Friends from afar will becomes enemies up close Monday night.
The Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills have won a combined 13-straight games and have established themselves as two of the best teams in the AFC. There won’t be an Andy Dalton-to-Tyler Boyd moment to bring these two clubs together, just a back-and-forth spectacle for playoff seeding.
No. 1 seed stakes gives this game the importance it has, but the intrigue lies in how evenly matched these teams are. Just look at the spread, which started at -0.5 and has since moved to -1. Two high-powered passing games and defenses that rarely break will make for a close game. The results of these matchups may tell us which way the game will swing.
Logan Wilson vs. Josh Allen
Two cowboys in a Monday night shootout sounds pretty good on paper. Wilson and Allen both arrived at the Wyoming football program in 2015 and helped put together back-to-back eight-win seasons for the team in 2016-17 when Allen took over as the starter. Three years of practicing against one another gives these two plenty of shared history, but with Allen jettisoning for the NFL in 2018, they haven’t played on the same field in over five years.
Allen’s arm speaks for itself—it’s otherworldly. What separates him from Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert is his speed and power as a scrambler. You almost have to group him with Lamar Jackson as they’re the only two that force a defense to play 11-on-11 with that raw arm power. But Allen has proven himself a unicorn, and Wilson will be plenty busy keeping his eyes on him for when he inevitably breaks from the pocket.
Tre Flowers vs. Dawson Knox
Allen’s primary receivers, Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis, are tough to defend on all levels of the field. When the boundary is covered, Knox has proven himself a reliable underneath option who can churn out yards after the catch. Allen has a passer rating of 102.9 when targeting Knox this year, and the fourth-year tight end had hauled in a touchdown in each of the past three games. He’s also averaged just under two yards per route run in that span.
It’s become standard procedure to expect Flowers matching up against a featured tight end, but defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo and his unpredictable ways has careful selected which weeks to deploy Flowers in his secondary. With Allen and Germaine Pratt focused on Allen and his check downs, Flowers’ man-cover abilities may be needed more in this game.
Cordell Volson vs. Ed Oliver
A lot of attention is on the right side of the offensive line, and for good reason. Cincinnati hasn’t announced a starter at right tackle and likely won’t until the game begins. There are equally important matchups along the interior as Volson will face one of the most explosive 3-techniques in the game.
Oliver has settled in as a consistent pass-rushing presence in his fourth year and has registered 30 pressures this season, including 10 against the Minnesota Vikings alone. He combines a great get-off with quick hands, which should lead to interesting results against Volson’s jump sets in pass protection.
Hayden Hurst vs. Tremaine Edmunds
The Bengals should have the advantage on the outside with Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, but a real battle will be had over the middle between Hurst and Edmunds. Hurst will make his return after a three-game absence due to a calf injury, and considering he was close to playing last week, he should see his normal workload of snaps and targets.
Cincinnati’s offense has benefitted from its underneath options generating positive plays while defenses focus on keeping Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins in check. Hurst specifically has shown his ability to generate yards after contact on short passes while linebackers have had to turn upfield from deep zones. Edmunds is special athlete who can click and close with the best of them. These two meeting in the second level will be strength vs. strength.