American Football

Sunday Divisional Liveblog: Bengals, Bills Meet Again

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Sunday Divisional Liveblog: Bengals, Bills Meet Again
Bryan Knowles
22 Jan 2023, 01:27am

Sunday Divisional Liveblog: Bengals, Bills Meet Again

It took 19 and a half weeks, but we’ve finally cut the chaff from the 2022 NFL season.  The final six teams standing are the top six teams in DVOA — all killer, no filler. With all respect to the Jaguars and Giants, the NFL season has been whittled down to the best of the best. That doesn’t always happen! Gate-crashers happen all the time! It’s somewhat refreshing that just the best of the best is here.

That being said, we can’t have six teams going to the conference championships; that’s not how numbers work. We’ve got two more games to go today to get us to the final four — and, on paper at least, they should be more competitive than the games on Saturday.  No more #1 seeds taking on underdogs; we have four of the top Super Bowl contenders facing off today with trips to the conference championships on the line.

We won’t lie; there’s going to be a weird atmosphere when the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals lock up just three weeks after Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field; there’s no getting through it without being reminded of what happened that Monday night.  Losing a matchup of this caliber was well down the list of things to be worried about, but it is nice that we do get to see two of the top three teams in the conference decide things on the field. As to what field that should actually be on? Well, we’ll get to that in a moment.  There aren’t nearly as many weird feelings about seeing the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys lock up for a record-tying ninth playoff game, a matchup that has been so hotly anticipated that…oops, looks like the clock ran out on this one. We’ll get back to that soon enough, too.

And we’ll be covering today’s matchups live in a special playoff edition of the Football Outsiders liveblog! Because we’re live, you can participate in the discussion as well! Join in on the conversation — either in the comment section in this article, on Twitter by tagging @FBOutsiders or @BryKno, or on our brand new Discord server, where some of your favorite writers will be hanging out and reacting live.

Here we go!

Early Game Preview: Bengals at Bills

The Bengals have one legitimate grievance and one illegitimate grievance as they travel to Buffalo as the road team in this game.

The NFL covered contingencies for a Chiefs-Bills AFC Championship, and they covered contingencies for a Bengals-Ravens wild card game. They did not, however, give the Bengals any contingencies for this matchup, and it’s location did indeed depend on the outcome of the cancelled Bengals-Bills game. Had the Bengals won that game, they would have been the two seed, not the Bills. This game would be in Cincinnati, not in Buffalo. And the NFL just shrugged their shoulders and are letting this play as it lies. It’d be one thing if they had done that for everyone, but the fact that the NFL bent the rules for two circumstances but not three is a little awkward, at best. The Bengals are being penalized for doing the right thing and not forcing Buffalo to either play or concede the Week 17 matchup. Not heavily penalized, mind you; home field advantage isn’t what it used to be. But they can at least claim a little bit of righteous umbrage over having to go to New York.

They can not cry foul at the NFL already preselling tickets in Atlanta for the Bills-Chiefs game, no matter what Joe Mixon thinks. They were pre-selling tickets for Arrowhead for Chiefs-Bengals, and tickets in Cincinnati for Bengals-Jaguars. That’s just a logistics thing.

In our stats preview, Cale Clinton asks the $64,000 question — will Josh Allen avoid mistakes against Cincinnati? As he points out, Allen is one of the best quarterbacks in all of football…but also one that is prone to the occasional hair-tearingly awkward mistake; clutch interceptions in the red zone that kill the Bills.  Allen is simultaneously the biggest reason why Buffalo can win…and the biggest reason Buffalo can lose. Either way, be prepared for offensive fireworks.  But public opinion seems to be swinging towards the Bills, with the line falling to Buffalo -6 before gametime.

Late Game Preview: Cowboys at 49ers

Well, that’s more like it!  The Cowboys we saw against the Buccaneers was the team we were expecting to see; the one that can battle head-to-head with any other team in the league and is a real Super Bowl threat. We just haven’t seen that team on a week-to-week basis, as flat outings against the Packers, Giants, Texans, Jaguars and Commanders over the back half of the season had Dallas fans worrying about their chances against the top teams in the league. But against Tampa, Dallas controlled the game from start to finish. Dak Prescott looked nearly untouchable, avoiding the interceptions that have been a millstone around his neck since he returned from injury, and led Dallas to the fourth-best passing day of the entire season by DVOA. They looked like they could beat anyone.

To move on, though, they have to beat the team that had the third-best passing day of the entire season by DVOA last week, as Brock Purdy and the 49ers turned a close game at halftime into a blow out win over the Seahawks. Say what you want about Purdy’s results versus his quality of play; the 49ers have hardly missed a beat despite being down to their third quarterback of the season. San Francisco is riding an 11-game win streak and have looked more-or-less unstoppable over the back half of the season.

If the Cowboys play to their potential, they can absolutely win this game, even as four-point underdogs. As our stat preview points out, Dallas is equipped to attack both the 49ers’ weakness covering deep passes and Purdy’s penchant for scrambling away from pressure. We’ll have to see if that Dallas team is the one that actually shows up this afternoon, or if San Francisco will make it a dozen straight wins and punch their ticket to Philadelphia.

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