Bengals vs. Bills: 5 keys to victory in the AFC Divisional Round


The countdown is almost over, and we finally get the matchup of the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals – but this time in the Divisional Round of the AFC playoffs. Both teams enter this game riding long winning streaks, the Bills sitting at eight games and the Bengals rocking nine in a row. The first meeting was scheduled for Cincinnati back in Week 17 before its cancelation due to the cardiac arrest suffered by Damar Hamlin. This time around, the Bengals come to Western New York  for a 3 p.m. Sunday kickoff.

Here are the top five things I believe Buffalo needs to do to return to the AFC Championship game and knock the Bengals from the playoffs when they take the field in Orchard Park.

Joe Cool Down

The Bengals, like the Bills, rely heavily on their quarterback to win them games, and Joe Burrow has done so the last couple of years, leading Cincinnati to the Super Bowl last season. If the Bills want to eliminate Joe Cool from the playoffs and advance themselves, it starts up front when on defense. As I laid out in my “5 storylines” piece earlier in the week, the Bengals are without three of their five projected offensive line starters. Over the last few weeks, they lost right tackle La’el Collins to an ACL, right guard Alex Cappa to an ankle, and left tackle Jonah Williams with a dislocated knee cap. That is 60% of the dudes protecting Burrow.

Yes, Von Miller is out for this game. That said, it’s time for all the draft assets Brandon Beane has spent on the defensive line to shine. The Bills drafted Greg Rousseau and Ed Oliver in the first round, added Boogie Basham and A.J. Epenesa in the second, plus added Shaq Lawson and DaQuan Jones in the offseason. There is no excuse for that group not to be in the backfield early and often.

Bengals vs. Bills: Top 5 Storylines to watch in the Divisional Round

Keep Josh Clean

While the Bills’ offensive line isn’t nearly as banged up as the Bengals, their performance hasn’t been much better, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). Heading into this game, the Bills are only ranked ahead of Cincinnati in projected starters at left tackle, left guard, and center. Unfortunately, while we are comparing apples to apples, they are certainly battered and bruised apples. Against the rest of the league, PFF ranks all Buffalo OL outside the top 20 at their position, with Rodger Saffold and Spencer Brown the worst of the bunch at 72nd and 77th respectively. Sticking with PFF grades, you have a Cincinnati team coming off of its best three-game span in their pass rush formula.

Bite The Apple

If you’re a gambling (wo)man and think that Eli Apple will be matched up with Stefon Diggs, head to Las Vegas now and place the largest wager you can afford on Diggs overs. Ok, I’m exaggerating, but this is the most favorable matchup the Bills have going into this game. We know how good Stefon Diggs is, he’s an All-Pro wide receiver for a reason. This is more about how poorly Apple is playing. The former 1st round pick out of Ohio State currently has a 51.2 coverage grade, according to PFF, good enough for 109th out of 120 graded corners. He’s allowed 41 receptions on the season on 72 targets with 11 missed tackles. I don’t want to pile on, but he doesn’t have an interception, and his passer rating against is 97.3. I know there has been a lot of discourse about Josh Allen taking deep shots, I am always in on Allen to Diggs, but it might be even more trustworthy in this matchup.

Mafia Means Family

Dear Bills Mafia,

You have spent the better part of three weeks hearing about how Cincinnati was going to curb-stomp the Bills at home because they were up 7-3 midway through the 1st quarter. Bottle up that frustrated keyboard anger and bring it to Orchard Park on Sunday. Rarely do I think the fans play as big a part as many believe, but I want to hear the crowd so loud we can’t hear the damn train horn. If 60,000 plus keep that mentality for 60 minutes, Bills Mafia can be a factor in securing a win.



All Gas, No Brakes

The Bills and Bengals are both going to score points on Sunday and quite possibly in bunches. Heading into this game, they rank 2nd (Bills 28.8ppg) and 7th (Bengals 26.0ppg) in points per game. They’re both also inside the top 10 in second-half points, with the Bills scoring 12.9 and Cincinnati adding 11.8 in the final 30 minutes. This is a bunch of numbers to say that no lead is safe! If Buffalo has a chance to score touchdowns instead of field goals, do it. If Buffalo is inside the redzone and has a 4th and short, go for it! SCORE POINTS!