If you’re an NFL franchise, there are teams whom you just can’t seem to beat. Whether it’s within the division or one who somehow seems to be a regular season staple, for one reason or another, facing certain squads elicits eye-rolls.
Of course, when it comes to the Cincinnati Bengals, their divisional foes bring up quite a bit of ire. Storied histories with each of the AFC North franchises evoke longtime hatred bred from heartbreaking games.
However, because of many past instances, the Buffalo Bills linger in the same background for the Cincinnati Bengals. Whether it was in the Jim Kelly/Boomer Esiason days, or when Takeo Spikes defected to the Northeast after Marvin Lewis’ begging, the wagon-circlers have been a constant thorn in Cincinnati’s side.
Even though these two teams aren’t in the same division, some iconic clashes have occurred over the years. Kelly, Esiason, Thurman Thomas, James Brooks, Cornelius Bennett and so many others roamed the field in some entertaining battles.
Still, in more current times, somehow Andy Dalton has managed a 3-1 record against the Bills since joining the league in 2011. Ironically, that’s the surprising record Buffalo come to town with this week, with wins against the Falcons, Jetsand Broncos.
Maybe just as surprising as Buffalo’s start is the one put forth by the Bengals. After rebuilding their roster with youth and speed this offseason, Cincinnati has plodded to a 1-3 start. There have been frustrations, particularly on offense, but signs of major improvement have also been noted the past two weeks.
But, in typical Bengals fashion, bad news often follows the good. Wide receiver Tyler Boyd, who has been struggling to rediscover his niche this year, is now facing criminal charges stemming from a July car crash. Unfortunately, it’s another black mark for a team who has harbored questionable characters, and it also shows some recent issues with high draft picks.
Nevertheless, Cincinnati can turn around a disappointing season with a single win against the Bills. Good fortune and fairytale endings aren’t things that often occur with this franchise, but hosting a hot team at 1 p.m. does play into the Bengals’ corner.
After seeming like Buffalo was engaging in a fire sale this offseason, Sean McDermott has emerged as an early candidate for Coach of the Year. After losing the services of cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby, as well as the shipping off of Sammy Watkins, McDermott has his Bills atop the AFC East with three impressive wins.
Still, there are signs of struggle. While the defense has been carrying them, they are averaging just over 18 points per game. With the 29th-ranked offense regarding average yards per game, including the 31st-ranked passing offense, Buffalo has been forced to get creative with their victories.
Cincinnati combats Tyrod Taylor’s unit with the No. 3 defense, including the same ranking against the pass. Even though the Bengals’ offense has had its struggles this year, the Bengals’ defense presents a huge problem for the Bills’ offense.
This week doesn’t have the luster of previous Kelly/Esiason matchups. But, it does mean a lot for both squads, as they head into Week 6 byes. A win for Buffalo further cements their early-season playoff hopes, while throwing Marvin Lewis into further job security scrutiny.
However, a win for the Bengals makes their season interesting, all of a sudden. After the bye, they face the Steelers, Colts, Jaguars, Titans, Broncos, and Browns, respectively. Each of those has shown moments of greatness and weaknesses, so Cincinnati could go on a run, if they continue to show progress on offense and allow their defense to do their thing.
But, it starts this Sunday with Buffalo.
I think it will be ugly, it will be close, and it’ll be an old-school defensive battle. I’m a little worried about Lewis’ inability to get his team to do the little things in high-profile games, but I think Cincinnati’s overall roster talent wins the day. Like, barely.
Bills 14, Bengals 17
AC — Yeah—I’ve been inconsistent with my pick this week. So what?