One of the biggest surprises in the NFL through the first quarter of the season is the Buffalo Bills, who will come to Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday with a 3-1 record and sole possession of first place in the AFC East.
The Bills own a one-game lead on the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Buffalo is coming off a victory in Atlanta on Sunday in which it was a 7.5-point underdogs against the defending NFC champion and previously unbeaten Falcons.
With just one winning season since 2004 (9-7 in 2014), the Bills are under the direction of first-year head coach Sean McDermott, who was the defensive coordinator in Carolina from 2011-16, helping lead the Panthers to Super Bowl 50.
McDermott’s stamp on the franchise, along with that of first-year defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, is evident already with Buffalo allowing the fewest points in the league (13.5 per game) while ranking ninth in total defense (306.5 yards), 11th against the pass (212.8) and 13th vs. the run (93.8).
The Bills are especially tough defending the red zone, which is an area where the Bengals offense had struggled before Sunday’s breakthrough at Cleveland. Buffalo opponents have converted only four of 11 red-zone opportunities into touchdowns, which is the third best percentage (36.4) in the league.
The Bills also rank second to Detroit in turnovers forced (seven) and turnover margin (plus-6). Safety Micah Hyde is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with three.
Unfortunately for Buffalo, the offense has been nowhere near as productive as the defense.
Led by quarterback Tyrod Taylor and running back LeSean McCoy, the Bills rank 29th in total offense (284.2), 31st in passing (171.5) and 23rd in scoring (18.2). Taylor has been a surprise in his third year as the starter, completing 65.7 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and only one interception.
McCoy is averaging just 3.2 yards per rush, but he’s the team’s leading receiver with 21 catches. Tight end Charles Clay is second with 18. Except for wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who will miss a few weeks with a thumb injury, no other player has more than six catches for the Bills.
This will be the third consecutive year the Bengals and Bills have met. Buffalo won 16-12 at PBS last year, while Cincinnati won 34-21 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2015.
The Bengals have won the last three of four overall.
Bills WR Brandon Tate played for the Bengals from 2011-15. … Bills DT Adolphus Washington is from Cincinnati (Taft High School) and played at Ohio State University. … Bills LB Preston Brown is from Cincinnati (Northwest High School). … Bills C Eric Wood is from Cincinnati (Elder High School) and played. … Bengals LB Nick Vigil and Bills LB Zach Vigil (practice squad) are brothers. … Bengals linebackers coach Jim Haslett played (1979-86) and coached (’88-90) for the Bills. … Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier coached for the Bengals from 2003-04. … Bills DE Jerel Worthy is from Huber Heights (Wayne High School). … Bengals TE Mason Schreck (Reserve/Injured) played at the University of Buffalo. … Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander is from Rochester, N.Y.
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AFC North Outlook
Baltimore (2-2) at Oakland (2-2) Sunday: After a 2-0 start, the Ravens have been outscored 70-16. Baltimore is 1-4 in its last five trips to the west coast and 5-10 all-time.
Cleveland (0-4) vs. New York Jets (2-2) Sunday : Losers of 22 of their last 23 games, the Browns are actually favored by 2.5 points against a Jets team that has won two of three.
Pittsburgh (3-1) vs. Jacksonville (2-2) Sunday: After opening the season by playing three of their first four on the road, the Steelers return home with a chance to extend their division lead against a Jaguars team that is 1-7 in its last eight road games and 3-24 in its last 27.
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