The Game Matchups Preview series is dedicated to breaking down how the Buffalo Bills match up with their opponent in each game of the 2022 NFL Season. This series will look at five key matchups; Bills Pass Offense vs. Opponent Pass Defense, Bills Rush Offense vs. Opponent Rush Defense, Bills Pass Defense vs. Opponent Pass Offense, Bills Rush Defense vs. Opponent Rush Offense, and Bills Special Teams vs. Opponent Special Teams. This entire analysis will conclude with three sections; “Why Buffalo Will Lose”, “Why Buffalo Will Win”, and a score prediction for the game.
Below I present 2022’s 16th iteration of this analysis for the Bills’ Week 17 clash with the Cincinnati Bengals. Included is a scale ranking the advantage in each matchup from 👏 (Minimal Advantage) to 👏👏👏👏👏 (Massive Advantage).
Bills Pass Offense vs. Bengals Pass Defense
The Turnover conversation in regards to Josh Allen has been discussed ad nauseum. Allen’s 18 Turnovers is tied with his career worst (2021) while his Turnover Rate of 2.64% is his worst since his rookie season (3.20%). Despite these issues, he still ranks 9th in Passer Rating (96.1), 6th in QuBeR (59.69), and 2nd in QBR (70.5). This level of efficiency despite the dings that turnovers cause in such metrics is a testament to Allen’s dominance at times this season. When you add to that another season where Allen ranks towards the bottom of the league in YAC, 31st to be exact (4.5), the fact that he still is playing heavily in the MVP conversation makes perfect sense. That conversation will either see a major boost on Monday night or be shut down entirely against a quietly good pass defense in Cincinnati.
The Bengals head into Monday night with the 14th ranked Pass Defense by DVOA (+2.3%) and rank 7th in Passer Rating against (83.0). They’ve also picked off opposing Quarterbacks 11 times, a number they will look to increase with Josh Allen coming to town. The majority of their success in the secondary has come at the hands of their Safeties in Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates who have combined for 7 Interceptions this season and are in the discussion for the best Safety duo in the NFL. Outside of them, they do get a little weaker at Corner where their trio of Eli Apple, rookie Cam Taylor-Britt, and slot CB Mike Hilton are fine, but not elite defenders. This screams to be a Stefon Diggs game as Buffalo will try to avoid testing the aforementioned Safeties and get Diggs – who has just 10 catches for 123 yards over the past 3 games – the ball. The Bills are going to look to get him in advantageous matchups this week and they should be had against this Bengals secondary.
Where most teams have countered a clear mismatch in their secondary is through a Pass Rush that consistently gets after Josh Allen, the Bengals will be unable to rely on that. Cincinnati has just 26 Sacks on the season which ranks 29th overall, as only Sam Hubbard (DE) and Trey Hendrickson (DE) have north of 5 Sacks at 6.5 Sacks each. It gets worse for the Bengals though, as they will likely be without Sam Hubbard, as he tries to work his way through a calf injury in time for the playoffs. If the result of this is more time in the pocket for Josh Allen, the danger that Buffalo poses through the air will grow exponentially. The extra time should allow Allen to avoid the traps that the Bengals will surely set for him and scan the field for the likes of Gabe Davis, Dawson Knox, Isaiah McKenzie, and possibly even Cole Beasley and/or John Brown. The Bills have a mismatch in this matchup, one which if they take advantage of could result in the #1 seed in the AFC.
EDGE: Bills 👏👏👏
Bills Rush Offense vs. Bengals Rush Defense
There are only two teams in the NFL that rank Top-10 in both Passing Yards (#7) and Rushing Yards (#8), the Philadelphia Eagles…and the Buffalo Bills. Of course, more than a third of that production comes from the Bills’ Quarterback but the point remains: the Bills are surprisingly proficient on the ground. Making them even more dangerous as of late is the ever-improving duo of Devin Singletary and James Cook. The two have combined to rush for 75+ yards in 5 out of their last 6 games, while most recently putting up a combined 205 rushing yards against the Bears. You’d have to go back to Christmas Eve 2016 to find the last time a duo of Bills RBs went for 200+ on the ground, when LeSean McCoy and Mike Gillislee combined for 219. The Bills are getting hot at the right time, and their ground game has a lot to do with that.
