If the Bengals want to keep their unbeaten streak alive, they are going to have to win at a place where they have struggled in the past. The Bengals are 4-9 all-time in Buffalo, including two wins in their last 10 trips and just one win in their last seven away games in Buffalo. While the Bengals did win during their 2013 trip to Buffalo, it was a brutal 27-24 overtime win that included blowing a 14 point fourth quarter lead to a backup quarterback named Thaddeus Lewis. The Bengals may again be facing a backup quarterback this weekend. To fill us in on the 3-2 Bills, we are joined by Brian Galliford, founder, manager and editor-in-chief of SB Nation's Buffalo Rumblings.
Q: Tyrod Taylor has been taking the NFL by storm in 2015, but it sounds like he is out with a knee and ankle injury. Early indications are that EJ Manuel will get his first start of the season. How does the Bills offense change with Manuel at the helm?
A: It becomes more predictable and easier to defend. Taylor has two traits that, while not unique, are a dangerous combination: he can take off and run for big chunks of yardage, and he can drop deep sideline throws into the proverbial bucket with a high success rate. Manuel is athletic, but not a runner, and his deep ball accuracy is lacking. Those two major areas of regression would be noticeable for a Bills offense that has struggled to find big plays for the last two weeks. Even if Taylor plays, it sounds like he won't be as dynamic on the ground as he usually is.
Q: Speaking of injuries, what are the chances that Sammy Watkins, LeSean McCoy and/or Karlos Williams play? And are there any other significant injuries going into this game?
A: Karlos Williams hasn't practiced this week and, as far as we know, remains in the concussion protocol. I doubt he'll suit up. But Watkins has been practicing for two weeks, and McCoy has been back this week; all signs point to both suiting up and being on the field, though it also wouldn't be surprising if their reps were limited a bit. The other significant injury is to starting safety Aaron Williams, who's out for two months with a neck injury. Buffalo's reserve safeties are okay, but not as dependable or versatile as Williams. That's a pretty significant loss.
Q: Rex Ryan has always been able to coach defense and the Bills are loaded with defensive talent. In fact, when Rex took this job, many thought the Bills would be the best defense in the league. Thus far, the Bills defense has been ok, but - at least statistically - the Bills defense hasn't been as dominant as most thought. Is it fair to say the Bills defense has underperformed to this point? And if so, why have the Bills underperformed on defense?
A: I guess if we're talking relative to expectations borne of the NFL's offseason hype machine, then yeah, they've underperformed. But they've only had one bad game - Tom Brady shredded them, and that's Tom Brady - and another bad half (against the Giants in Week 4). In the other three and a half games, they've ranged between above-average and dominant. Numbers don't quantify them as a great defense, but they are tough at all three levels, and can hang with any offense in the league. They're not invulnerable, though, and Cincinnati's personnel is one of the league's most challenging to play against, for sure.
Q: If you were the Bengals coordinators, how would you attack this Bills team on offense and defense?
A: Load up and stop the run, and make the Bills' quarterback stare down the barrel and trust his receivers to win one-on-one. Throw the ball as quickly as possible to limit the effectiveness of the Bills' excellent defensive line, and throw in 6-8 double moves to try to burn Buffalo's highly aggressive secondary. So, pretty basic football stuff. The Bills are a good team, but it doesn't take special game-planning to beat them - just clean football.
Q: On Sunday, the Bills win if...
A: Andy Dalton turns the ball over multiple times and the Bills are able to establish a running game (and, by extension, balance) on offense.
Q: On Sunday, the Bengals win if...
A: The Bills commit a ton of penalties again, they're one-dimensional on offense, and they can't make enough big plays on defense and special teams to compensate.
Q: The Bills sit at 3-2 and third in the AFC East. Where do you see this team finishing in 2015?
A: They're the type of team that, if they can stay at .500 or slightly above while they work through the injury bug, can make some noise after Week 13 and seriously push for a wild card spot.
Q: What is your prediction for Sunday?
A: That, as I watch this game from my usual seat in Ralph Wilson Stadium, I will be cold (there's a high of 42), I'll despise the Bills' blue-on-blue uniform combination, and that a pretty good football game between two pretty good teams featuring a lot of great players will entertain me, whether or not the home team wins.