Bills (12-3) at Bengals (11-4), Monday, Jan. 2 at Paycor Stadium (Field Turf), 8:30 p.m. ET, TV: ESPN, WCPO-TV Ch. 9, ESPN National, (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Lisa Salters), Radio: 700 WLW, WEBN-FM (102.7 FM), ESPN1530, (Dan Hoard, Dave Lapham)
CINCINNATI — Welcome to the biggest Monday night football game in Bengals history.
There has never been a Monday night regular season game involving the Bengals with more on the line and more prime-time national appeal than the contest that will be waged Monday inside Paycor Stadium.
When the 11-4 Cincinnati Bengals host the 12-3 Buffalo Bills, one team (Bengals) will be riding seven-game win streak while another (Bills) has won six in a row and the two teams have their sights set on capturing the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC. Cincinnati has already clinched a playoff berth in Week 16 and is now zeroing in on a second consecutive AFC North Division title and possible home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
With a win Monday night, the Bengals would match the 2015 club for the longest win streak in franchise history.
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) December 30, 2022
This is a new golden era of quarterbacks in the AFC, led by Joe Burrow, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Justin Herbert. Mahomes is 1-1 in Super Bowl appearances. Burrow lost in his Super Bowl debut last February. Allen and Herbert are waiting for their chance to get there.
Burrow is 3-0 against Mahomes but 0-2 against Herbert. Burrow is facing good friend Allen for the first time in their young careers.
“Yeah, we’re friends. We’ve hung out quite a bit,” Burrow said of the Bills quarterback. “Everybody that watches Josh, there’s no secrets about why he’s so good. He’s fun to watch, he runs around. He makes plays. He makes throws that nobody else can make. He’s just an exciting player, a great player that it’s going to be fun to go up against him.
“He’s fun to be around. He’s an outgoing guy. He’s fun to hang out with.”
And Allen’s take on Burrow?
“The dude is all football,” Allen said this week on the Rich Eisen podcast.
Burrow and Allen have several connections that tie them together. They both have worked closely with Jordan Palmer, the founder of QB Summit, a coaching and consulting program for quarterbacks based out of Orange County, California.
“He trained with Jordan. The dude’s all ball,” Allen said of Burrow. “He loves football. We’ve had some interactions over the last couple years, some conversations. I’ve got the utmost respect for him.
“It’s been super impressive to watch and to see his whole story, too. Going to Ohio State, transferring out, spending two years at LSU and arguably having one of the greatest seasons ever in college history. He’s got a heckuva story.”
Another connection is Joe Brady, Burrow’s passing game coordinator at LSU in 2019, a year Burrow called “the great season in college football history.” Burrow threw for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns en route to a national championship and a Heisman Trophy.
Also, Josh Allen will be facing an old college teammate this week in Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson. Both attended the University of Wyoming.
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) December 30, 2022
The Bengals have never won back-to-back division titles in their 55-year history. But if the Ravens lose at home with Tyler Huntley as their quarterback to the visiting Steelers and the Bengals beat the Bills, the Bengals will not only win the division, they’ll clinch no worse than a No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs and assure themselves at least of one home playoff game.
The Bengals are coming off a roller-coaster victory at New England that saw them build a 22-0 halftime lead, before giving up 18 unanswered points and needing a late defensive turnover to secure the win. The Patriots’ offense, which had already engineered two TD drives in the fourth quarter, worked the ball down to the Cincinnati five-yard line with the clock ticking toward the final minute.
A pair of Bengals veterans then stepped up to make the most crucial play of the afternoon, as Vonn Bell punched the ball out from Rhamondre Stevenson’s grasp and B.J. Hill recovered it to turn away the Patriots at the last possible moment.
Despite committing three turnovers offensively, missing two PATs and allowing 215 net yards in the second half, the Bengals held on to win their seventh straight for the first time since 2015. Cincinnati also completed its November and December schedule unbeaten for the first time in team history.
“It wasn’t perfect at all times,” said Taylor after the game. “There were some really good moments and some moments we’ve got to improve on. But at the end of the day, getting out of here with a win is a big deal. We’re going to find a way to correct the negatives and focus on the positives, and get ready for Monday night against Buffalo.”
