Dating back to 1984 when the Bengals shellacked the Bills 52-21, which included a pair of Bengals’ pick-sixes, this series has been one of long streaks. That game sparked a run of five consecutive victories by the Bengals in the series, culminating in the 1988 AFC Championship game victory.
The Bills responded with a run of ten straight victories. That run was brought to an end in 2011 with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, who began a new string of Bengals victories in the series with three in a row, until the Bills won last year thanks to a pair of missed Mike Nugent kicks, and an injury to Green.
Will the Bills build a new streak with a victory this Sunday, or will the Bengals bring an end to the decade’s long series of streaks? We spoke with Jeff Hunter of Buffalo Rumblings to find out.
Scott Schulze: To the outside observer, it’s something of a surprise to look at the AFC East standing after Week 4 and see the Bills standing alone in first place at 3-1. Is this as big of a surprise to Bills fans, or did they realistically expect to see Sean McDermott’s team starting out this well?
Jeff Hunter: It's a huge surprise, for a couple of reasons. First, nobody expected the Patriots to be 2-2 and struggling so bad on defense, but more to the point this is a Bills team that is overachieving right now in a big way. McDermott deserves most of the credit for taking a group of castoffs, rookies, and aging veterans and giving them a defense that has been one of the league's best so far this year.
The offense isn't very good, especially with LeSean McCoy and the offensive line struggling more than expected, but they can put together solid drives when needed, and kicker Stephen Hauschka (another free-agent signing) can make a legitimate case as the team's MVP after converting four kicks of 53+ yards in the last two games, the last two of which were the deciding points in a 6-point win at Atlanta.
Scott Schulze: Speaking of the Bills' successful start to 2017, their defense is currently ranked first in scoring in the NFL. If you were an opposing team, how would you attack the Bills defense?
JH: The most successful players this year have been guys who can use their speed to break long gains, most notably Emmanuel Sanders, Jamaal Charles, and Tevin Coleman. The Bills defenders are quick, but they're not particularly fast in the traditional sense. Smaller, shiftier players like Giovani Bernard could have a big day if the offensive line and play design can get them the space to work.
Scott Schulze: While the Bills defense is ranked first in the NFL, the offense is 23rd. They just lost Jordan Matthews to injury, traded away Sammy Watkins before the season began, and are only averaging about 3 yards per carry from their running backs. What should we expect their offense to look like when they visit Cincinnati?
JH: The offense has generally been prone to digging themselves into a hole, having faced third-and-10 or more 22 times in four games (tied for third in the NFL). That said, there are some drives where everything just starts clicking, and they're able to move the ball on either quick passes or with the occasional deep ball. One drive against the Falcons went for 19 plays and took up over 11 minutes of the second half, which is the kind of drive they need to keep the defense fresh.
Matthews had already been more of a third option in the passing game behind McCoy and tight end Charles Clay, so his loss won't be as bad as it might seem given his spot as the nominal top receiver. At the very least, they've been able to give Hauschka plenty of chances at extra-long field goals. As long as the defense can continue to force turnovers or otherwise give the Bills a short field to work with, they'll be able to stay competitive.
Scott Schulze: It seems that first round pick TreDavious White may be having a good season thus far, while I’ve ready that Zay Jones has struggled a bit. What is your take on the 2017 rookie class, a quarter into the season?
JH: White has been stellar through four games of his NFL career. Aside from a first half against Denver where he was burned a few times, he's been able to stay in position and make tackles when he's not defending passes entirely (he has a league-high nine pass defenses through four weeks). He also had a heads-up play on Matt Ryan's questionable fumble last week, recovering the ball and running it back for a touchdown. The play wasn't whistled dead, so he kept going, and it had a lot to do with the Bills coming away with the win.
Jones, on the other hand, is in a major rut right now. He only has four catches on 17 targets this year, and ever since he dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass against the Panthers in Week 2, he's been almost entirely unable to make catches. He and Taylor clearly aren't on the same page, which doesn't bode well for the passing game over the next few weeks as Matthews recovers from surgery. His fellow second-rounder, left tackle Dion Dawkins, has been a weak spot over the last two weeks after he was thrust into a starting role for the injured Cordy Glenn. He's had a few good plays, especially late in the Falcons game as he made a key block and recovered a fumble just outside of the red zone.
The other rookie you'll be seeing on Sunday is fifth-rounder Matt Milano, who will make his first career start at linebacker in place of the injured Ramon Humber. He didn't look great in the second half against the Falcons, so he could be someone that the Bengals can target.
Scott Schulze: Who wins this Sunday and what’s the score?
JH: The Bills are coming off a huge win and are finally starting to earn respect across the league. They're also playing a team well below them in the standings. This is the kind of game the Bills have been losing for the last 17 years.
I'm going to try and set my skepticism aside for a minute since McDermott and this squad don't have the same feel as the ghosts of Bills past. The secondary won't completely shut down Green, but they'll limit the damage he can do just enough to come away with a hard-fought 13-10 victory.