When analyzing the Bengals’ run defense you have to look at two subsets of outcomes, the one without D.J. Reader (DT) and the one with D.J. Reader. From Week 4 to Week 9 the Bengals played without Reader and gave up 135.2 Rushing Yards per Game via a Y/A against of 4.6. In all other games, where Reader played, the Bengals gave up 87.2 Rushing Yards per Game (-48) and a Y/A against of 3.8 (-0.6). The 347lb Defensive Tackle isn’t just a game changer; he’s proven to be a game wrecker when active for the Bengals. Reader will be healthy against the Bills and also will be joined by running mate B.J. Hill to produce what might be the most physical interior Defensive Line the Bills have faced this season. That should be a concern especially for a team that has to hope they get starting Center, Mitch Morse back. Otherwise, they will yet again be relegated to a starting interior Offensive line of Rodger Saffold (LG), Ryan Bates (C), and Greg Van Roten (RG).
Reader and Hill don’t just function as mismatches up front though. They also act as facilitators for the Linebackers behind them. With those two players on the field, both Logan Wilson (LB) and Germaine Pratt (LB) often play in space providing them free roam to scrape to opposing runners. The result is a duo with 200 combined Tackles on the year, serving as a pair that will challenge both Devin Singletary and James Cook to run through them as opposed to around them. The Bills will likely counter any forward momentum by the Bengals linebackers through designed QB runs outside the Tackles. If Allen is able to find some success, the Bills will have a non-pass formula to put up points. However, if the Bengals are able to slow that down, the Bills’ 20-game streak of 100+ rushing yards may be in jeopardy.
Bills Pass Defense vs. Bengals Pass Offense
The Bills haven’t given up 250+ Net Passing Yards since before Thanksgiving, but that doesn’t mean they have been playing the pass well as of late. In fact, Jared Goff, Mac Jones, Mike White, Tua Tagovailoa, and Justin Fields have combined for a Passer Rating of 92.7 over the past 5 games against the Bills. That number is largely inflated by the 0 Interceptions against those Quarterback with their only Interception coming off a pass by Nathan Peterman against the Bears on Saturday. There is still reason for optimism in Buffalo though, as Tre White continues to build back his confidence, Jordan Poyer remains playing like an All-Pro, and rookie 1st-round pick Kaiir Elam is seeing his snap share slowly tick up. This week, the Bills will need to play at their peak as they take on a Passing Attack the likes of which they haven’t seen since Week 6 when they played the Chiefs.
That Bengals’ air attack is obviously led by 3rd-year Quarterback Joe Burrow who may just have the last laugh in the MVP conversation. Like Josh Allen, Burrow ranks Top-10 in all QB efficiency metrics where he is 6th in Passer Rating (102.3), 4th in QuBeR (63.97), and 7th in QBR (61.3). There is no real weakness to his game currently as he ranks at, or above, average in all 12 passing areas of the field. Of course, it helps that he has arguably the best trio of WRs in the NFL in Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd. The three have combined for 2,693 Yards and 20 Touchdowns on 205 Receptions so far this season. That depth of talent is a primary reason that Burrow excels so much against Man Coverage, as teams are incapable of doubling a single receiver out of fear of being exposed by another. The good news for Buffalo is they predominantly play zone, but even against that coverage, the hope is simply to contain the Bengals air attack, not outright stop it.
