): 53% Relative Humidity (%): 72%
Rain: Chance (30%-50%) Thunder: <10% Snow: Chance (30%-50%) Freezing Rain: <10% Sleet: <10%
Last updated: 1/22/23 6:30am
Josh Allen Completions
The Bills have had success with split zone and duo blocking runs for the second half of the season, but the Bengals are top 10 against those styles of runs in fewest Yds/Att, EPA/Att, YAC/Att, Missed Tackles (0.0%!), and Yds/G, and their Bust Rate is tops in the NFL since Week 14. Against all run types over the same time span, the Bengals are top 5 in Yds/Att, EPA/Att, Yds/G, YAC/Att, Broken/Missed Tackle %, TD %, and the Bust Rate is again league best.
Why does that paragraph belong in a Josh Allen Completions prop? Running could be a struggle against the Bengals, and that means even more passing. Like the game script mentioned, I think there are fewer deep shots from Allen in this game because there is a heightened importance on possession and not giving Joe Burrow more opportunities with the ball, especially with a short field. More attempts on higher probability passes equal more completions.
Recommendation: o22.5 at FD, 0.5u
First Quarter Total
The Bills rank 27th in Q1 Defensive DVOA at 7.2% and both offenses are top 10 in Q1 DVOA (CIN 7th, BUF 4th). The game script calls for a lower-scoring game overall, but expect Q1 to open up fast.
Like betting a rising live under for the second half as discussed above, the live full game under will be tempting if Q1 does have fireworks.
Recommendation: o9.5 at -115 at DK, 0.5u
Gabriel Davis Receptions
This prop includes two justifying factors. The first is that Anarumo’s defense has struggled with WR2 for the entire season. While an excellent defense, wide receivers beyond their opponents’ WR1s are their Achilles heel.
Bengals Defensive DVOA by Receiver (from Football Outsiders):
- vs WR1: -16.2% (6th)
- vs TE: -16.8% (5th)
- vs RB: -22.5% (2nd)
- vs WR2: 28.4% (31st)
- vs Other WRs: 12.7% (24th)
Some highlights from WR2+ games against the Bengals:
- Wk 2 @ DAL: Noah Brown – 5/91/1
- Wk 8 @ CLE: Donovan Peoples-Jones – 4/81
- Wk 9 vs CAR: Terrence Marshall – 3/53/1
- Wk 11 @ PIT: George Pickens – 4/83/1
- Wk 13 vs KC: Marques Valdes-Scantling – 2/71
- Wk 14 vs CLE: Donovan Peoples-Jones – 8/114
- Wk 15 @ TB: Chris Godwin – 8/83/1, & Russell Gage – 8/59/2
- Wk 16 @ NE: Kendrick Bourne – 9/100/1
The second factor: PLAYOFF GABE, BABY!!!!
Recommendation: o3.5 at Bet US, 1u
Before we get too crazy about this game, let’s take another minute to be grateful we get to watch it, that Damar Hamlin gets to watch it, and that our Bills are favored in the divisional round of the playoffs. Yes, there are bigger aspirations for this season, but I beg you to remember how awesome this is in the first place.
Bengals 24 – Bills 27
Tail ’em or fade ’em, let me see your winnings on Twitter @LowBuffa!
Regular Season Record: 31-17
Post-season record: 0-3