The Cincinnati Bengals' offensive line was supposed to be a liability against the Buffalo Bills — an Achilles heel that threatened to derail the team's entire postseason run.
After all, they were playing without three key starters. Surely even the most optimistic of Bengals fans had to be concerned about the state of the offensive line heading into Sunday's game. As it turns out, that concern wasn't necessary.
Not only did the Bengals' offensive line hold its own against the Bills — the unit absolutely dominated. The offensive line was arguably the biggest reason the Bengals were able to prevail in such a one-sided contest against their conference foes.
Now, going into a rematch from last year's AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs, it's hard to know what to expect. What we do know, however, is that the Chiefs' defensive line isn't the Bills' defensive line.
Even if the likes of Jonah Williams and/or Alex Cappa return this weekend, the Bengals won't be facing an easy task. That's the sentiment shared by ESPN's Booger McFarland who highlighted the step-up in competition on Twitter.
The Bengals offensive line faces a difficult matchup against the Chiefs
There is no Chris Jones on the Bills' defensive line. Frank Clark has a whopping 12 sacks in 15 career playoff games. Once Von Miller went down, the Bills didn't have anyone to replicate his production.
Buffalo's pass rush struggled mightily down the stretch, and the team's run defense wasn't much better. This isn't meant to take away anything from what the Bengals' offensive line accomplished on Sunday, but it is a reminder that things aren't going to get any easier this week.
Optimists will note that the Bengals have managed to beat the Chiefs three times within the last 13 months, even with a sometimes shoddy offensive line. While that is true, overcoming poor offensive line play is never easy or preferred.
Chris Jones is fresh off one of the best seasons by a defensive tackle in recent NFL history. By some miracle, the four-time Pro Bowler is still in search of his first career playoff sack. You'd best believe he'll be motivated to get one this upcoming Sunday.
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor told reporters on Monday that both Williams and Cappa "are improving" and that the team would re-evaluate their statuses on Wednesday. It seems as though both players have a chance to return this weekend.
It goes without saying that the return of both players would be a massive boost of confidence, even if Jackson Carman has played very well in Williams' absence.
A front-four of Chris Jones, Frank Clark, Derrick Nnadi, and George Karlaftis — not to mention rotational pieces like old friend Carlos Dunlap — is a lot more intimidating than the likes of Gregory Rousseau, Jordan Phillips, Ed Oliver, and Shaq Lawson.
Whether it's Jackson Carman and Max Scharping or Jonah Williams and Alex Cappa, the Bengals' offensive line has a tall task ahead of them this weekend.
But if this Bengals team has proven anything over the last two years, it's that they thrive when doubted. The performance of this very offensive line was evidence of that last week.