The Bills may have an edge this week though that no other team that has played the Bengals this season has benefited from. Since the start of the season, the same 5 players have started every game for the Bengals. That means there has yet to be a game where Jonah Williams (LT), Cordell Volsen (LG), Tad Karras (C), Alex Cappa (RG), and La’el Collins have not all been protecting Joe Burrow. The result has been Burrow’s Sack % at a career-best 6.5% as he’s been kept cleaner this season than at any point in his career. This week, Cincinnati will be without the injured La’el Collins and will likely turn to 3rd-year backup Hakeem Adeniji. The drop-off from Collins to Adeniji is a massive one that is only exacerbated by the drop in consistency up front for the Bengals. Look for the Bills to attack this weakness with a higher-than-usual number of Corner blitzes and or Matt Milano stunting at the right side of the line. It’s just one player, but a player whose inconsistent play could cause trouble for a hot Bengals team.
EDGE: Bengals 👏👏👏
Bills Rush Defense vs. Bengals Rush Offense
The Bills Rush Defense is a true Rorschach test for NFL analysis. In situations where the priority is stopping the Pass, the Run Defense has struggled to keep the opponent’s ground games in check. In situations where the priority is stopping the Run, the Run Defense has proven dominant, if not elite. Most recently against the Bears, the Bills keyed on the run giving up a Y/A of just 2.76 and holding Justin Fields to a season-low 11 rushing yards. As the weather begins to shift and games become do-or-die over the next couple of months, Buffalo’s ability to dominate the run will become an important facet of each game. A facet that must begin to work more consistently when game planning specifically against the Pass, something the Bills will have to do this week.
With the Bills contending with an MVP candidate in Joe Burrow, Cincinnati should find more success on the ground than normal. That means more Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine for the Bengals which may be a risky proposition. On the season the two have combined for 1,163 Rushing Yards on 288 carries, which is a Y/A of just 4.04. That being said, Mixon and Perine have each proven capable of taking over games at points in their career. Mixon is a rare “do-it-all” back that has an uncanny ability to set up blocks in front of him. With the Bengals’ revamped Offensive Line, the thought was that the 2021 Pro Bowler would excel even more this season, which hasn’t exactly been the case. Perine has gotten more touches than normal because of this, as a physical runner weighing in at a whopping 240lb. Each of these players will test the Bills in unique ways on Monday night and while the Bills project to have the upper hand, if their Tackling woes continue, Mixon and Perine could take over this game.
Those tackling woes have been most evident since Week 5 specifically for Bills Linebacker Matt Milano. Through the first 5 games of the season, Milano had 29 Tackles and exactly 0 Missed Tackles. Since then, Milano has 62 Tackles and 13 Missed Tackles, a Missed Tackle Rate of 17.3%. That is a concerning number for any player and while Milano’s elite play at times can mask these mistakes, it’s something that may be problematic moving forward in the season. Against the Bengals, both he and Tremaine Edmunds will need to play a clean game and assure Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine don’t provide a solid complement to the Bengals rushing attack. They will have to do this though while maintaining an eye on Joe Burrow. Burrow may not be Josh Allen on the ground, but he is running more this season than at any point in his career and has been productive in doing so. If this game turns into a back-and-forth battle, which it projects to be, don’t be surprised if Burrow tests Edmunds and Milano’s instincts and looks to pick up a few first downs on the ground.
EDGE: Bills 👏👏👏
Bills Special Teams vs. Bengals Special Teams
These write-ups have consistently advocated for Tyler Bass as First Team All-Pro Kicker, but that’s no more. The NFL is a fickle business and Bass’ missed 38-yard FG and XP against the Bears has closed the door on that discussion in 2022. This isn’t to say that Bass isn’t still one of the best Kickers in the NFL, he is, it’s simply to say he won’t be viewed as the best this season (See Justin Tucker/Daniel Carlson). Unlike Tyler Bass, Bills Punter Sam Martin did not struggle on the Frozen Tundra of Soldier Field. He averaged 53.7 Y/P on 3 Punts including one I20 and a 62-yard field flipper. He may be rarely called upon but he’s rock solid when he takes the field. Lastly, on Bills Special Teams, is returner Nyheim Hines. He hasn’t been flashy the past couple of weeks but his consistency and ball control look like they will prove integral down the stretch for Buffalo.
