Preview and prediction for the NFL Divisional playoff game between Cincinnati and Buffalo.
It figures to be an emotional Sunday afternoon when the Cincinnati Bengals (regular season 12-4) visit the Buffalo Bills (regular season 13-3) in the AFC's divisional round playoffs. Their regular-season meeting was suspended when Bills' safety Damar Hamlin collapsed after absorbing a Tee Higgins hit. It will surely be emotional if he attends the game while continuing his miraculous story of recovery.
Regarding the mundane matter of football, Buffalo is a five-point favorite (total of 49), according to NFL odds. These two hot teams have won nine (Cincinnati) and eight (Buffalo) games in a row, respectively, including the playoff openers last week.
Note that neither team covered the spread in their wild-card wins last week.
The latest title numbers find Buffalo at +375, Cincinnati twice that figure (+750), as per Super Bowl odds.
Bengals Were Road Graders
Cincinnati went 6-3 on the road this season, including a four-game road winning streak towards the end the season. Cincy ended a five-year playoff drought last season, parlaying a 10-7 record into a heroic run to Super Bowl LVI. Despite losing to the Los Angeles Rams, the Bengals have proven themselves to be one of the best units in the league. Quarterback Joe Burrow (4,475 passing yards, 35 touchdowns, 12 interceptions) is as cool as anybody, seemingly stoic regardless of circumstances.
Burrow, however, was just ordinary in his last two games, both against the Baltimore Ravens, in the finale of the season, and the wild-card playoff round, Burrow had just 424 combined passing yards and a couple of touchdowns, though no picks.
It was, of course, the Bengal defense making the decisive play a week ago, as Sam Hubbard returned a Tyler Huntley fumble 98 yards to the end zone, flipping the script when it appeared the Ravens were about to take control of the game.
Cincinnati was seventh in scoring (26.1 points per game) during the season, eighth in offense (360.5 yards/game). The knock is the team has become way too pass-dependent (265 yards/game), while just 29th in rushing (95.5 yards/game).
Defensively, the Bengals allow a respectable 20.1 points per game (sixth in NFL), having surrendered 335.7 yards/game (16th).
The Bengals befriended the bettors, as in 12-4 against the spread (ATS) and are 2-0 against the spread as underdogs this season.
Are These Super Bills?
This is the Buffalo Bills’ fourth consecutive appearance in the playoffs, fifth in the past six seasons. Of course, their season has been defined as "Super Bowl win or bust," as the franchise has never won an NFL title (having lost four straight Super Bowls in the 1990s).
There were those pairs of AFL championships, but in this space, that's not relevant. With Josh Allen at quarterback (4,283 passing yards, 35 touchdowns, 14 interceptions) and and a defense that's electric, it may well be the season of the Bills.
Buffalo managed to hold off Miami, 34-31, in the wild-card round, while definitely not playing its best game, despite a sizable early lead.
Buffalo was second in both regular-season scoring (28.4 points per game) and in total offense (397.6 yards/game). It ended seventh in passing (258.1 yards/game), as well as rushing (139.5 yards/game).
Their Achilles heel came in the form of 27 giveaways, the third-worst total in the NFL.
Defensively, the Bills were second in points (17.9 per game) and sixth in yardage (319.1 per game). The team finished 15th against the pass (214.6 yards/game) and fifth against the rush (104.6 yards/game).
The Bills were 8-7-1 against the spread during the regular season.
Bills have been favored in every game this season, 3-2-1 against the spread when the choice by 6.5 or fewer points.
Bengals to Advance
The Cincinnati Bengals are going to have a left-tackle issue to worry about, regardless of whether Jonah Williams (dislocated kneecap) does or does not play. Figure a tight end or running back to providing added support with chips and pass protection.
Burrow no doubt appreciates any extra time to find one of his threats, Ja'Marr Chase or a quick-hitter to Tee Higgins. Cincinnati's defense hasn't impressed, but did make the game-changing play against the Ravens last week.
Buffalo will surely be tested as favorites at home. They nearly blew last week's game against the undermanned Miami Dolphins. Now they face an opposing an offense that can make them pay. Allen will need to be on his game, both passing and rushing. It was a sweet moment seeing the teams come together during the Hamlin incident. Now, a trip to the AFC title game is on the line.
Take the Bengals plus five points, throwing in a moneyline wager as well.