Well, we’ve finally reached the last Monday Night Football matchup of the regular season, and it’s a good one.
In Week 17 we get to watch Josh Allen and the 12-3 Buffalo Bills face off against Joe Burrow and the 11-4 Cincinnati Bengals in a showdown of two teams at the top of the AFC, one of whom was in the Super Bowl last year and the other a preseason favorite to make it to the big game this season.
And both have already punched their ticket to the postseason, meaning this game could be a preview of what’s to come if Buffalo and Cincinnati meet again in the playoffs.
This will be the only game in Week 17 between two teams with winning records, and the only game this week between two teams currently in playoff position.
In addition, with Cincinnati having won its last seven games and Buffalo its last six, this will be just the 15th matchup in NFL history of two teams on win streaks of at least six games. The Bengals and Bills’ combined 23 wins coming into Monday night are also tied for the most by two teams entering Monday Night Football.
Many are already dubbing this the game of the year before the first snap has even been taken, so let’s break down some of the most important storylines and implications of this matchup between two AFC powerhouses.
Here are four things to watch for when the Bengals host the Bills on Monday Night Football:
- Dueling QBs take center stage. The main draw of this matchup is obviously the quarterbacks. Allen and Burrow are two QBs who have found themselves at the top of the sport at a young age, and this game will pit the two superstars against each other for the first time. The two are near the top of each statistical ranking, and combined have the most passing touchdowns (66) and offensive touchdowns (78) of two opposing QBs entering a Monday night matchup. Both are ranked in the top six in passing yards and passing touchdowns in 2022, though Burrow has a slight edge in most categories. He sits at No. 2 in the league in passing yards (4,260) and TDs (34), while Allen is close behind with 4,029 yards and 32 scores. Burrow’s completion percentage is 5.6% higher, he averages 16 more passing yards per game, and he has one fewer interception than Allen. It’s all very, very close to even. But while Burrow has the slight upper hand passing, Allen does have the advantage with his legs. Burrow is an average QB in the run game, collecting a career-high 247 rushing yards this year, but he’s nowhere near Allen’s numbers. Allen has 746 yards and seven TDs rushing this season — top five in both categories for QBs. Allen also has the most touchdowns and second-most yards on the ground of any Bills player this season, showing how effective his mobility is as a complement to his arm. Both players have their advantages over the other, but all this is to say that both are at the top of the league, and this will undoubtedly be a fun show to watch on Monday.
- No. 1 seed still up for grabs. While this game will already be entertaining due to the two teams’ records and star QBs, the matchup also has its importance for the AFC playoff seeding. Both the Bills and the Bengals have clinched places in the postseason, but still to be determined is their seeding, and most importantly, who will finish the regular season as the No. 1 seed, reaping all the benefits that come with it (home-field advantage, first-round bye). If the Bills win their final two games of the season, they will be the top seed. Obviously that starts with a win over the Bengals. Meanwhile, the Bengals have two goals. First, with the Ravens’ loss to the Steelers on Sunday night, a win over the Bills can officially lock up the Bengals’ AFC North crown. In addition, their path to the No. 1 seed is more complicated, but still possible. If they can beat the Bills this week and the Ravens next week, and the Chiefs lose their regular-season finale, then Cincinnati can take the No. 1 spot via tiebreakers over Buffalo and Kansas City.
- Will the run game factor in? Most of the discussion coming into this game has been focused on the passing games, and rightfully so. But a less discussed aspect of the offenses is their run games, which could end up playing a role in what’s expected to be a close matchup. The teams are in vastly different situations on this topic, with the Bills appearing to hold the edge on the ground. First, they have Allen, who as we’ve established is one of the best quarterbacks in the league at picking up yards with his legs. In addition, the running backs have started to gain traction lately, culminating in a 254-yard performance in last week’s win over the Bears, the first time this season the Bills had over 200 rushing yards in a game. In the snowy contest, Devin Singletary and James Cook had 106 and 99 yard rushing, respectively. Conversely, the Bengals have not had as much success running the ball this year, despite having Joe Mixon, who had 1,205 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns last season. Mixon has 787 yards and six TDs this season and has just one game with over 100 yards rushing, playing a part in the Bengals holding the 26th-ranked rushing offense in the league. While Burrow versus Allen will obviously be the game’s headline, whether either team will be able to utilize its running game could also be an important factor.
- Which defense will come out on top? With each sides’ offense able to put up big points, it’ll be up to the defenses to hold it down for their teams on Monday. In this regard, the Bills have the advantage, as over the last couple of years Buffalo has become known for a lockdown defense. But this year there have been some wrinkles in the system, namely injuries. With the season-ending injuries to Von Miller and Micah Hyde, Tre’Davious White missing the first 10 games of the year, and much of the rest of the defense spending time on the injury report at some point or another, it’s been hard to keep the core of the unit healthy all at once. But nevertheless, the Bills remain one of the top defenses in the league, ranked seventh overall. Breaking it down, they are second in scoring and fourth in rush defense, tied for fourth in turnovers, and first in red zone defense. The Bengals, meanwhile, are more middle-of-the-pack in most categories, holding the No. 13 overall defense. While they have a strong rushing defense, ranked seventh, they also are 21st in the league in passing defense, which could pose a problem. Overall, Buffalo is just that little bit better, so it’ll be up to the Cincy defense to step up to compete.