Kicking for the Bengals is their 2021 Postseason MVP, Evan McPherson. The dynamic Kicker has struggled a tad in 2022 though, ranking 26th in FG% (81.5%) and 22nd in XP% (90.2%). In the past 3 weeks, he has missed 25% of his kicks marking some concern in that facet of the game for the Bengals. Punting also marks an area of concern for the Bengals as they switched Punters in Week 11, moving on from long-time vet Kevin Huber in favor of rookie Drue Chrisman. Chrisman’s 46.5 Y/P and 41.8 NY/P have been fine to start his career but his inexperience in the NFL could play a role in the latter part of this season. Last is the returners for the Bengals where Trent Taylor handles Punts and Trayveon Williams handles Kicks. Neither is blowing opponents back this season though with Taylor gaining 10.6 Y/PR with a long of 27 and Williams gaining 22.0 Y/KR with a long of 42.
EDGE: Bills 👏👏
Why Buffalo Will Lose
The Bengals may very well be the hottest team in the league and are the NFL’s current darling for multiple reasons. The primary reason is their Quarterback Joe Burrow – who is playing his best football when it matters most. He has a unique ability to distribute the ball to the slew of weapons he has been provided with and because of that, the Bengals don’t need to run the ball to open up the field. Considering one of those receivers is Ja’Marr Chase, who may be the best in the NFL, the demand is heightened on opposing defenses, even the elite ones. The Bills fall in the category but this isn’t the same defense of years past, and the Bengals could dominate this game.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bengals have two ball hawks deep and two behemoths in the interior defensive line. This fits perfectly into the old adage that if you control the trenches and/or win the turnover battle, you win football games. The Bengals should be able to stymie the Bills up front and if Josh Allen gets cute and tests this Bengals team deep don’t be surprised if he hits the 20 Turnover mark this week in Ohio. The Bengals may not have the best defense the Bills have faced this season, but they have a sneaky good one, and one that is plenty good enough to win this game.
Why Buffalo Will Win
It is nearly impossible to debate who has the better 53-man roster going into this game, it’s the Buffalo Bills. There are a lot of washes in that discussion and even a few Bengals wins but the Bills are favored in this away game for a reason. The talk on Josh Allen’s turnovers has gotten to an absurd level to this point when in all honesty he’s been playing some pretty clean ball the past few weeks. To beat the Bills, you have to force Allen into multiple turnovers, and even if you do that you don’t lock up a victory. The Bills Quarterback elevates in games like this one, and if “Playoff Josh Allen” shows up this game is a lock for the Bills.
As for the defensive side of the ball, why not start here: who has thrown more Interceptions in the past 6 games, Josh Allen or Joe Burrow? Joe Burrow has thrown twice the Interceptions (6) that Josh Allen (3) has in that span. The Bills’ secondary has been oddly unopportunistic the past few weeks with more than their fair share of Interceptions falling through defenders’ hands. That has to change at some point, so why not this week? To beat the Bills you have to beat them in the Turnover battle and if Burrow’s Interception woes continue that may be a tall task for a Bengals team that may have no other option than to throw the ball 50+ times.
Prediction: Bills 31 – Bengals 28
Neither of these teams is going to blow out the other and there’s a very good chance that this is Game #1 of a two-game series this season for the Bills and Bengals. This is a likely shootout between two of the best Quarterbacks on the planet, in a game that will go a long way in deciding the AFC #1 Seed and/or NFL MVP. The Bills are the better team though and even though the Bengals get to host this one, Buffalo just seems primed to win this game. More mismatches favor the Bills and an untimely injury to the Bengals RT is the difference in a game that could go down as a classic.