With the undefeated Buffalo Bills fresh off a stunning upset of the New England Patriots last week, some fans are already counting today’s 1 pm game as a loss for the Cincinnati Bengals.
After all, the Bills offense is the best in the league (first in points scored) and the Bengals have lost the last 10 straight against the Bills. And it’s the Cincinnati Bengals, right? That’s the thought process of the NFL experts and many fans.
I’m really excited for today’s game. It’s going to be a close one, and not the huge blowout that some have predicted. In fact, some Bills fans are a bit nervous, as the editor of Fansided’s Buffalo Bills blog shared with us yesterday.
"A lot of Bills fans seem to be automatically chalking this up as a win, which is a huge mistake. I think this will be a very competitive game. Buffalo’s offense and Cincy’s defense are both very strong, so that should be a fun matchup to watch. The key will probably be who gets the better of the matchup between the two “weaker” units – the Buffalo defense and the Bengal offense. I’ll say Buffalo takes this one 27-20, but I’m very nervous about it."
Here are a few reasons why I think today’s game will be a great opportunity for the Bengals to right the ship and come out 2-2:
- The perfect-so-far Bills Offensive Line will be tested. And with Starting Right Guard Kraig Urbik doubtful for the game, the Bills O-Line will find their first true test against the depth of the Bengals D-line. The Bills O-Line has only allowed 2 sacks through 3 games, grading as the best Offensive Line so far by Pro Football Focus. But, the Bengals Defensive Line has been one of the team’s strengths this year, largely due to the fact that all 8 lineman can be rotated in with confidence. And Starting End Robert Geathers is back from a shoulder injury that made him miss the last two games.
- The supposed superpower Bills offense has only seen mediocre defenses at best. The Bills statiscally have one of the best offenses in the league so far. But the Patriots, the Raiders, and the Chiefs. All have defenses in the bottom 10. If the Bengals offense shows up today (and not the one that showed up for the Broncos game, when Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer said about his own defense, “I don’t know who that was”), the Bengals could see their second win of the year.
- The Bengals thrive in the underdog role. The odds only favor the Bills by 3, but there’s no question that this game has a bit of an underdog feel to it. The Bills are 3-0, have won the last 10 straight, and so on. But, here’s a summary of what happens how the Bengals fare with expectations- the Bengals weren’t supposed to beat the Browns week 1, they won. They were supposed to beat the Broncos and 49ers, they lost both games. In 2009, the Bengals were supposed to be last in the AFC North, they swept the AFC North. In 2010, the Bengals were supposed to contend for the Superbowl, they lost 10 straight. It’s a bit of a team trend.
- This 2011 team will be out for blood after last year’s self-destruction against the Bills. The players say that last year’s game doesn’t affect how they’ll play today, but you have to think it will. There’s no hard feelings against ex-Bengal Ryan Fitzpatrick, but Steve Johnson ripped the Bengals for 3 TDs, and Fred Jackson pounded for 116 yards. The defense will be looking to shut those two down, and put Fitz on the ground, where he hasn’t been all year.
- The Bills defense has only recorded 2 sacks on the year. Shawne Merriman hasn’t provided much pass-rush help, which is an area that the Bills are clearly struggling. DT Kyle Williams and 2011 top draft pick Marcell Dareus provide great run-support, but the Bills don’t have a proven pass rush. Which is a very good thing, because Dalton statistically hasn’t fared well against blitzing.
In the end this a very winnable game, but it hinges on a few key people. Jay Gruden needs to get his offense going against the mediocre Bills defense, and convert on third downs (where the Bengals are 2-21 in the last 2 games). 3rd and 4th string corners Kelly Jennings and Morgan Trent need to play well against the spread offense of the Buffalo Bills. Trent and Jennings will see the field more than they have all year, and if they don’t play well, you may see a player like Donald Jones or David Nelson putting up major yards today. Finally, Rey Maualuga needs to tackle well today. Bills RB Fred Jackson is second in the league in forcing missed tackles so far, only Adrian Peterson has forced more. Rey needs to wrap up and stop Jackson from getting to the second level.
The outcome of today’s game will send us down one of two very different roads. 1-3 with the rest of the season looking very, very bleak. Or 2-2, a team that is truly growing together with several flashes of greatness. I’m praying it’s the latter.