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Exactly 20 days after Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest and collapsed on the field during a Monday night game in Cincinnati, Buffalo will host the Bengals in the divisional round of the 2023 NFL Playoffs. As great a quarterback battle as this game will be, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more emotional pre-game. The jury is still out on whether or not Hamlin will be in attendance, but one thing is for sure, if there were any NFL team that didn’t need more motivation to win at home, it would be the Bills. Buffalo went 7-1 at Orchard Park this season, averaging an incredible 32.1 points per game (second in the NFL). Josh Allen is playing a specific brand of football right now that’s gotten him criticized (unjustly) because he’s adjusting to Buffalo’s weaknesses around him by getting the ball out fast…and getting it deep. Allen led the NFL in both big-time throws (44) and big-time throw rate (7.4%) by wide margins. When your offensive line is letting you get sacked seven times against a Dolphins’ defense that was 18th in sack rate this year, your best option is to respond to the blitz by trying to connect with Stefon Diggs or Gabe Davis for big plays. The only problem? Allen had more turnovers (interceptions+fumbles) than any other quarterback in the NFL this season, with 22. Against a Cincinnati defense that has 11 takeaways over the past four games, Allen will need to be careful because if you give Joe Burrow a free possession, he’ll make the most out of it. Cincinnati has gone 6-1 when forcing multiple turnovers and a perfect 4-0 when finishing with three or more takeaways, and the Bills have finished with three turnovers in each of the last three games. The good news for Allen is that he has Cole Beasley on his team again. The only thing Beasley does better than pissing people off on Twitter is getting open for short-yardage plays. Allen has needed a check-down guy all year, and as Beasley gets himself comfortable again, he will begin to take pressure off Allen to make hero plays.
The good news for Bills fans is that even though Allen has been turnover-prone lately, he’s still a top-three quarterback in the league no if, ands, or buts. Over their past three games, Buffalo is averaging 34.7 points. Things can’t be bad when your football team is almost averaging as many points as prime Kobe Bryant. Allen is also known for being exceptional in the playoffs. In seven career playoff games, Allen has 19 total touchdowns and a 104.6 passer rating, which is the third highest in NFL history (minimum 150 attempts). The Bills also lead the NFL in third down conversion rate, getting a first down on 50.72% of third down opportunities. Against a Bengals defense that ranks 16th in opponent third down conversion rate, Josh Allen should have no problem moving the chains. Speaking of Cincinnati’s defense, they aren’t great. The Bengals let opposing quarterbacks slice through them like a steak knife through jello, giving up 227.9 passing yards a game (23rd in the NFL). And that’s hard to do playing in the AFC North, a division where they dealt with rookie Kenny Pickett, Jacoby Brissett, and Lamar Jackson with no good receivers. Buffalo’s biggest challenge in this game will be getting to Joe Burrow without star linebacker Von Miller. Miller’s absence was felt last week when Dolphins’ rookie Skylar Thompson looked like a competent quarterback for the first time all season, and the Bills won that game by way less than anyone thought going into it. The good news for the Bills is that that’s not going to happen against the Bengals because their offensive line is ravaged with more injuries, so they are up against a unit that’s weaker than Biden’s border policy. Through the first 16 weeks of the season, the Bengals were one of just two teams in the NFL that started the same offensive line in every game; they’ve now lost three starters in the last three weeks (La’el Collins, Jonah Williams, and Alex Cappa). The Bengals are 0-3 this year when Burrow gets sacked five or more times but 13-1 when he’s sacked fewer than five times.
Speaking of the man, the myth, the legend Joe Burrow, there’s no need to freak out over his performance last week playing Baltimore. Joe Burrow struggled against AFC North teams this year, but he dominated everyone else he played. Take a look.
Joe Burrow vs. AFC North teams (4-3): 257.9 passing yards per game, 13 TD, 9 INT
Burrow vs. Non-AFC North teams (9-1): 287.9 passing yards per game, 23 TD, 3 INT
The Bengals shouldn’t worry about Joe as long as they give him some time. Burrow had 40 total touchdowns (3rd) and averaged 279.7 passing yards per game (2nd) this year. Getting him yards against the Bills should be no problem, considering how many key pieces Buffalo’s secondary is missing. If Buffalo DARED to blitz the Bengals aggressively, Burrow would have the option to throw to the NFL’s best-receiving core in man-to-man coverage. Sean McDermott doesn’t want that. Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd combined for 219 receptions, 2837 yards, and 21 touchdowns this year. Any of those guys would absolutely torch a Bills secondary that’s been up and down all season. With the possibility of Damar Hamlin on the Bills’ sideline, it would appear as if Buffalo is the team of destiny, but if any team likes ruining someone else’s plan, it’s the Cincinnati Bengals. Cincinnati went an incredible 12-5 ATS on the season and 7-2 ATS on the road. Joe Burrow was 19-3 against the spread in his last 23 starts entering the playoffs. These guys don’t give a damn who you are or what your story is. They win football games, especially as underdogs. Oh, also, did I forget to mention? Joe Burrow has never lost in January.
This feels like a game that Cincinnati keeps within a field goal. Vegas likes the Bills -4, and while I think Buffalo will win, the Bengals will cover. Want a chance to put some money in your pocket for a long weekend? Take the Bills’ moneyline and get your $150 back in bonus bets instantly!
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