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Bengals vs Bills: Top 3 player matchups to watch

The Bengals must prepare to take full advantage of these matchups to secure a win on Sunday against the Bills.

Cincinnati Bengals v Buffalo Bills Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

It feels like we’re grasping at straws at this point. But, even at 3-5-1 with only seven games left to turn things around, the Cincinnati Bengals could still get their season back on track and sneak into the playoffs with a win this week over the Buffalo Bills. The division leading Baltimore Ravens play arguably the best team in the NFL this week, the Dallas Cowboys. Assuming that game plays out how most of us expect with a Dallas win, a Bengals win will put them back at a half game behind the Ravens with a head to head matchup coming next week.

Even with a win, the Bengals would also probably remain a half game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers (who play the 0-10 Browns this week). But, a loss would create an extremely difficult situation in which the Bengals have to rely on the Ravens and Steelers continuing to lose at the Bengals’ pace to have a chance to win the division. Given the remaining schedules of both under performing teams, that isn’t an inconceivable concept. But, the Bengals would do well to not put themselves in the position in which they have to count on that happening.

They can start by taking advantage of a Buffalo Bills team this week that, like the Bengals, have lost more games than they have won this year. To win, however, they will need to take full advantage of these key matchups.

WR A.J. Green vs Bills cornerbacks

Despite the generally lackluster play from the rest of his team, A.J. Green has absolutely stood out all year. One coach who has taken notice of this fact is Bills head coach Rex Ryan, who recently joked with reporters on a conference call about the Bengals resting him for the upcoming game this week.

“I think Marvin should rest him this week and that would be my advice to Marvin,” Ryan joked. “He’s not really asking me, but just, friend to friend.”

All jokes aside, Ryan obviously wouldn’t mind if the Bengals rested their star wide receiver, who has set the NFL on fire in 2016.

“Oh, god. Please, he’s the best receivers we’ve faced all year,” Ryan explained. ”It’s not even close.”

It’s hard to argue with Ryan’s logic. Green led the NFL in receptions for a large chunk of the 2016 season and currently sits at No. 3 by that metric (66). In addition, he ranks No. 2 in receiving yards (964) and yards per game (107.1). He also ranks No. 1 in terms of yards gained per catch for receivers with at least 55 catches (14.6).

Ryan knows it won’t be easy for his team to stop Green, even though they possess a cornerback tandem in Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby that Ryan once called the best in the NFL. The truth of the matter is both Gilmore and Darby have struggled mightily in recent weeks. Darby, in particular, has given up 23 yards per completion over the course of the last four games. In addition, Gilmore has struggled heavily in press coverage while committing seven penalties already this season. The Bengals would do well to attack this major point of weakness for the Bills with a receiver like Green who has been torching more effective and more disciplined cornerbacks all season.

Bengals linebackers vs RB LeSean McCoy

McCoy is certainly not the same player he once was in Philadelphia. In 2011 he rushed for an astounding 17 touchdowns. To this day, that still ranks as the 23rd most all time in a single season and the most of any running back since Adrian Peterson rushed for 18 in 2009. In 2013, he only found the endzone nine times, but he rushed for an NFL leading 1,607 yards. Only DeMarco Murray has bested that mark since (1,845 - 2014).

This year, McCoy has been part of a very effective Bills running game which ranks second in the NFL in terms of total yards per game (155.0). He has been sharing carries with a running back rotation featuring Mike Gillislee, Jonathan Williams, and Reggie Bush.

That said, McCoy has been carrying the bulk of the load for this group. Gillislee has accumulated more yards per run (6.0) than McCoy (5.1). But, McCoy’s 133 touches on the season make that 5.1 yards per run seem a lot more impressive, despite the fact that he has only accumulated 683 yards so far.

On the flip side, the Bengals’ run defense, which primarily runs through the linebackers, has been rather ineffective this year. They rank ninth worst in terms of yards allowed per run (4.4), ninth worst in yards allowed per game (116.8), and have forced the third least fumbles (two). The Bengals’ plans of coming out with a win this week will hinge on whether or not they can at least slow down the Bills’ running game, which starts with Bengals tackling leaders Karlos Dansby (58), Vincent Rey (53) and Vontaze Burfict (50) getting to the running back and bringing him down quickly.

DT Geno Atkins vs C Ryan Groy

Despite disappearing from time to time this season, Bengals star defensive tackle Geno Atkins is having an impressive year. He currently ranks 4th among NFL defensive tackles in terms of sacks (4.5). Last week alone he totaled seven pressures, a sack, two QB hits, and four QB hurries. If he can keep that up this week against the Bills, it should help the Bengals in their quest to disrupt the passing game of Tyrod Taylor and hopefully give the Bengals a significant advantage.

It helps that Atkins is going up against a player in Ryan Groy who has never started an NFL game before. He has played a total of 74 snaps at various positions as a backup this year, but he has been sitting behind Eric Wood all season, one of the best centers in the NFL. Wood suffered a broken leg in Seattle in Week 9, their most recent game due to a Week 10 bye.

The bye wasn’t even close to enough time for Wood to recover from such a major injury, so he was placed on Injured Reserve on Monday. As a result, the Bills have had to scramble to fill a position they don’t have much depth at. That should bode well for a seasoned veteran like Atkins.