The Bengals built their three-score lead with a dominant showing from Burrow, who through the first two quarters completed 28 of 36 passes for 284 yards and three TDs. He led a five-play, 78-yard opening drive that finished with a nine-yard TD pass to Tee Higgins. Higgins paced the receiving corps with nine catches for 128 yards in the game, surpassing the 1000-yard milestone for a second consecutive season.
Burrow also found Trenton Irwin, who has emerged as a reliable option over the past eight weeks, for two more touchdowns as Cincinnati extended its advantage to 22-0 late in the half. The offense had 303 net yards of offense heading into the break, while on the other side New England was held to just 70 yards and did not cross midfield.
The game flipped on its head with just over four minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Bengals once again drove into New England territory and were looking for an early knockout punch, but a miscommunication on a route by WR Ja’Marr Chase resulted in Patriots rookie Marcus Jones picking off Burrow and taking it back 69 yards for a TD. That proved to be a crucial momentum swing, as a quick three-and-out on the ensuing Cincinnati drive gave the ball back to a suddenly-energized Patriots offense.
“The defense found a way to win, they forced a turnover to win us the game,” Burrow said. “They continue to make plays like that at the ends of games. We’ve got to do a better job on offense of putting teams away.
“We just have to execute better the entirety of the game. The first half was great and then the second half we still moved the ball really well we just made some critical mistakes that allowed them to come back into the game and put them in a position to win. We just have to execute better the entire game.”
Burrow enters this game needing just 12 pass attempts to become the most accurate passer in NFL history (qualifying quarterback with 1,500 attempts). He will pass Drew Brees in that category. Against the Patriots, Burrow finished 40-of-52 passing for 375 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Burrow, whose 40 completions tied Ken Anderson’s single-game team record, now prepares to face a Bills defense that ranks in the top 10 leaguewide in points allowed per game (17.5, second), yards allowed (317.7, seventh) and interceptions (14, T-fifth). Buffalo has won its past six games and clinched the AFC East for the third straight year, but the winner of Monday night’s matchup will bolster its chances of earning the AFC’s No. 1 seed, a feat neither the Bengals nor Bills have accomplished in nearly 30 years.
Buffalo has been a fairly consistent non-division opponent for Cincinnati over the years. Monday’s game will mark the 13th time since 2002 that the two teams have met for a regular-season matchup.
The Bills lead the series 17-15 overall, but the Bengals have won four of the last six, including two of the last three matchups played in Cincinnati. Overall, the Bengals are 10-7 in games in Cincinnati. The Bills won the last meeting, a 21-17 victory in 2019 at Buffalo.
Prior to Cincinnati’s win over the Bills in 2011, the Bills had won 10 straight against the Bengals, the second longest winning streak on record by any team against Cincinnati (Pittsburgh won 11 straight against the Bengals from 2015- 20). The Bills amassed that long winning streak after suffering a loss in the biggest game to date, the 1988 AFC Championship at Riverfront Stadium. The Bengals won that contest 21-10, advancing to Super Bowl XXIII. The AFC Championship win gave Cincinnati a five-game winning streak over Buffalo at the time, the Bengals’ longest in the series.
The Bills’ 17-15 overall lead includes two playoff losses to the Bengals. The Bengals’ other playoff victory over Buffalo was in a 1981 season Divisional round contest at Riverfront Stadium. That 28-21 win advanced Cincinnati into its “Freezer Bowl” AFC title win against San Diego.
The Bengals and Bills come in as arguably the best two overall teams in the NFL. The Bengals on a seven-game win streak. The Bills have won six straight. Both teams have beaten Kansas City and Patrick Mahomes already this season. The winner of this game likely will have a big upper hand and home field advantage in a potential rematch in the postseason. The Bengals want to win their final two games at home to ensure at least a No. 2 seed in the AFC, guaranteeing they won’t have to travel to Buffalo. The Bills will clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC if they win their final two games. The crowd will be wild and the Jungle will be in full roar. Can the Bengals and Joe Burrow avoid the mistakes of the first half at Tampa and the second half in New England? If they do, they should have enough to hold off the Bills, especially if Buffalo is without safety Jordan Poyer.
Bengals 21, Bills 20