Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen wears the number 3 in support of safety Damar Hamlin during practices before an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Orchard Park, N.Y. Hamlin remains hospitalized after suffering a catastrophic on-field collapse in the team's previous game against the Cincinnati Bengals. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Bills hosts Bengals in AFC Divisional

A thrilling AFC Divisional Playoff game is set to take place Sunday when the Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) go on the road to face the Buffalo Bills (13-3). This highly anticipated matchup was initially scheduled to take place in the regular season on Jan. 2. However, tragedy struck when Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed in the first quarter after colliding with Bengals receiver Tee Higgins. Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest and was taken to Cincinnati Medical Center where he was in critical condition. Following the horrifying injury, the game was canceled.

Almost three weeks later, the two teams will finish their unsettled business. Hamlin is now out of the hospital and visits the Bills facility almost daily. Bills head coach Sean McDermott believes his team can look at the positive side of Hamlin’s injury and move forward.


Following their Week 17 cancellation, both teams finished the regular season strong. The Bengals went on to beat the Ravens twice, once in the regular season and once in the Wild Card. The Bills beat the Patriots in their final regular season game and squeaked out a messy win over the Miami Dolphins in their Wild Card matchup. Now, the stage is set for two of the league’s premier teams to face off in the playoffs.

Momentum Clash

Both teams enter this game with impressive win streaks. The Bengals have won a franchise-record nine straight games and the Bills have won eight straight. Undoubtedly, a major key to both teams’ success is their quarterback. Josh Allen and Joe Burrow, both 26 years old, are two of the NFL’s best young quarterbacks. Allen and Burrow each threw 35 touchdowns on the year.

Despite their limited time in the league, they each have plenty of experience in big games. In just his second season in the NFL, Burrow led the Bengals to the Super Bowl, where they fell to the Los Angeles Rams 23-20. Allen has visited the playoffs every year since 2019 and went as far as the AFC Championship in 2020, where the Bills fell to the Chiefs. Cincinnati and Buffalo’s franchises have done a tremendous job of developing their quarterbacks and surrounding them with outstanding talent.

In the wake of each team’s winning streak and the injury scare in their Week 17 matchup, both quarterbacks seem cool and confident heading into their upcoming dogfight. Burrow describes it as “just another game.”


Bengals’ Injury Problems

There are serious holes in the Bengals’ offensive line. Cincinnati will play three backup linemen Sunday afternoon against a solid Buffalo defensive front, featuring linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. Cincinnati’s left tackle Jonah Williams dislocated his kneecap Sunday against Baltimore. Jackson Carman is expected to fill his shoes. The Bengals also lost right tackle La’el Collins to an ACL tear on Dec. 24 and right guard Alex Cappa to an ankle injury on Jan. 8. The shifts in personnel have caused problems, as Burrow was sacked four times last week, the most since Oct. 31.

Expect the Bills to send pressure to Burrow consistently. Buffalo has strong defensive linemen in Shaq Lawson and Ed Oliver, who combined for six sacks in the regular season. Sunday, the Bills recorded four sacks, with Milano earning two. Buffalo’s hostile home atmosphere and fiery linebackers combined with Cincinnati’s injured offensive line is a key component of this matchup. Burrow will need time in the pocket to navigate Buffalo’s tricky secondary, so expect McDermott and Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier to try and give him none.

Previewing Sunday’s matchup

The Bengals enter as 5.5-point underdogs, largely because of offensive line injuries and the Bills’ home atmosphere. Buffalo is 7-1 at home this season, with their sole loss being a 33-30 thriller against Minnesota. For the Bengals, Burrow is going to have to be a workhorse. Buffalo’s secondary, comprised of impressive talents such as Kaiir Elam, Dane Jackson and Jordan Poyer, will pose a challenge to Cincinnati’s pass-heavy offense. However, Bengals receivers Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd are a three-headed monster that is almost impossible to shut down.

For Cincinnati to move on, their offensive line will need to protect Burrow and let him fire it downfield. Additionally, the Bengals will have to institute some form of consistency in their run game. Against Baltimore on Sunday, Bengals running back Joe Mixon only ran for 39 yards. Buffalo won’t let Burrow throw the ball as much as he wants, so the Bengals will need to diversify their offense in order to keep Buffalo on their heels.


For the Bills, they had a sloppy game in the Wild Card round against Miami. Allen threw two interceptions, coughed up a fumble and was sacked seven times. Allen’s turnovers allowed Miami back in the game. The Bills defense played relatively well, but the offense’s turnovers led to a fumble recovery touchdown and pegged the defense in difficult spots. Buffalo has to play cleaner. Allen has to pick his shots better and the offensive line needs to increase their protection. As Allen stated, the Bills need to run a cleaner, more balanced offense.


When Allen plays well, the Bills are nearly unstoppable. Expect Buffalo to come out with a cleaner offensive gameplan and a lot of pressure on the defensive side of the ball. Also, don’t downplay Highmark Stadium. Bills Mafia will be rowdy and has had an impact on games in the past.

Start Time

Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. on Sunday. Outside of the first quarter of play in Week 17 before the game’s cancellation, the teams are yet to face off this season. The winner of this game will play the winner of Saturday’s Kansas City vs. Jacksonville matchup. Buffalo weather reports predict snow showers throughout Sunday afternoon, with a projection of 34 degrees at kickoff. If the weather harshens, it could play a big factor in each team’s gameplan.

About Alex Winn

Sports Journalism student at the University of Florida.

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