Our NFL experts predict, pick and preview the Cincinnati Bengals vs. Buffalo Bills Divisional Round playoff game, with kickoff time, TV channel and spread.
Three weeks after the traumatic event that shook the NFL, the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills will meet again with a spot in the AFC Championship Game on the line.
The Week 17 game between these teams was called off in the first quarter after Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field with cardiac arrest and had to be rushed to the hospital.
Hamlin has since been released from the hospital, and head coach Sean McDermott said the second-year safety has returned to the team facility "almost daily." It's unclear if Hamlin will be in attendance — he has a long recovery ahead — but regardless it will be quite the emotional game.
Each team has won two straight since that fateful game, although the Wild Card Round gave more of a scare than expected. Buffalo entered its game against Miami as a 14-point favorite but nearly blew a 17-0 lead in clinging to a three-point win. The Bengals, meanwhile, were eight-point favorites but needed a 98-yard Sam Hubbard fumble return to beat the Ravens.
Still, despite first-round playoff concerns, these are clearly two of the best teams remaining in the playoffs. They entered the postseason with top-five Super Bowl odds and are two of the three teams to actually beat No. 1 seed Kansas City this season.
The winner will likely face those Chiefs, who are heavy favorites to knock off the Jaguars. The Bengals would travel to Kansas City, while the Bills would face off in the Falcons' Mercedes-Benz Stadium for a neutral-site game, due to the canceled Week 17 game.
Cincinnati led the Week 17 game 7-3 before it was called off, although there's only so much that can be taken away from two-and-a-half drives. What's clear is that these are evenly-matched, exciting teams. Can the Bengals pick up where they left off and score an upset? Or will the Bills continue their quest for their first Super Bowl appearance since 1993?
AFC Divisional Playoff: Cincinnati (13-4) at Buffalo (14-3)
Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 22 at 3 p.m. ET
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Bills -5.5
Tickets: As low as $170 on SITickets.com*
Three Things to Watch
1. Will the Bengals' offensive line hold up?
Cincinnati's offense seemingly moved at will against the Bills when they last played. Sure, they had just lost right tackle La'el Collins to a torn ACL the week before, but Joe Burrow was a perfect 4-of-4 for 52 yards without feeling much pressure. Well, in the two weeks since, they've lost prized free agent guard Alex Cappa (ankle) and left tackle Jonah Williams (knee).
The offensive line was Cincinnati's Achilles heel last season, and it's looking like a problem once again this year. Significant offseason spending helped improve the unit, but they still ranked 30th in pass block win rate (50 percent) during the regular season, and losing most of the offensive line takes the issue from notable to alarming.
With Williams going down in the second quarter against the Ravens, Baltimore was able to sack Burrow four times and pressure him eight times despite the signal-caller getting rid of the ball after an average of 2.38 seconds, a mark he's only surpassed once before. He's going to have to maintain a quick release once again, which could be tricky against a zone-heavy defense like Buffalo's.
The Bills rank 14th in pressure rate this season (22.2 percent), but it's worth noting that they've had a serious drop-off since losing Von Miller to a torn ACL in Week 12. Before, they had a 24.0 percent pressure rate (eighth), and they are only at 19.4 percent since (23rd). Still, they were able to pressure Miami rookie Skylar Thompson last week more than a quarter of the time despite blitzing just nine times.
2. Can Josh Allen rein in the chaos?
There's no doubt that Allen is one of the most talented players in the league, but he's continued to make mind-numbing mistakes recently. The Bills almost lost last week because he threw two more interceptions and had three fumbles (one of which he lost), bringing his turnover total to six in the last three games.
Allen's bad-throw rate has increased throughout the season, with last week's performance (24.3 percent) his third worst of the season. His 22.2 percent bad-throw rate in the last five games would put him near the bottom of the leaderboard over the course of a full season.
Miami blitzed the ever-living hell out of Allen last week (18 times in 49 dropbacks), but he kept trying for big plays instead of taking the easy check-downs. An astounding 19 of his 39 passes went for more than 10 air yards, only 10 of which Allen completed (with one TD and one pick).
Will offensive coordinator Mike Kafka adjust the game plan? And will Allen follow through? Cincinnati has struggled to cover WR2s this season, so someone other than Stefon Diggs stepping up will be key, especially if they can make catches underneath.
3. Ja'Marr Chase vs. Tre'Davious White
With the Bills not likely to give Burrow much time to throw, it will be even more incumbent upon the Bengals' receivers to create early separation. The big matchup to watch will be Chase against White.
Now, Buffalo's No. 1 cornerback hasn't quite lived up to the All-Pro label this year as White returned from a torn ACL. In six games, he's allowed a career-worst 13.6 yards per completion and has a Pro Football Focus rating of just 61.9. There are bright signs (eight passes defended, 54.5 percent completion rate allowed), but he's not quite at his best.
Cincinnati targeted Chase early in its abbreviated meeting, and White was flagged on the first play of the game for a 29-yard pass interference call. That was his first DPI of the season, although he did have a defensive holding penalty in each of the last two regular-season games and was flagged for another DPI (for eight yards) last Sunday against Miami.
How important has Chase been to the Bengals' success this season? They are 8-1 when he scores a touchdown and 7-3 when he doesn't. They're 9-1 when he reaches 60 yards and 6-3 when he doesn't. It's hard to imagine Cincinnati out-scoring Buffalo if Chase doesn't get going in a tough matchup.
The regular-season matchup had the making of a shootout, but with Cincinnati's offensive line issues and Josh Allen's turnover habit, this game may well not reach the over/under total of 49 points. Although Allen has the ability to give this game away, if he can take the easy passes when they're available, he should be able to do enough to stay ahead of this beat-up Cincinnati offense.
Prediction: Bills 27, Bengals 20
*Price as of publication.