Bills at Bengals: 5 things to know about Monday Night’s showdown

Credit: Aaron Doster

Credit: Aaron Doster

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Bengals players this week expressed confidence they are the team to beat in the AFC.

The Bengals (11-4) will get a chance to prove that when they host the Buffalo Bills (12-3) on Monday Night Football.

Buffalo currently holds the top seed in the AFC playoff race. The Bengals would at least move up to second with a win over the Bills, and depending on the outcome of the Ravens’ game against the Steelers on Sunday night, they could also clinch a secondstraight AFC North title. Cincinnati needs Baltimore to lose or tie Sunday to have that opportunity.

Here are five things to know about the Bengals-Bills matchup.

1. Who’s at right tackle?

Bengals coach Zac Taylor won’t reveal who will be starting at right tackle in place of injured La’el Collins, but quarterback Joe Burrow might have spilled the beans. When asked about the impact of a change at that position, Burrow pointed out the offense has comfortability after playing with “Zay” last year, referencing the nickname for Isaiah Prince.

Prince said he “could be” starting, though it seemed a more logical move for Hakeem Adeniji, who had been backing up Collins all season and even playing alongside him in some extra tackle packages. Prince was on injured reserve with an elbow injury from Sept. 2 until Nov. 21 when he was activated to the roster and subsequently waived, then signed back to the practice squad in a matter of days. He’s been there ever since and hasn’t played a snap this season but started the final eight games of last season, including every snap in the postseason.

“We’ve got several guys that we’ve been developing the last couple years that we think could serve that role for us,” Taylor said. “It’s a big loss with LC, but we feel like that offensive line can really step up and absorb that.”

2. Attacking a top defense

Wide receiver Tee Higgins said the Bills have possibly the best secondary the Bengals will face this season, but fortunately, Cincinnati should have all its top receivers available to help Burrow take whatever the defense gives.

Tight end Hayden Hurst is good to go Monday after missing three games with a calf injury, and the injury report is clear on offense outside of Collins being moved to injured reserve Friday. The Bengals will need every option available for Burrow and for Taylor as he is calling plays. Buffalo has allowed just 17.5 points per game (second fewest).

“It’s not just the secondary, it’s the totality of the defense I think,” offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said. “They’re very similar to our defense in the sense that they all play really well together. They play off each other. They’re smart. They know how to match concepts and match routes. They do a nice job within the framework of the defense. ... There’s a reason they’re where they’re at currently. It’s a very good defense.”

Buffalo’s secondary is led by Pro Bowl safety Jordan Poyer, who was held from practices early in the week because of a knee injury but listed as questionable after limited participation Saturday. He’s the only player in question on the active roster. Linebacker Matt Milano is back from a knee injury that limited him as well, and defensive end Greg Rousseau has stepped up since Von Miller went on injured reserve.

3. Defense ready for test

The Bengals offense has been able to count on the defense getting stops, especially in crucial situations, but that won’t be an easy task against the Bills, who average 28.0 points per game.

Josh Allen has been susceptible to mistakes while taking gambles down field at times, accounting for 13 interceptions, but when he’s on target, it’s tough to stop him and wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Allen is good at extending plays from outside the pocket with his feet and making throws on the run, and the thing that makes him unique, according to defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, is his ability to throw from one sideline to the other.

Diggs always gives him a good target as a top three receiver in the NFL this season, catching 101 passes for 1,325 yards and 10 touchdowns. He will be a tough matchup for either Eli Apple or Cam Taylor-Britt, depending on how the Bengals utilize those two players this week.

“Great hands, great route runner,” Anarumo said. “So, he’s confident in his relationship with the quarterback. Super competitive. There’s a lot of reasons (he’s so good), but hands, route running ability and he’s smart knows the game, knows where the windows are. So really, really great player.”

4. Don’t overlook the run

The Bills aren’t as well known for their running game, but that’s been a bigger part of their offense the past couple of games and the Bengals are aware of that too. Buffalo rushed for 254 yards and three touchdowns against the Bears last week and had 150 yards rushing in a win over Miami two weeks ago.

Devin Singletary accounts for 790 yards rushing and five touchdowns, and Allen adds 746 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. James Cook chips in 462 yards and two touchdowns.

Meanwhile, the Bengals are looking to get back to a more efficient running game that has been on display on and off this season but produced less than 75 yards the past two games. Joe Mixon is sitting on 787 yards and six touchdowns over 13 games and will need a strong finish to this season to reach 1,000 yards for a fourth time in his career. That’s where Collins will be missed especially, as one of the team’s top run blockers.

5. Repeat of Week 17 last year?

Last year the Bengals earned their biggest regular-season win against the Chiefs in a Week 17 game at home, allowing them to clinch the division title. This matchup has a similar feeling in terms of intensity and what’s at stake.

Last year, the division title came down to Evan McPherson’s leg and the Bengals remain confident he can be that kicker again, despite two missed PATs and a missed field goal last week.

“He’s got to learn to develop and maintain his timing,” special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons said. “I think it’s got to be a bigger focus to him that he’s got to go a little faster and he’s got to pull harder. It’s a fine balance that you walk. I think he’ll pull through it. … Saturday was a top 2 or 3 game for me in terms of being cold. It was cold. But it’s certainly something he’s got to learn from and comeback from, we’ll try and get it fixed.”


Bills at Bengals, 8:30 p.m., ESPN, ABC, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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