Six of the very best NFL teams are still alive as Divisional Round Sunday has arrived, and arguably the two best AFC teams will kick things off this afternoon.
The Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills haven’t experienced much losing of late. The last time either team took an L was November 13th, when Buffalo dropped a thriller to the Minnesota Vikings. The Bengals’ previous loss was a shellacking from the Cleveland Browns on Halloween night.
A combined 17 straight wins from both teams is only possible due to the league cancelling their Week 17 matchup after the on-field collapse of Damar Hamlin. But one team will lose today in Highmark Stadium. In order for the Bengals to move on, these are the matchups they need to win.
Logan Wilson vs. Josh Allen
This was included in the matchups post from three weeks ago, and I just couldn’t leave it off this time around. Allen is going to break from the pocket, and Wilson is the most capable spy this defense has. Their history as college teammates only makes this even more intriguing.
Wilson’s range in coverage might get tested as well. We don’t have a great idea what schemes defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo will deploy to defend Buffalo’s vertical passing attack, but Wilson has been effective dropping deep in Tampa 2. That could be a way to capitalize off one of Allen’s inevitable turnover-worthy tosses.
Cam Taylor-Britt vs. Gabe Davis
On the subject of the Bills’ passing game, it’s all about the deep shots lately. Their last four games have seen Stefon Diggs and Davis average about 17 air yards per target. That’s insane, even with a strong-armed quarterback like Allen.
The postseason has become Davis’ stage, with his 113-yard outing last week as the latest piece of evidence. He can take the top off of your secondary and track down the moon balls his quarterback throws. Staying with vertical routes has fortunately been a positive development for Taylor-Britt as his rookie season progressed. Will he be able to stay in Davis’ hip pocket for 60 minutes? The Bills will surely be testing that.
Joe Mixon vs. Tremaine Edmunds & Matt Milano
This feels like an under the radar story, considering it was one of the stories entering the Monday night game that never was. Mixon threw some shade towards the Bills’ linebackers leading up to Week 17’s canceled game, implying they weren’t as good as the Baltimore Ravens’ backers in regards to coverage.
Edmunds and Milano have fared well in Pro Football Focus’ coverage grade, earning marks of 90.2 and 81.2, respectively, and each are athletic enough to click and close in a hurry and limit yards after the catch. The Bengals have leaned on Mixon racking up easy yards in the pass game while defenses concern themselves with containing Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins over the top. If Edmunds and Milano stay with Mixon out of the backfield, it will naturally put more pressure on Joe Burrow to push the ball down the field.
Jackson Carman vs. Shaq Lawson & AJ Epenesa
Many eyes will be watching the Bengals’ new left tackle, and his primary foe will be another former Clemson Tiger. Lawson entered the league five years prior to Carman, and has established himself as a serviceable power rusher off the edge. Epenesa normally spells Lawson at right defensive end, and for good reason. His pass rush win rate of 14.5% is three percent higher than Lawson’s 11.4% clip.
Neither one are Von Miller, which is good news for the second-year lineman. This will be Carman’s first NFL start at the position he played throughout high school and college. He showcased glimpses of promising footwork and hand usage coming in for an injured Jonah Williams last week, and now the offense needs him to hold up for 60+ snaps.