The Cincinnati Bengals are on a three-game winning streak and are on the right side of .500 for the first time this season. On Sunday Night Football, they host the 5-3 Buffalo Bills in an AFC matchup that could have playoff-seeding implications (if the season unfolds the way we hope it does).
This is a massive game for both teams. The Bengals, last in the AFC North, are looking to gain ground in the division in hopes of being the first team to win it three seasons in a row. The Bills are looking to host a playoff game and not lose any more ground to the Dolphins, whose explosive offense has them as the No. 2 seed right now.
Here are a few matchups that could decide who’s on top when the game is over.
Bills edge rushers vs. Orlando Brown Jr. and Jonah Williams
The Bills defense is tied with the Chiefs for the second most sacks so far this season, and most of them have come off the edge. Leonard Floyd and A.J. Epenesa have combined for 12 sacks coming from the edge position, and we can’t forget about Von Miller, who missed the beginning of the season on the PUP list. He came back to the team in Week 5 and doesn’t have any sacks yet this season, but it’s not like he’s a pod person (I don’t think). He’s still Von Miller, the future Hall of Fame pass rusher, and he’ll eventually get going.
Brown and Williams have combined to give up four sacks so far this season and have both played pretty well so far. Brown has been worth every penny as Joe Burrow’s blind-side protector, and Williams is hitting his stride at right tackle, having only given up one sack in the last five games. There aren’t many teams with a better pass rush than the Bills, but if the Bengals tackles can give Burrow a second, he can work his magic.
James Cook vs. D.J. Reader
James Cook is the leader out of the backfield for the Bills with 102 rushing attempts. The next back only has 40 carries. Cook is averaging 4.8 yards per carry, and the Bills' favorite place to run the ball is right up the middle behind center Mitch Morse. That’s where D.J. Reader likes to take up space.
Reader is the best run-stuffing nose tackle in the league, and he’s on a contract year, which means he’s got more of a reason to ball out than usual. If he can make the Bills run game one-dimensional by clogging up the middle, it will help the whole defense play freer.
Stefon Diggs vs. Bengals secondary
When you think of the Bills passing attack, one name comes to mind in upstate New York, and that’s Stefon Diggs. He’s Josh Allen’s top receiver, leads the Bills in targets and yards, and has the fourth-most receiving yards in the NFL. He hasn’t had a game so far with less than six receptions, and Allen will be looking his way early and often.
The Bengals started rookie DJ Turner instead of Chidobe Awuzie opposite Cam Taylor-Britt last Sunday against the 49ers, and considering Diggs’ speed, they may decide to go that same route again. Mike Hilton is also choosing the right time to play some great football, considering Diggs lines up in the slot almost 40 percent of the time.
Dion Dawkins vs. Trey Hendrickson
The Bills’ left tackle has only given up one sack so far this season and is ranked by PFF as the fourth-best offensive tackle when it comes to pass blocking in the league (of players who have taken 80% of the snaps or more).
Trey Hendrickson is tied with Nick Bosa with the second-highest pass-rushing grade in the NFL (again, of players who have taken the majority of the snaps). This is a true clash of the Titans, one of the best going against one of the best.
Allen is one of the least-sacked quarterbacks in the NFL, and Dawkins is a large part of that. Hendrickson has a sack in five straight games. Watching these two go after each other is going to be fun.
Sean McDermott vs. Lou Anarumo
McDermott runs one of the best and most effective offenses in the league and does all the play-calling for the Bills. Lou Anarumo, who should have been a head coach a long time ago, is one of the best defensive coordinators in the league.
While the players on the field get all the credit, it’s Anarumo who does the play-calling and puts his players in the right position to make plays. He seems to have a different style of play calling for each game, and I’m sure he’s got a few things up his sleeve to counteract McDermott and the Allen-to-Diggs connection.
In Loudini we trust!